In today's business climate, the reality of remote work is sinking in, especially for technology teams who must continue to work to keep the lights on. As more workers move to remote settings and consumers and users begin to rely more heavily on digital apps and experiences, being able to work successfully and productively in such an environment is critical. Here, I'd like to share what I've learned from my own experience by answering some key questions about making remote and distributed work in IT successful. Whether your organisation already has dispersed teams, either locally or globally, or you're just getting started, we're sure you'll benefit from the tips here.
What's the best way of ensuring maximum productivity?
One of the top concerns for workers and managers alike when working remotely is maintaining the same level of productivity as in an office setting. Working from home, in a coffee shop, at a shared workspace can be distracting, but there are still ways to keep productivity high in these circumstances. Here are some important factors in achieving maximum productivity:
Workspace Configuration Encourage team members to spend time on their home or remote office setups to make sure that they are set up for comfort. This can include adjusting those setups periodically and spending the time to think about what setup is working best. If you are working from your kitchen table, what can you do to make sure that this setup is as ergonomic as possible? Even offering to let people use monitor stands from work or other ergonomic equipment helps. The more comfortable people are in their workspace, the more endurance they will have when it comes to getting work done. Plus, they will be happy doing it!
Work Processes Management If you currently use a tool to manage tickets, cases, etc., review how those tools are supposed to be used (what processes do you already have?) and review how they are actually being used. If there is an onerous step that everyone avoids anyway, maybe make it official and cut it out. You have the opportunity (as a manager) to be seen as a hero and an advocate for positive change in this case and you can help stimulate people to actually do the other steps that they may at times forget. Having up-to-date accurate knowledge of workstreams is important. If you simply jump in and begin enforcing everything because people are remote, then working from home will seem like one more stressor, as opposed to an opportunity to make work better.
Check-ins Reconsider your current check-ins with your direct reports. What would make them more effective now? More often, less often, change of format? Consider this an opportunity to reflect on needed changes and make them. For example, do daily or weekly standups in a video conferencing format work? Perhaps one-to-one calls make more sense for your group or for certain individuals. Whatever system works, ensure that communication streams stay open and fluid.
How can work be coordinated between separate yet related teams?
Another major issue when it comes to dispersed teams or remote workers is making sure all work is coordinated-that nothing is slipping through the cracks and conversely that no work is being duplicated. To solve this issue, consider using a structured tool (like Jira or ZenDesk) and make sure everyone is on the same page about what tools are being used and why. Ask your team this: How can we create some automated processes that would help to make the flow between teams better?
Try video conferencing with cameras on. Allowing people to see each other lets them treat each other as human beings and collaborate more easily. Since not everyone has an inspiring office setup or even an office, using virtual backgrounds (Zoom has this feature) can help people who might otherwise be self-conscious about their home environment still have their camera on.
What is the biggest mistake teams need to avoid?
One of the biggest mistakes dispersed or remote teams can make is allowing problems to fester, unaddressed. If there is a breakdown or lost productivity, simply allowing it to continue without discussion means that you are allowing work quality to suffer. The biggest risk is that this lack of productivity spreads. When others see that the output required drops significantly when working from home, then you have an even bigger problem on your hands. So maintaining communication and working as a team while working through any unforeseen issues or problems will not only strengthen the team as a whole but will keep accountability high and squash any disruptions before they escalate into larger problems.
What are some of the collaboration platforms and tools that teams should take advantage of?
Best-of-breed tools are a must for this, but there isn't one tool to solve all problems. Ideally the fewer tools the better, but you also don't want to pick a tool just because it allows you to have fewer tools on the list-it needs to meet the needs of your organisation. Here are a few collaboration tools to consider:
- Jira Work management tool for tracking client project tasks, internal IT tasks, internal project tasks, etc.
- Zoom An online meeting tool with a great combination of free and paid features for online meetings. Not everyone needs to be upgraded to paid features (unlike Slack, Google, etc.), so you can have paid subscriptions for those who need it and many can be on the free version
- Google Drive Documentation, estimation, presentations, client communication, etc.
- GitLab/GitHub Source code management, code reviews, merges and all code-related workflows
- Slack Team-based real-time communication
The bottom line
Working with or on a remote or dispersed IT team is slowly becoming a reality for more people. With increasingly uncertain times looming, working with your team virtually is the future. As more companies begin to adapt to this new era of business, it is vital that these teams remain "in the loop" and feel a sense of belonging to the company under which they work. Establishing guidelines and protocols along with the use of the right tools will catapult your team into a digitally efficient machine, capable of just as much success, if not more, than the quintessential brick-and-mortar office team. Feeling distant and disconnected is a natural barrier for remote or dispersed IT teams, but utilising the constantly growing arsenal of workplace efficiency tools, along with frequent team communication and contact, creates a potent work atmosphere ripe for success no matter where your team resides.
Jonathan Fries, VP of Engineering and Digital Transformation, Exadel