All the work that is done during a project, is done by the team. The team is the foundation of each project. For me as a team lead (no matter in which domain and with which label) it is of utmost importance, that the team can work in a safe environment, to enable each single team member can use his/her/* talents and expertise. A happy team delivers great results and this leads to a happy company and happy customers.
I am a man, who loves creativity and flexibility instead of working according to a strict doctrine. But I also know, that there has to be a structure on which a project and the work, which is performed by a team is based on.
A structure on which the while team commits, because it makes work, and therefore life, so much simpler. Especially when people are not on one and the same location, it is is of utmost importance that we all adopt the rules, which we have accepted as a team.
Let’shave a look at some usefull and helpfull tips
Problems with remote work usually arise because there are different ideas of what collaboration and work itself should look like in this context. While some like to spend their days in video conferences, others create space for more focus with no-meeting days.
Some companies have caps on the number of participants in virtual conferences. Others prefer to hold webinars, trying to limit interaction for better organisation.
And then there is the question of how to deal with each other – especially when it comes to intercultural teams.
Zapier offers a solution to this challenge. The company is a typical Silicon Valley start-up – except that it is not located in Silicon Valley. Zapier has been practising “remote by default” since 2011. Today, more than 300 employees are spread around the world. The team works together from 28 countries and in 17 time zones . To ensure that collaboration works despite these framework conditions, Zapier has established a code of conduct. In it, they describe very specifically how they want to work together.
To be honest, I often wonder why this kind of rules have to be written so explicitly. For me it is all about a respectfull and esteeming behaviour, which should have been part of our education.
- Be friendly and patient.
- Be welcoming. Strive to be a person that welcomes and supports people of all backgrounds and identities. This includes, but is not limited to members of any race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, color, immigration status, social and economic class, educational level, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, size, family status, health status, political belief, religion, and mental and physical ability.
- Be considerate. Your work will be used by other people, and you in turn will depend on the work of others. Any decision you make will affect users and colleagues, and you should take those consequences into account when making decisions. Remember that we’re a worldwide company, so you might not be communicating in someone else’s primary language.
- Be respectful. Not all of us will agree all the time, but disagreement is no excuse for poor behavior and poor manners. We might all experience some frustration now and then, but we cannot allow that frustration to turn into a personal attack. It’s important to remember that a company where people feel uncomfortable or threatened is not a productive one. Members of Zapier should be respectful when dealing with other teammates as well as with people outside the Zapier team.
- Be responsible for oneself. During company retreats, team outings or other in-person events you are a representative of Zapier. Be mindful of your limits and respectful of others’ limits when it comes to alcohol and physical activity. Leaning on a teammate to make sure you’re staying safe and responsible is a smart and welcome practice.
Be careful of the words that you choose. You work in a community of professionals, and we conduct ourselves professionally. Be kind to others. Do not insult or put down other participants. Harassment and other exclusionary behavior aren’t acceptable. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Violent threats or language directed against another person.
- Discriminatory jokes and language.
- Posting sexually explicit or violent material.
- Personal insults, especially those using racist or sexist terms.
- Unwelcome sexual attention.
- Advocating for, or encouraging, any of the above behavior.
- Repeated harassment of others. In general, if someone asks you to stop, then stop.
- Hazing or the imposition of humiliating tasks as initiation rights to new teammates.
For a remote team to work well, it needs digital tools. Collaboration must be organised, and communication and collaboration from distributed locations must be technically enabled. It makes sense to establish a common standard for tools in the team. At the same time, it is important to remain open to new things. The digital world is evolving every day and too tight restrictions only ensure that better opportunities are not used.
For this reason, the Swedish music streaming provider Spotify does not impose any restrictions on its more than 4,400 employees with regard to the selection of tools. And yet, over time, an almost uniform picture has emerged in the software landscape. Teams have an intrinsically motivated desire to collaborate across departments.
