Another review and reworking of hints gleaned from the book Remote for a client I’m currently working with, here are some handy hints on how to support working when you don’t have everyone in the same office at the same time…
– make sure there is time-overlap as to the hours that people work/work in the same place
Making effort to get everyone together every so often is really important. That doesn’t need to be every day, or even every week. If you are going to bring everyone together, though, make the most of that time working together rather than have everyone in the same office working in splendid isolation (this is probably less of an issue for geographically dispersed teams where it’s obvious. For teams who are all based in the same office, but are working flexibly it’s much more of a challenge. It’s really easy to not notice that for once “everyone is in the office”
– screen sharing, presence and Instant Messaging are vital technologies
If you’re not “there”, there are various ways in which you can get people to feel more in each other’s presence. Instant messaging tools like WhatsApp or Skype both give an opportunity for people to exchange short messages, but as importantly give you the ability to show your availability (known as “presence” in the tech lingo). When working with others, the ability to share a screen and see the same thing at the same time can be as important, if not more so, than seeing video images of each other. Managers should encourage the use of these technologies by role modelling their use.
– the default should be to make everything available to everyone; openness is key to remote working
Without having everyone together in the same physical space, the things that would otherwise get communicated tacitly don’t get communicated at all. Working openly by default means making sure that information is restricted only when absolutely necessary. That’s not the same as copying everyone on everything; use file sharing areas to store documents, and flag things that are of importance to the right people. Think about how you can make sure that everyone in the team would know who to ask about particular subjects.
– think about how you create virtual water coolers
Chit chat is important; it forms the social bonds on which trust is built in teams. So there should be space for chit chat on digital channels that teams use to span divides across geography or timezones. It might be trivial, but it isn’t unimportant. Those chit chats might also be the catalyst for much more work-oriented conversations too.
– share progress with one another regularly: use techniques like Weeknotes
Alongside the work, you need to build mechanisms for people to regularly share on the progress of their work. Informal, reflective things that can run alongside the more formal reporting of projects and the like. Weeknotes – short blog articles summing up a week in review – might form a way of teams doing this.
– think about the impact of remote working on performance management processes; if all you can see is output, it potentially changes the things you can appraise
How people work can be harder to assess when you don’t see them doing it. This will need to reflect through the way in which you both set and appraise people’s objectives over the course of the year.
– help people to build demarcation into their work/not-work lives
Flexible and agile working should not be the same as always working. It’s often said that managers shouldn’t do things like send emails out of “office hours” because it can put pressure on people to respond at all hours. But it’s not quite that simple – if we are truly working in a agile way, someone could be sending or receiving emails whenever they are working. Managers and team members need to work together to come to consensus about respecting each other’s time, to use features in diary tools to show working and non-working hours, and to help each other to spot if people are struggling to make a distinction between work and not-work time.