How remote work made us a better team

"This can't be right," I thought, as I stared at the numbers on our latest release report. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting isolation naturally decreased morale. We could not collaborate in an office. In-person chatting, brainstorming, and white-boarding were off limits. Childcare requirements muddied the work day, as well as team availability.

Yet, through all of the above uncertainty, our reporting was only headed in one direction–up, and fast! Even today, our output continues to increase, and this output never once dipped below our pre-COVID efforts. You can point to the obvious causation (i.e., lack of a commute freeing up time), but there is more to unpack here.

We trust and follow the same advice that we give to our clients in the HR and internal communications space, and that advice leads to stellar results.

Hold recurring weekly retrospectives

At Alipes, we use a scrum methodology to iterate and improve as a team.

Consistent, weekly retrospectives about problems we are having is a clear benefit when adopting this approach. Gone are the six-months-too-late project reflections. These longer, more involved meetings are instead replaced with a shorter weekly cadence, where the team meets to discuss challenges and resolve.

While I don't expect an organization to change their entire system for managing delivery of work, communicating about issues early and often is a good thing, including when it comes to adjusting to a new way to work together. Transparency and accountability are oft-used buzzwords, but I think weekly retrospectives help to truly provide that level of accountability and transparency on very real team issues and concerns. And consistently chatting about things that are working and are not working provides an environment in which people feel more comfortable sharing.

Deconstruct internal communication

Weekly retrospectives are great opportunities to chat with the team in a structured way, but what about when you just need to say something now?

Imagine if you walked up to someone's desk to ask them a question and they just stared straight ahead into space and said nothing. This sounds painful and awkward, but this is effectively what happens when you send someone a message in Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc. and they don't answer back for the entire day. Open, bidirectional communication: another big part of accountability and transparency.

You may be constrained to the technology you have, but that should be enough. Our quick tips?

  • Establish a response time for how quickly someone should respond to messages.
  • Define a clear channel with which you can reach each other, and stick with it.
  • Need to talk about something that will take a few messages to get across? Hop on a quick virtual call to discuss.
  • To the above suggestion, try adopting an approach where you send a direct message like "quick chat re: X?" and having the other person start a web call if they are available to talk.

Make your physical solutions virtual

In the same way you don't need to feel constrained with technology for communication, you should also embrace the limitations of technology when it comes to remote work transition.

For example, we needed a solution for whiteboard and brainstorming exercises, and it turns out that InVision, software we already purchased, offers virtual whiteboard solutions and pre-made virtual brainstorming templates out of the box.

Too often, stakeholders throw new technology at a problem, when in reality, they can use existing technology in creative ways to solve the problem. Not only do you save money, but you consolidate your tools and continue to support platforms with which your team already has experience and access.

Flatten your team and organization

One consistent theme we see with many clients is that teams tend to be made up of gatekeepers and hierarchy. There is the one person who has access to help you with your immediate problem. This is often a control issue, and it is hard to separate the two.

Our team has adopted a flatter approach to work, where we work together to ensure we can cover and help with any pain points. We have different skillsets, but the key element here is that we use them to help everyone else. A designer might find a faster way to edit visuals for powerpoint decks. A more technical member of the team might automate a report that previously took you hours to make every month. Someone else might create a template of questions to ask when new projects start.

Work together to encourage an environment where everyone can and will have each other's backs with thoughtful solutions. Everything can always be improved and made more flat.

Team Maturity

Most importantly though, teams improve the longer that they work together. Though remote work is a new challenge for our team, our experience in working with one another and in being transparent has helped us consistently improve on what we do.

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