In addition to laptops and VoIP telephony, e.g. sipgate Team or 3CX, video conferences and chat systems are an essential basis for remote teams. Microsoft Teams or Slack combine these functions. Virtual whiteboards, such as those offered by Mural or Miro, are also underestimated. They offer the possibility to interact as a team in the group, to work visually and thus to discuss more complicated topics. In many remote teams, this form of collaboration in combination with workshop or structured meeting formats is indispensable.
I will write about soft- and hardware in another post.
However you want to proceed, it is important to take a few minutes to get started: You should test the digital assistants before they are used. Far too much time is lost because a tool, such as a new video conferencing software, is only installed at the start of a working session or the user is not yet familiar with how to use it. It is easy – to stay with the example – to click the meeting link an hour before the meeting, enter the virtual conference room and test the microphone and camera. In this situation, you have enough time to react, get help if necessary and don’t have to keep 3-15 people waiting while you solve your technical problems.
It is also helpful to take a closer look at the functionality of the tools – for example, with the help of the countless explanatory videos available on YouTube. Most of the time, the possibilities of new solutions are not known and the added value of the new tool does not come into play. Those who see Microsoft Teams or Slack, for example, simply as a substitute for email are missing out on…
- better structured conversations thanks to channel and comment functions.
- fast data exchange via drag and drop in the chat window.
- good mood thanks to animated pictures from Giphy or emoticons on the messages.
- video conferences without having to install an additional tool.
- automated work processes thanks to the integration of countless other applications, for example via Zapier software.
It’s like believing that Kanban boards only need the columns “Todo, Doing, Done” to revolutionise collaboration with them. So here’s a tip: please look into things a bit more in depth. Youtube helps – as does your trusted Agile coach 😉
There are various studies that prove that meetings are boring, usually not productive and a waste of time. And as in many aspects of our working lives, a poor meeting culture is even more noticeable in remote work than in physical collaboration in a shared office.
A common problem, for example in video conferences, is the way participants behave. Here, a few simple tricks ensure that there is no – literally – disruptive noise. Remote meetings always become exhausting when information that some people already know is (has to be) repeated. Comedian David Grady has summarised the problems as follows:
Here are a few simple tips to improve the meeting culture:
- Never be late. Be in the virtual room at least 2 minutes before the meeting starts. If you are using new software, test it beforehand.
- If you are late, do not interrupt. You can use the chat function to say “hello” so that your presence is noticed.
- Let the person you are talking to finish and don’t just start talking as soon as there is a gap in the conversation. Video conferences often have a slight time lag. You will probably speak your answer at the same time as another person. Almost all video tools have a virtual hand or chat. Just point out how you know it from your school days. The person who is speaking will pass the floor to you as soon as they have finished.
- Don’t give too long monologues. Get your thoughts to the point and don’t discuss several topics at once.
- Children, dogs, neighbours, hoovers – ambient noise or technical feedback is very distracting for all participants. Mute your microphone when you are not speaking. Many video conferencing tools such as Slack or jitsi have the “M” key for “mute” assigned here. In Microsoft Teams it is Ctrl+Shift+M.
- Sometimes the microphones on the laptop generate noise after a while. Be prepared to quickly leave and rejoin a virtual conference room. Keep the access data open in a separate window so that you have them quickly at hand.
- Concentrate on the conversation. As in real office life, it is impolite to look at your mobile phone, answer emails or otherwise distract yourself during the meeting.
emote meetings are a central part of remote work. And yet video conferences are mostly used like telephone calls with image transmission. Yet chat is an underestimated tool. Here you can …
- announce by text or emoticon that you want to say something.
- wordlessly agree or disagree with a statement/question by a show of hands.
- add comments via chat without interrupting the flow of speech.
In Slack and some other tools, participants receive a virtual pen. They can use this to draw on the sender’s monitor during screen transmissions. This way, they can circle elements they want to discuss and highlight at that moment.
