Remote work productivity is about culture, not software

Many teams have suddenly found themselves working from home.

This has led to a deluge of articles on ‘best tools for remote work’.

However, remote work is far more about culture than the software you happen to use.

I honestly think some teams could function perfectly well with telephones and typewriters.

Sure, choose your technology stack:

There are many options. But it doesn’t really matter which you choose.

The hard work is ensuring your team works together effectively despite being apart.

I’ve worked remote for the better part of 10 years. Here are some thoughts on managing a team effectively when working remote.

Purpose

Set clear goals; for the team as a whole and for individuals on the team.

You must be very clear what the team is working towards and how each team member can contribute to that.

  • Some people will sit at home not knowing what to do and be too afraid to ask.
  • Some people will plough into work that, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the team’s goal.

A team leader must make sure team and individual goals are well understood. The leader’s job is then to clear the path of blockages so that everyone can succeed.

Scrum is an excellent framework for remote teams. Put (very) simply, it provides for daily check-ins to identify impediments and bi-weekly work prioritisation meetings. Look into it.

The worst kind of remote team leader hounds people for work that was never clearly communicated in the first place. Don’t be that person.

Inclusion

A huge problem with remote work is that things happen to people; they don’t feel part of the decision making process on matters that directly affect them.

This can be toxic and extremely demotivating.

Change is hard at the best of times. It’s doubly so when change drops out of the sky without any warning or participation. People – correctly and understandably – want a sense of control in their job.

Sending announcements of predetermined decisions via email or chat is not communicating, it’s broadcasting.

Your team needs to understand the wider context of their work, the challenges faced, and the solutions under consideration.

Ask them for their perspectives. 

Include them in the decision making process.

Inclusion is not easy, but a top-down approach is doomed to fail. Top-down might feel faster, but it kills your team’s motivation. Take the time to ask questions and invite feedback.

You’ll be surprised by the creative solutions that’ll be suggested.

Transparency

This is the responsibility of every individual working remote. Whether an intern or the team lead, transparency is crucial.

How this is achieved must be made clear: Regular status updates? A short paragraph at the end of the day? An open to-do list? The method doesn’t matter as long as leaders ensure that everyone on their team has a clear understanding of *how* to be transparent.

Transparency means being clear and open about your work priorities, your work activity, and your work problems.

  • It means others can help you.
  • It builds trust within the team.
  • It helps everyone understand the wider solutions the team is working on.
  • It helps people see where their contribution fits in.

Transparency isn’t as easy as it sounds. At all levels of seniority, people get worried they aren’t doing as much as the next person. They worry they’re doing the wrong thing. They worry they can easily be replaced.

However, if you can solve the challenge of transparency, you’ll have a motivated, proactive team that offers solutions to problems you didn’t even know existed.

Everyone wants to feel safe and valued at work. Team-wide transparency is an important part of achieving this.

Creating a remote culture

More than using any particular software, the principle of over-communication is key to a productive remote team.

  • Give more information than you think people need.
  • Ask more questions than you think you should.
  • Natter about non-work topics more than feels right.

Remember that people can’t overhear conversations as they do in an office environment.

There’s no opportunity for management-by-osmosis, where people just ‘find out’ stuff by chance.

As a team leader, you need to provide the framework for two-way communication by creating an environment that supports purpose, inclusion, and transparency.

Don’t spend ages selecting the right software, spend your time talking to your team and fostering a remote team culture.

Further reading:

Manage remote teams with a transparent culture – TechCrunch

A guide to managing your newly remote workers – HBR

7 Tips for Successfully Managing Remote Teams – Inc.

4 ways to manage remote workers when you don’t know how long they’ll be working from home – Fast Company

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