All six teams in the ISA 2016 cohort have remote workers. Having distributed teams is a common practice – especially with tech employees.
“Doing work remotely is a work-life integration point,” Nicole Forsythe says, ISA’s Agile expert and a current remote employee for Wowza Media Systems. From her experience, working remotely greatly helps with work-life balance, but it can pose challenges for company dynamics.
“It’s easier to work remote if everyone you work with is also working remotely. Halfway situations make things complicated.”
Here are four best practice tips to help mitigate these challenges:
- Visualize your work.
In a work environment where not all members are present in the space, knowing what everyone is working on becomes challenging. Without clear communication, it’s easy for resentment over work distribution to build up.
Using an Agile system — and sticking to it — helps visualize work across the entire team. Teams should do a standup every day to see what’s been accomplished and plan for the day’s objectives. Every team member should be involved in this conversation either through video or a phone call.
Rotating who facilitates the standup will help ensure that each team member knows how this ceremony and workflow operates.
Each week, teams should also do a retro where they discuss what went well during their sprint and what things they can improve upon. With remote workers, retros should be done via video because facial expressions and body language are critical factors in communication. “You need to know people are people,” Nicole says. Retros can cover very emotional topics, like failures, and missing facial expressions can cause severe miscommunication.
For more insight on retros, here are Nicole Forsythe and Eric Engelmann’s best practices.
- Know when you can interrupt someone.
It’s easy to see when you can interrupt someone when you’re in an office space, and headphones are a universal sign that it’s not a good time. However, working remotely makes it impossible to see those headphones. Interrupting a remote developer when they’re in the middle of coding can lead to a huge loss in focus that takes the developer a lot of time to bounce back from. Set specific, consistent times when you’re available to be interrupted and communicate that to all team members. Respect when other team members say they aren’t available. Make this part of your company’s working agreement.
- Know how you can interrupt someone.
Once you know when you can interrupt your teammates, you need to know how you can interrupt them. There are many different ways to get a hold of people, but teams need to choose which channels are the ones they’ll use for work and stick to them.
For example, Nicole does not use texting for work communication. Her team uses Slack. In fact, texting is specifically for things not relating to co-workers or work at all. Misusing communication channels disrupts the work/life balance that remote working can bring. Let work be work and keep it on the channels you chose as a company.
- Know each other in person.
The best work situations are ones where employees feel socially connected to each other. When teams have members work remotely, they can lose out on the ease of social communication that happens when everyone is co-located. Getting to know people face to face is crucial for the success of remote working.
One way to do this is through company retreats. While it’s an expense, getting everyone together in one spot allows for organic conversation that can’t happen in a remote workplace. It creates relationships that better work can be built on.
Zapier, a company of remote employees, has done company retreats for the past five years. They’ve put together advice on logistics to improve your retreats.
Done right, a remote workforce can be a cost effective way to grow a startup’s team. But doing it right is tricky. What other tips or techniques have you seen that help remote teams work well?