Other tools, such as virtual whiteboards or the corporate wiki Confluence, are also suitable to complement the video layer. In many web applications, several participants can work in parallel on the same document. This turns blah-blah into something tangible.
The meeting culture in companies is very often a difficult topic. Not only in the case of remote work, many people feel that their meeting time is wasted and believe they can contribute better in other ways. And it is true: A lot of time is wasted in meetings because we …
- repeat things that many participants already know.
- have technical problems.
- sit in meetings to which we have nothing to contribute.
- lose focus or get lost in details.
To improve the meeting culture, it makes sense to always have a facilitator and a few small tools. He/she should not want to contribute anything to the topic. This particular role focuses only on keeping the focus and creating purposeful conversations. To do this, the facilitator uses some simple techniques that work in any team, in addition to asking specific questions:
Timeboxing: Each topic is given a set time. The current time status can be made visible to everyone via a digital countdown, as can be found on every smartphone.
Question car park: It is not always easy to clearly delineate a topic. Often there are questions to be answered or dependencies on other, related topics. To keep a group focused, simply set up a question or topic parking area. Supplementary points can be placed here to be discussed at a later time. This way they do not get lost. However, the current focus of the discussion remains.
Dead-end symbol: If a topic is not getting anywhere and the group is going round in circles, each participant can draw a Post-It with a dead-end symbol. Linked to this, the group leaves the issue level and asks itself: “What do we need to learn / do to be able to answer a question better?”
Arrow Navicon: In their book Meet Up, Eppler and Kernbach suggest that team members use a Post-It with an arrow to guide the conversation. Anyone can hold this Post-It up to the camera during the conversation and use it to express a wish:
- Hold arrow to the right = “Let’s talk about next steps.”
- Hold arrow up = “Let’s talk about the overall context.”
- Hold down arrow = “Let’s build more detailed knowledge.”
- Hold left arrow = “Let’s discuss how this came about.”
It is important to understand that there are different flight levels at which conversations can move. Low flight levels allow us to look in detail at the background of an issue. Higher flight levels allow us to see the implications. With two questions you can control these flight levels in many cases:
- Higher fluency level = “What does this mean for us?”
- Lower fluency level = “Why is this so?”
In this way, conversations can be brought back to focus so that the group continues to work towards the goal of the meeting.
For remote work to work well, it must be well structured. Depending on the objectives, different formats are needed to effectively achieve good results with colleagues. As is common in everyday office life, many meetings are held that could actually be emails or tickets. In contrast, there are almost no workshops in the typical working day. Especially with remote working, collaborative workshops help to unite perspectives on common solutions and avoid correction loops. In other words: less wasted work.
So how do you find the right format for the issue at hand? The following breakdown usually helps:
- Goal: Short question on a single point with 2-3 people.
Format: Chat message
- Goal: Transfer tasks and information to other people
Format: Assign ticket in task management, brief telephone call in case of queries
- Goal: Exchange with explanation on 1-2 points with 2-3 people
Format: Ad-hoc (video) phone call
- Goal: Briefing, status, planning, review, presentation of results with 3+ people
Format: Video conference
- Goal: Collaborative, conceptual work with 3+ people
Format: Remote workshop
Whether it is a video conference or a workshop, good preparation of the meeting helps it to be much more effective and efficient. It creates commitment and ensures that better results emerge. And this increases motivation.
The preparation does not have to be elaborate. It is sufficient if the following information reaches all participants at least 2 hours before the start of the meeting:
- Reason for the meeting
- Aim of the meeting
- Participants with reason for participation and reference to information to be prepared Time
The big advantage: with this information, each participant can assess whether he/she can actually contribute something to the meeting. The rule is: if you realise that you can’t contribute, you leave the meeting and remain available for questions.
Many misunderstandings and errors arise because responsibilities are not explicitly clarified. In this way, various problems arise:
- Tasks are left undone because everyone thinks someone else is doing it.
- Important perspectives on the solution of a task are not involved because it is unclear that they add value.
- Too many people are involved in an approval process, causing time bottlenecks for individuals.
