These are unprecedented times. At no point in history have so many been pushed into self-isolation, which creates challenges and opportunities. With so many people working from home, I thought I would share some of my top tips for virtual teams. I have worked with remote and virtual teams for more than ten years. There are many things to think about, both as a member and as a lead.
1. Create structure and manage time. These days when many people are working from home we are reminded of the importance of structure. Start the day at the same time and end the day at the same time if you can. You are a team and you work together even if you are not in the same room. Check in with your colleagues when you start the day and let them know when you are closing your workday. Don’t feel tempted to work around the clock or interrupt your workday with too many house chores. Instead, I find it useful to keep a list on the side to note all home-improvement things that need to be done so that I can start on those after the workday is over.
2. Manage expectations. Make sure that you are using a tool to track work that is outstanding. Using a shared list of ongoing, closed and planned work makes sure that everyone is up to date on where we are at the moment, what everyone is working on and what deliverables can be expected soon. If possible, ensure that all members can collaborate on issues through the software and attach deliverables as well as comment and ask questions directed at other people. In my team, we use issue lists and the new project task tool in Webforum to manage our commitments.
3. Morning status meetings. Communication is to collaboration what location is to real estate. It’s crucial. I recommend having a status meeting each morning in which you update the status of ongoing work and raise any obstacles to completion. If possible, make everyone commit to what they will accomplish during the day. Note down on the work tasks if there are decisions made or obstacles raised for tasks. Make sure you know what is on hold and why and what is being actively worked on. This is also a great time to communicate any changes in priority.
4. Break down work. In order to create flow in the workday it is important to break down work into small chunks so that you can tick those off the list. It feels great and if you have a shared view of work completed this also boosts productivity in the team. It is frustrating to not understand as a leader what the current situation is but with smaller chunks that can be completed, we get a feeling for how the work flows. A good rule of thumb is that a chunk should be able to be completed in a day.
5. Have fun! Usually in lists of things to remember, this is always at the bottom. But having fun together is a great way to build teams. Create an off-topic thread in your communications tool (we use conversations in Webforum) and share your pictures of weird things that happened outside my window today. Or invite everyone to a remote fika. Making sure that people feel safe and included in the group builds trust and facilitates communication. Why not end the week with a virtual glass of wine with the team?
6. Create trust. Working remote can create a feeling of opaqueness. You cannot see you coworkers and you can feel like everyone else is not pulling their weight. Being transparent about when you can be reached and not helps build trust. Ask questions in meetings and don’t do other things at the same time. Encourage people to switch their video on for your web meetings (unless there is a bandwidth issue of course). Seeing each other makes the connection a bit more real.
7. Make it easy. By using a platform where all the documents and tasks can be reached from home you have already helped your organisation with the most crucial part of remote working, a virtual office where expectations can be managed, communication flow and where deliverables are visible.
8. Minimise risk in an uncertain situation. We are in a situation where everyone is thinking about minimising risk – so make sure important information is not stuck in individual email inboxes and hard drives. Uploading important documentation to an online platform ensures team productivity can continue even if staff members are ill or unavailable. As long as the status is clearly set to “Draft” and we follow our access rights and version management protocol, even documentation that is not yet completed can be uploaded and worked on online.
9. Don’t forget gym Wednesday! Physical activity boosts creativity and productivity. Take a walk in your lunch break or do an online yoga class before work. Encourage your team to get some fresh air.
We hope that these tips were useful. Remember to check-in with teammates that might be worried or have practical issues in order to help.
We will get through this pandemic together! Let’s make the best out of the situation, learn how to manage remote work and look after each other.
The team at Webforum through Karolina