COVID-19: Improving your remote team's efficiency
The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the way most companies work, pushing teams to close offices and work remotely. Chances are that if you have not switched to remote working yet you might have to in the near future. It is a major step that can negatively affect efficiency levels in most organisations unless handled carefully. Luckily, at Thorgate, efficiency, smart working and productivity has seen positive changes since we made our entire team remote. Therefore, we believe that our processes could help and inspire other teams in this time of crisis.
Creating the right rituals to keep up work productivity and having optimal communication is essential in the current situation. Thorgate is able to ensure great results for the team and the clients thanks to the culture of transparency and the digital tools we are equipped with.
Battle-tested digital tools for online collaboration
The biggest challenge in working remotely could be effective team collaboration online. No meetings have been cancelled at Thorgate, they have all just gone online. Online collaboration includes quick catch up calls which are an equivalent of walking up to someone’s desk for chat.
Quick chats via text or call
We are using google meet and slack for our day-to-day communication. Slack is a great tool to talk via text with another colleague, a group of colleagues or even to broadcast a message in larger teams. Slack truly helps us stay connected throughout work hours, brainstorm solutions together and even use the platform for quick calls. Coffee break discussions that were held face-to-face before are still part of our day, thanks to slack where we’ve kept our #office channel open for these video calls. It may sound odd, but scheduling these talks is now more important than ever. It is crucial to build and leverage the interpersonal relationships within the teams. It can even be as simple as knowingly dedicating the first 5-10 minutes of a meeting for regular chit-chat.
Google meet is used by us for more formal meetings, both internal and external. We have invited several clients for online meetings using google meet, and have been able to successfully transition our workshops to the platform as well.
Diagramming ideation processes
As a creative company, whiteboard brainstorming exercises are an important part of our work too. We are using multiple tools for online collaboration and brainstorming.
Milanote is an effective tool for organizing your creative projects into beautiful visual boards. Milanote has heaps of built-in templates to help you get started with a variety of different projects, from creating a moodboard to set out the visual direction for a project, mapping user journey to writing a creative brief. Its sharing features make it a great option for those who regularly provide work to clients for feedback. Milanote's basic plan is available for free with no time-limit.
Another neat little trick is to set up a Google Doc file to document any ideas, thoughts or questions that people may have while allowing everybody to contribute to the document at the same time without the need to email it back and forth.
Regular Team Updates
Do not be mistaken that keeping your team in loop while working remotely means only work related updates. When in office, updates include everything from work related things to personal health and small things we share everyday in normal work situation.
Progress, Plans and Problems (PPP)
At Thorgate, we have a PPP (Progress, Plans and Problems) report at the end of every day. The PPP is a short and simple summary of the day with the focus on whether you or your team are on track and efficient, what’s the plan to keep it that way or increase efficiency and if there are any problems that need solving. With remote work it is important that everybody puts in the effort to get the usual stuff done and maybe even a bit more. At Thorgate, we don’t forget to include in our PPP’s our small wins at work, challenges we face everyday, if we are safe and healthy in the current situation and if there’s anything that we need to change to be more efficient.
Moreover, we continue using clanbeat which is a tool that integrates with slack and allows us to post our goals, achievements and how we are feeling to our groups. Keeping up employee engagement during these times is a challenge for all managers, however, clanbeat is a tool that helps in resolving this issue.
It's important for different teams to stay in touch and share their thoughts, concerns and ideas with each other. Therefore, we have transitioned our daily stand-up meetings to short video calls. Through these 10-minute team meetings we connect and ensure that all the blockers that somebody may have get resolved together.
Team specific changes
Sales and Marketing
The sales and marketing team is probably the least affected by the whole remote work situation. The sales team mostly sends emails and takes phone calls throughout the day, while marketing activities are all in the online space. To ensure team collaboration we use Slack as our go to tool as it was even before the pandemic and remote working situation. Possibly, now there’s only a little bit more Slack calls and less slack messages to speed up the communication.
Sales and marketing is definitely affected by how the whole economy reacts to the change. Some companies are taking the conservative route and trying to cut the development while other companies are taking advantage of the situation and trying to become more efficient. This means some spontaneous changes to sales and marketing strategies. However, it is becoming more and more obvious to traditional companies how having most of the work in the digital space is more necessary than ever before. As a product development company we are able to help them digitalize and protect their business from unnecessary losses.
Everything continues in the same way for the development team at Thorgate, just remotely. All agile ideas and methodologies are carried out similarly including planning sprints, stand-ups, groomings, and retros.
Since everything is now happening online, it forces us to focus even more on communication - making sure that everybody is on the same page and that all the details are ironed out. As a result, any problems & caveats in the product will come out even earlier than they did previously, making it more efficient.
It’s still more challenging (mostly mentally) to call someone than it would be to talk to somebody who’s sitting right next to you. Especially for people interacting with the developers whose job requires handling a lot of different topics such as project managers, engineering managers, and tech leads. However, this also means that there is a lot less context switching for them. A context switch costs 25-30 min, so this reduction is a huge win. Of course, it doesn’t mean that everybody will now be automatically a lot more efficient in their time management, but rather that it isn’t affected so much - as they have more control over it themselves.
The key for project managers to stay sane here is the 3Cs: communication, communication and communication! While working remotely it is important that people around the project managers such as clients and their teams would understand the concept of what they are explaining. Thus, it is important to avoid using words like ‘it’ and ‘them’ but rather replace these with specific items and people to avoid ambiguity. As mentioned before, it is also crucial for project managers that their teams all have a team "stand-up" once a day to make sure everybody is still on the same page and on track with the objectives that they are collectively trying to achieve what they need to deliver what has been promised to the client.
Conclusion: Tips and tricks
While working remotely many may discover that the personal life and work life meld together. To avoid that from happening, it is important to have a dedicated workspace in your home. If that is not possible, then even mentally preparing yourself can help. Some even report that getting dressed and having a walk around the block before returning home really helps to set the mood right (as long as it is safe for you to take that walk).
Many may be tempted to roll out of bed 5 minutes before the first meeting, but experience shows that this is not a great idea but rather a recipe for disaster. We suggest thinking through the steps that you need to do to be awake, present and ready to have a kick-ass workday from home.
Without the distractions from the office, it is easier to have short bursts of highly focused mini-sprints within a day lasting anywhere between 20 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on people's individual preference. Being able to take advantage of that can give a real boost to efficiency.
An important thing to remember is that in a normal scenario, all the times when you'd go to someone's workspace to have a talk about a work related challenge should now be replaced with a call rather than trying to solve these situations via messages or emails. This helps to ensure that line of communication stays prompt and effective.
Pro tip: do let people know that you'd like to call them as when someone is "in the zone" then an abrupt call may break their flow.
It is very crucial for managers to be able to communicate these tips to the team to make sure they can work efficiently. Moreover, choosing the right digital tools matters a lot in how effective the line of communication is going to be among teams. If you are ready to embrace a culture with communication at its core, you can go remote as a preventive measure during this coronavirus outbreak and save yourself from having to shut down processes. Obviously, some businesses may not be able to do this due to the nature of their work. However, most tech companies are able to adapt to this given they can ensure keeping up team efficiency.
We would be very happy to help the business community in this time to make sure we do our part in imparting knowledge that makes us prepared to deliver quality products even in this time.