- The autonomy of the team is lost because it is unclear which decisions can be made freely.
Video conferences usually take 20% more time than a physical meeting. Against this background, it is very helpful to structure responsibilities and tasks clearly and to organise the work better. There are various tools for this.
The RACI matrix is a technique for the simple representation of responsibilities. RACI is an ancronym for …
- Responsible – responsible for the execution of a task, also in the disciplinary sense.
- Accountable – responsible in the legal, budgetary or commercial sense.
- Consulted – operationally involved as an impulse generator, knowledge carrier or for qualitative feedback.
- Informed – informed about the status and results of the work.
Within the matrix, relevant topics and team roles or members are linked via the letters. It is clearly clarified who is responsible, who is involved and who is informed.
In the Hyperisland toolbox there is another simple tool that can be used to quickly define responsibilities, e.g. during an ongoing meeting: the Who/What/When matrix. With it, a group defines what needs to be done next, who will take care of the topic and by when the task is to be completed.
This task is often taken on by an Agile Coach or the initiator of the meeting. In this way, during the conversation, attention is always paid to whether new tasks arise and, if necessary, active enquiries are made as to who will take care of them. Tools such as Asana, Microsoft Planner or Trello help to organise the tasks.
What was already true for (knowledge) work in the office is further intensified by remote work: our work “disappears” in digital tools, on data servers or in countless emails. At the same time, the hurdle of spontaneously asking colleagues for help increases, because you can no longer simply look over your own monitor and make a quick enquiry.
For productive remote work in a team, it is therefore crucial to keep the status and progress of our work visible and to communicate regularly about it. The software provider Buffer, where staff work together across the globe, even recommends communicating a little too much, as this is still better than a team of isolated, confused employees who don’t know what common goal they should be working towards (note of the author: I have experienced this quite often).
But how do you manage to communicate regularly and keep the work visible without getting bogged down in endless video meetings and phone calls? As with the rules of the game for remote work, it is important to jointly agree on a procedure and explicitly record it for everyone.
- Shared (Kanban) boards: No matter which system we use to organise ourselves as a team, shared boards help to keep the progress of our work visible. Here we document the current status of projects, comment on updates and make bottlenecks visible. This way, everyone in the team can see at any time what is being worked on and where support may be needed. Common tools for this are, for example, Jira, Trello, Airtable, ClickUp or Asana. However, there is a wide range of comparable apps.
- Daily check-in: At least once a day, you should get together as a team in a (video) conference and talk about the current topics. What has changed compared to the previous day? What progress have we made? Where are there barriers or impairments? This team ritual should be clearly structured and moderated so that it takes no more than 15 minutes. We also call this meeting “Daily Scrum” or “Daily Standup”.
- Weekly status: While the daily check-in is only about daily updates, a more detailed format is used once a week to go through ongoing projects and tasks, for example on the joint board, to discuss contexts and, if necessary, to agree on further talks on the projects in smaller groups. This meeting should also follow a clear structure for everyone and should not take more than 45 minutes.
- Asynchronous status: As important as this exchange is, especially with large teams or those working across many time zones, it can be a challenge to keep these meetings efficient. Here, asynchronous status meetings can be an alternative. Everyone in the team collects the daily status topics in a structured document or on the shared board and, if necessary, supplements them with short videos in which they explain an acute problem, for example. Everyone in the team adds to their topics or provides answers to the others’ questions as soon as their working time begins.
- Spontaneous help via video: Even if useful chat tools are used in remote work, some topics can be clarified more quickly in a personal exchange. Here, you can specifically ask people in the chat for a short exchange or, for example, set up a help channel so that it really becomes visible when someone needs a quick solution to an acute problem.
