Beyond the Connection: Best Practices for Remote Computing
As you know, faced with an extraordinary threat to world health, most companies recently made a big leap from office-based operations to a virtual workforce. Virtual computing creates potential technical complications, but it propagates cultural challenges as well. The traditional “water cooler” culture, where employees are used to face-to-face interaction, has been replaced by a culture of conference calls and virtual meetings. For many employees this transition into relative isolation can be difficult.
As one colleague at a state government agency described it: “IT focused strictly on getting the VPN working. They didn’t provide us with any collaboration tools. Now I spend all day on the telephone and I’m having trouble getting anything done.” His conclusion was that virtual operations just do not work. In today’s virtual environment how do remote teams get their work done? If you manage a team of remote employees or are part of a virtual team, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your remote workforce:
Daily Standup Meetings
Taking a page from Agile Project Management, a “standup meeting” is a short, focused team meeting held once a day, usually in the morning, where the team informs each other of the day’s priorities and what is on the agenda. This meeting can be as short as five minutes and never longer than 15. Video is preferable over an audio-only conference call, as seeing teammates is a more effective experience than just hearing disembodied voices. Video calls successfully ground the team for the day and set good expectations about coordination and project management. These meetings are designed to be more about collaboration and less about micro-managing.
There are a number of team collaboration tools available, but the two best known are Slack and Microsoft Teams (which comes with Office 3651). Both tools offer similar functionality, such as messaging streams (called “channels”), private chat functionality, and videoconferencing. Both can be easily integrated into other business systems such as Office 365 or Google Suite.
Email is not the most efficient replacement for face-to-face meetings and hallway conversations. Chat messaging found in platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams can be more effective. These chat platforms also have the added benefit of not clogging an inbox that might also include critical constituent communications. Better, the channels allow you to focus the conversations on specific topics, like the “Johnson campaign” or “financial reporting preparation.” Maintaining office relationships is important in these remote work environments, and channels allow you to separate work-related conversations from more personal ones, like favorite musical performances or can’t-miss Netflix shows.
Face, Voice, or Text?
The trickiest thing to navigate is deciding when to videoconference, when to pick up the phone, and when to message (email, stream, or text). While too many phone calls are counter-productive, under-communicating when you are working from home can be worse. A good rule of thumb is to pick up the phone in any situation when walking to someone’s office would be an option under normal circumstances.
In peer relationships, having the standup meeting and regularly scheduled video calls with key collaborators is important, but a lot can be accomplished via stream communications as well. You always have the option of moving an online conversation to video if it is clear that it will be more efficient.
Staying connected is of paramount importance. In this new “normal,” figuring out how to do that is complex, but achievable. Be mindful of the unique circumstance you and your team are currently navigating. Put systems in place, both procedural and technical, that will help you make the transition in ways that leave you just as productive as you were before the days of social distancing.
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