In recent years, terms such as "fully distributed team" and "remote team" have become increasingly common. There are numerous publications about what tools to use to get a handle on communication and coordination. At the same time, those who don't believe in remote teams is still very large. I think it is helpful to distinguish between different types of remote work and to understand what the real challenge is. Only then should we talk about tools and processes.
Types of "Remote Work”
- Fixed price and fixed scope. In this scenario you give a freelancer a precisely defined task and pay him/her a fixed price. An example of this is a graphic designer who is supposed to create a brochure.
- Permanent employee who often works from home, but also regularly works in the office.
- Several software developerswho live scattered around the world and see each other extremely rarely, work on an hourly rate or are permanently employed and create software as a team.
The first case is relatively unproblematic because it is not a team and the price and performance are clearly defined. In case of non-delivery there will be no payment either. Therefore, in this blog post, we will only deal with cases 2 and 3.
In order to understand what the real challenge is, we must put ourselves in the shoes of the person who works remotely on the one hand and the person who coordinates the work as a manager or has budget responsibility on the other.
If you sit together in an office, you unconsciously absorb information, for example:
- the mood of the colleagues, which can be contagious or motivating
- Time pressure, urgency
- Important details regarding the project, which you can pick up via radio and not be even aware of
- whether someone is working very hard on something or rather walking through the day in a relaxed manner.
This flow of information with psychological effects is absent in the home office. Thus, different effects can occur:
- The manager is not convinced that the team is working, but has the feeling that the employees are having a good time.
- Team members feel distant from the rest of the team and have less ambition. They need group dynamics to work efficiently.
- Team members cannot perform their tasks perfectly because they lack small but important details.
These effects can significantly reduce the team’s productivity and creativity. Numerous attempts to set up a Fully Distributed Team have failed. Therefore, it is important to recognize which measures must be taken in order not to jeopardize the success. The goal of these measures is to ensure that:
- all relevant information is distributed and perceived in a well-structured manner so that each employee can perform his/her tasks well,
- it is possible to estimate (approximately) how much an employee works - both in terms of time and quantity of tasks
- a motivating team spirit is created and maintained.
The right employee selection is primary. Certain characteristics here are more important than in a normal office scenario:
- The employee must be able to work independently to a greater extent and coordinate himself and his daily routine. Self-discipline plays a central role here.
- Very important is the ability to express oneself clearly and compactly both orally and in writing, to avoid misunderstandings and to maintain a friendly tone
- It is our experience that recruiting interviews are "war-critical". Even relatively young HR managers are often overwhelmed in this situation, as they simply do not yet have the experience to identify the right candidate who fits well into a team.
If you deal with this category of employees, then the following key points are important:
- It is an advantage if a new employee is physically on site for training. This creates a personal relationship with the company/team and makes the induction easier, because it is possible to ask questions more quickly
- Different types of meetings are necessary for different problems. There are meetings that serve to structurework, and other meetings in which work and tasks are more likely to be distributed . It is extremely important that outcome of the first category of meetings would be entering tasks into the system and drawing up their detailed description. The second category of meetings is more of a daily ritual, a team gathering to determine who is working on what and if there are obstacles, who can help to solve them, etc.
- The use of telephone and email have clear disadvantages when monitoring remote teams. It is better to use systems such as Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams etc., because they allow to create topic-specific channels and communication can take place almost like in a conversation, and also offer the possibility of time-shifted communication. In addition, participants can be added and removed from a communication channel. This flexibility and focus has proven to be very beneficial
- Due to the lack of a kitchenette and hall radio, some kind of replacement is required to foster the emotional bond between employees. This helps to create team spirit. It is advisable to create special chats for private topics in the systems mentioned in p. 3). Management should initially take over these functions here and do things like share a few holiday photos or congratulate on a birthday
- If financially possible, the team should meet several times a year. Quarterly planned teambuildings can becombined, for instance, with a common excursion (hiking, rafting, etc.). This is especially important at the very beginning, when the team is put together for the first time and starts its work.
This blog post should give you a first impression about remote teams. In another blog post we will soon present software tools and management processes that have proven to be advantageous.
Certain companies have established themselves as pioneers in the field of dealing with remote teams. Here are some links:
- Gitlab’s Secret to Managing 160 Employees in 160 Locations
- Company Doist – The Pyramid of Remote Team Communication Tools
- Company Zapier – Zapier’s guide to working remotely
Photo: Peter Aschoff, Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/q1k0Pmea9nU