Teams that have little experience with remote work often complain that their working hours are suddenly even more dominated by meetings than they already were. The trap here is technology: digital tools suddenly make it less effort to schedule or join video meetings. You don’t have to book a conference room in advance and can jump from one virtual room to the next with a click. At the same time, you have access to your colleagues’ calendars and always know where a meeting is being held on which topic. This tempts people to micromanage and multitask: they take part in even more appointments, get involved in even more conversations and don’t question whether their participation is really useful.
Another challenge is the format of the meetings. What was already exhausting before now becomes even more challenging and time-consuming due to the remote situation. Complex topics are discussed without visual support, making it increasingly difficult to build a common understanding. Open questions remain unanswered and ambiguities are not resolved. The need for more meetings increases. Maintaining documentation and minutes also becomes almost impossible.
To break this vicious circle, it is crucial to no longer view a meeting as a discussion platform, but as a working meeting. At the end of such a meeting there should always be a tangible, jointly developed result. This can be a written document, a concept drawing or a virtual whiteboard.
- Conscious participation: You only take part in a meeting if you can make an active contribution to the topic. If you have been invited and are not sure about your own contribution, ask the initiator of the meeting.
- Visual collaboration: A visual tool is used in every meeting and every participant has access to it. There are no spectators, passive participants or minute takers. Common tools for visual work are for example Mural, Miro, Milanote or Mindmeister.
- Collaborative writing: For more extensive text content, you can write together in the same document and thus develop more detailed content in combination with communication programmes. Confluence or Google Docs are probably the best-known providers here. But Office 365 now also offers comparable functions.
Whether you’re sitting in your home office with the kids jumping around you or in a hipster coffee shop with a crowd of people, the chances of getting distracted are high. Not for everyone, working from a desk at home is a sufficient drive to motivate and, above all, focus. Procrastination on social networks, with short purchases or other seemingly important errands makes for poor performance.
But this is important if you want to move forward as a remote team. For this reason, you have to make sure that you create a working environment in which you can work productively. Here are some tips:
- Set daily goals: A small checklist in the morning helps to set priorities and put a little pressure on yourself.
- Turn off distractions: Depending on your own ability to concentrate, retreat to a quiet environment. If you have to look after your own children, it helps to set up a daily schedule of tasks for the family, alternating quiet hours with active ones.
- Respect concentration: If an ad-hoc (video) phone call makes sense, you can ask your colleague via chat if it fits in. No answer? Then perhaps the person is concentrated and will get back to you as soon as their own task is done.
Every interruption costs time to regain concentration. Every interruption also costs motivation and works against performance and the enjoyment of work. If in doubt, you have to turn off communication tools and your mobile phone for a morning or afternoon.
One of the most important tasks of a Scrum Master, is to protect the team against disturbance.
You are working on a concept and have a question that could be quickly solved by another team member. So you check the chat to see if the person is online, write a short message and hope for an answer. But there is no response. After 5 minutes, you call – and reach no one. So you make a note of the question and move on.
One advantage of the physical office is that you can see who is at the desk and who is available. In a distributed team, it’s hard to see if you could get an answer quickly. But every short wait or unanswered call costs time and makes for less flow in one’s own work.
Even with remote work, a simple click can provide helpful transparency: whether Slack, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, every communication system has a status. Setting the status is a bit like using the indicator when driving a car. You show your colleagues where you are and when you will be available again. You should also indicate the reason why you are not available:
- Back in 10 min.
- Lunch break
- Meeting until 11:30
- On the phone
- Closing time
Slack takes over these status changes partly automatically. If you use the integrated (video) telephony, the status is automatically changed and displayed next to your name. If you go to the table, the status is automatically reset to “available” after 60 minutes. There are different setting options here depending on the tool. With the help of Zapier, the status of Slack can even be changed automatically based on the appointments entered in the calendar.
Many simply equate remote office with home office. They exchange one fixed workplace for another fixed workplace. But this ignores a major advantage of remote working: the flexibility of the distributed team. For your colleagues, it makes no difference whether you sit in your kitchen or in the sun. What is important is that you deliver results and that the cooperation with other team members does not suffer.
Especially if you need a change or if the ceiling falls on your head after a few days in your home office, you should use the flexibility of remote work. Depending on the possibility, you can…
use several places within the living space as a workplace: Desk, dining table, terrace – everything is possible.
- Sit in a park, by a lake or river with a folding table and chair and set up a W-LAN hotspot using your smartphone.
- Work in a co-working space or café (be careful not to get distracted).
Those who want to break away from their traditional workplace had better not have any problems with new environments. Unfortunately, this tip is not recommended for people who first have to get used to their surroundings or are easily distracted.
You only learn to appreciate many seemingly insignificant little things in your everyday working life when they suddenly disappear due to remote working: The short chat in the kitchenette, the shared lunch break or simply fooling around with colleagues in the office. It can be a great challenge for people to work alone at a distance and not feel lonely or disconnected from the rest of the organisation. The general cohesion of a team can also suffer. That’s why it’s important to focus on the social aspects of working life in addition to the many, work-related things. You have to find ways to maintain a sense of community, even if you rarely see each other in person and may work hundreds of kilometres away from each other. With a little creativity, our digital tools actually offer a lot of scope here. A few examples:
- Fun channels in chat: In addition to topic-related channels on projects or clients, you can also set up one or more channels in which you simply keep each other company and fool around as a team. This communication should be clearly delineated to avoid too much distraction. And if you want to concentrate on your work, you can simply switch the channel to mute for a few hours.
- Lively chats: Many of the popular chat programmes can easily be used to share your own photos and videos. A collection of animated GIFs can be stored as a reaction option. And special bots regularly draw attention to the next birthdays or social video events.
- Virtual breaks and after work: thanks to smartphones and integrated webcams, we can now start a video conference in almost any situation. Why not just have a little video chat during the coffee break, at lunch or after work?
- Joint actions: Eating or drinking together is obvious. But you can also use video conferencing for team events. With a little preparation, many things are possible: cooking together, board games, a pub quiz, karaoke or watching a film together and discussing it afterwards.
- Motto days: Small, silly actions cheer up the remote everyday life and help to laugh together even at a distance. Some video tools offer the possibility to show yourself in front of a virtual background, for example on the beach or in another city. But of course this can also be done without technical help, for example by declaring a sunglasses day on which everyone has to wear sunglasses in video conferences.
- Fitness challenges: Fitness trackers and smartwatches now provide us with reliable data about our individual activity. You can use this data for regular team challenges and improve your fitness together. This doesn’t even require a technical connection. A screenshot of the fitness app shared in the chat is enough.
As with all activities, even outside of remote work, make sure that they come from within the team and are not imposed.
Work is fun when you don’t perceive it as work. If you have to get up to operating temperature first thing in the morning with 3-5 coffees, you are basically fighting your inner desire for a bed or at least a more relaxed place. To get into the flow, it is advisable to organise the day according to your own lifestyle – as best you can.
The Basecamp team also says that the dogmatic 9-to-5 practice is a waste of intelligence . The 100 or so employees have agreed that all it takes to work well together is a few hours of overlap. Otherwise, everyone is free to organise their own working hours.
If you are a morning person who is often tired in the afternoon, it helps not to start the working day at 9 am. Instead, you could start at 7 a.m. and go to sports from 4 p.m. onwards: In the morning head work, in the afternoon body work. Using one’s own biorhythm for one’s own benefit ensures significantly better performance. If possible, you should also take your daily form into account. To do this, it is a good idea to structure task lists according to task type and to bundle activities with similar concentration requirements:
- Small 1-minute tasks to work through
- Telephone calls
- Conceptual and strategic work
- Research and compilation of information
- Quick, creative idea development
The prerequisite for this is, of course, that one works as little as possible under external control. In this case, agile working with 2-week sprints is very helpful: organised in this way, everyone has the opportunity to structure their own day according to their personal biorhythm. Phone calls or concentrated work can be postponed for 1-2 days if you don’t feel up to it at the moment.
For many, working in a home office is more strenuous than working in an office. This may be due to the fact that we work more focused and sit more at the computer. Accordingly, it is important to move regularly. A big advantage of working from home is that you don’t have to travel to the office. This can be used very well to incorporate exercise and fresh air into the day:
- Integrate sport, meditation or similar activities into the day.
- In between, get up, go to the window and be mindful.
- Go for a walk in a nearby forest, by a lake or river – even with your favourite dog.
These activities do not always have to take place before or after work. Why not build in a second recovery break and work the “me-time” before or after? This way you can have a break with your colleagues and still take time for yourself. If companies like Trivago build a gym into the company headquarters, a sports break in the home office is certainly no problem. The only important thing is to communicate openly and to be equally open about the fact that you would adjust your behaviour if it leads to complications in the cooperation.
It is recommended that you mention your plan, e.g. to do sports, at the morning check-in. It is important to add that colleagues are welcome to contact you at any time if organisational problems arise due to the planning and that the plan can also be changed. In this way, conflicts can be avoided.
Some people have a hard time separating private and work life. They feel they are always in the office. If it doesn’t bother you, that’s perfectly fine, of course. For many, however, it is stressful that work and relaxation take place in the same place.
Loosely based on the motto: “After Remote Work comes Remote Closing Time”, it helps to develop small after-work rituals. One example:
- Wish your colleagues a good evening in the chat.
- Set communication tools to “silent” – also on the smartphone.
- Make plans for the next day.
- Shut down your laptop and put it in your bag.
- Clean up your desk and – if possible – leave the workroom.
- Turn on music and TV.
- Leave the flat once and go shopping for a little something.
- Tackle the to-don’t list (see tip #10) from the couch, not from the workplace.
These rituals can be chosen very individually. They should only ever signal that the working day is now ending. The goal is to create an emotional conclusion in one’s daily routine.
Like other interpersonal things, one thing is particularly difficult for us in remote work: praise and recognition. Both are very important to enable a team to be motivated.
If ideas can still be found for the big successes, such as winning a customer or launching a new product, the small gestures often fall by the wayside: the small praise or thanks from colleagues in between. How to celebrate successes and mutual praise in a virtual team:
Weekly praise shower: At a fixed time, for example at the beginning of a weekly meeting, everyone gets together in random teams of two for a praise shower. They take turns to shower one person in the team with praise for one minute. This way you start the week with a good feeling.
Kudo cards at the Daily: Before the Daily meeting, you fill out prefabricated cards to thank or praise a colleague. These are then held up to the camera in the meeting and read out.
- Own chat channel: In Slack or Teams, a separate channel is created exclusively for giving praise and celebrating small successes. This way, it not only remains visible to everyone, you also get to see who has received particularly much (or particularly little) praise recently and can talk about it.
- App for distributing kudos: With the Taco plugin for Slack, everyone can give away virtual tacos for special achievements or thanks to others. Everyone has only 5 tacos per day and there is a kind of ranking list with which one can see successes over a longer period of time.
- Virtual Wall of Fame: Many teams collect project successes in the office on a project wall. This can also be done virtually: in Confluence, Google Photos or Sharepoint, successes are made visible with pictures or collages. New pictures are unveiled in a regular video ceremony.
- Cyberbeer or online party: Similar to the video sessions at coffee break or after work, you can also organise parties in video meeting rooms and celebrate successes together as a team over (for example) a beer.
For team culture, remote work can be a challenge. Much like the relationship between two departments, the relationship between members of a team spread across two locations can quickly suffer. Poor communication quickly leads to an “us and them” mindset. Then it comes to the “not-invented-here ” syndrome, someone feels unfairly treated and already the togetherness suffers.
Especially when you don’t work in the same room, conflicts can arise without being consciously perceived in the group. For this reason, it is very important to promote an open feedback culture. The team must learn to be allowed to say critical things to each other. There are a few things to consider here.
Do not resolve conflicts in chat
Conflicts and misunderstandings should not be resolved in chat, via SMS or WhatsApp. Since we neither hear the intonation of the words nor see facial expressions or gestures, we miss important information in the exchange. This increases the risk of escalation and can quickly lead to major conflicts.
As soon as you notice that a topic is getting too complicated, e.g. two aspects need to be weighed up, you should quickly switch to (video) telephony.
The following are needed for an open feedback culture:
- Good communication skills: The team should engage in appreciative communication , the GROW framework and/or the Golden Circle .
- Meetup formats for problems: There should be regular meetings of the team to talk about the collaboration, especially about obstacles, new learnings and positive things to highlight. Structured formats such as Lean Coffee or Team Spirit Retrospectives are available for this purpose.
- Strengthening community: An open culture needs a sense of community. While a regular team likes to have an offsite or external company party, a remote team needs more of an onsite. Call it what you will – it needs “together time” where people have fun, get up to nonsense and get together in a congenial way. Unprofessional advice: alcohol helps – even on webcam.
Each team member gains valuable experience and knowledge while working remotely. But what is discussed in a traditional team at the coffee machine, during the lunch break or in a short conversation in the hallway is missing in a virtual team.
For a team to share this informal knowledge, it needs a format. Here, it is enough to exchange information every 2-4 weeks in a structured Meetup:
- Originally invented at Spotify, the Team Health Check s help to ensure a common understanding of goals, roles, performance and other criteria in the team. The format also shows where there are information, process or culture deficits in the team.
- In Lean Coffee Sessions, each participant can suggest topics. The group decides which topics should be discussed in priority by assigning points. Per hour, 5-10 topics can easily be discussed.
- Problem mapping makes challenges and requirements visible. In a structured process, the group develops knowledge in order to find solutions together.
Of course, there are other formats. Whatever you choose – and it doesn’t matter whether you work remotely or not – a conscious exchange about your own challenges strengthens the team structure and ensures that the group gradually improves.
In the remote team, the lack of a common goal leads to far greater problems than is already the case in a centrally organised group. And yet many teams are not aware of the strategy relevant to them and the tactics derived from it.
For this reason, micromanagement is still widespread – a form of leadership that has a very frustrating effect on knowledge workers. Since micromanagement in the remote team is only possible with a lot of effort, a clear agenda is needed here with corresponding freedom in implementation.
With the help of the Lean Strategy Board, managers can make the strategic framework visible. As a simple canvas tool, the board brings together the most important information for everyday decision-making. It also provides a link to Objectives & Key Results. With this tool, the team independently sets quarterly goals and monitors progress.
To ensure that the strategic framework is comprehensible to all team members and effective in day-to-day work, managers should take queries seriously. Each of these questions indicates that formulations are unclear or can be interpreted differently. It does not help to adopt the “you are just too stupid” attitude. The only thing that helps is to understand the problem of understanding precisely and to sharpen the strategy. Always remember: the team is the manager’s customer.
According to Kaplan and Norton, around 70% of strategies are poorly implemented in day-to-day business. As a result, the strategy falls short of expectations or fails completely.
The Lean Strategy Board transforms a vision into strategic goals and these goals into Objectives & Key Results (OKR). In this way, the strategy becomes more accessible and easier to implement. In addition, progress can be measured at any time.
Trust is the basis for remote work
In a distributed team, it is much more difficult to get recognition for one’s work. Criticism and mistrust are poison for both experienced talents and young pioneers. With micromanagement, constant control and impatience, a team will quickly lose motivation.
And I have experienced this quite often.
Patience is the art of becoming angry only slowly.
tTo keep motivation high in a team, confidence in the group’s performance is needed. Help is needed when the team is at a loss – not ready-made solutions of which the leader is convinced, but ways in which a team can find a solution on its own.
Motivation comes on its own; trust, freedom and self-achieved successes ensure that it is maintained. This applies to both centralised and decentralised teams.