The practice of remote teams has increased significantly in recent years. Companies of all sizes have discovered the benefits of telecommuting. However, despite the advantages of this working model and considering that the technology required for implementation is within reach in all companies, it is still not applied on a large scale.
At present, due to the COVID-19 crisis, many organizations have been forced to limit face-to-face contacts and, in many cases, this has increased the practice of teleworking. However, the lack of experience in this field has raised reservations or doubts about adopting this model.
From our experience, we hope to bring some light into the dark to those who are taking the first steps on this journey …
There are three indisputable benefits of working remotely and remote teams
Before considering the technical or organizational needs to realize this model of remote work, we must evaluate the benefits it can bring us. No one will embrace a process of change if there is no clear motivation for it. In this case, beyond the special situation of confinement, we must be aware that working remotely will bring us the following benefits:
- Increased productivity. Productivity increases in two ways. On the one hand, it reduces interruptions at work due to unexpected events. On the other hand, it means a
- Reduction of travel costs. The reduction of cost of travel and time spent with travelling is a direct benefit both for the company (in trips between plants) and for the employees (in daily ways to the workplace).
- Scalability. A remote working model allows to increase the number of people in the team without having to enlarge the organization’s facilities. In a remote work model, the location of talent is no longer a restriction or limiting criterion for hiring.
It is necessary to remember these benefits (and others that certainly can be identified by each organization) because when implementing it we will be seized by many doubts and fears about the success of the project.
A successful implementation must take into account both the technology and the culture of the organization as well as the maturity or individual responsibility of the team.
Technology is within our reach
For years, despite the advantages of telecommuting, most organizations were not able to consider this alternative because the necessary technology did not exist. Only if all workers had access to the Internet (and to a myriad of applications for collaborative work), the option of working as a team could be considered without the need to physically coexist in the same facilities.
Over the last ten years, technology has provided us with a wide range of tools that allow us to work remotely, achieving results similar to those we would achieve if this same work were done in the on-site mode: Google Drive, Dropbox, Slack, Teams, Trello, Zoom or Skype are some of the tools that we all have at our disposal and that help make remote collaborative work a reality.
Evolution of Culture
The culture of the company is not limited to Monday meetings, coffee room conversations or direct supervision of the work done. Culture is what people do, not what is written on a poster hanging on the office walls.
Consequently, this model does not change the culture of the organization per se. What it does relentlessly is to question and modify some of the traditional work paradigms (schedules, supervision…). Curiously, the more solid a culture is and the more deeply rooted the values of the organization are, the easier it will be to adapt to a teleworking model.
- The paradigm of the 9-to-5-day disappears. In a remote environment, the arguments that justify the standard schedule for everyone lose weight. This does not mean that all team routines disappear. Communication forums and contact rituals in which the whole team shares information will be essential to achieve results.
At the time of implementation, it will be necessary to define the rules of the game for each of these meetings. Although these first meetings are unlikely to be memorable, once consolidated, these contacts will be more efficient than in on-site mode.
- Immediate response… or almost. One of the first changes needed to introduce in the dynamics of work between people is to clearly understand that not everything can be dealt with synchronously and come straightforward from the rest of the team.
We should not be surprised by saying that accessibility to the rest of the team is not so easy in a telework model. This small barrier that makes communication difficult has an effect that, in this case, is very positive: in remote work, the interruptions due to “emergencies” that occur unexpectedly are greatly reduced, e.g. those that begin with a “now that I remember…”, “do you have a minute?” or “Since I see you around…”.
Practices for succesfull remote teams
In any case, for the implementation of a remote work model, the system must be adapted so that a large part of the work can be executed asynchronously.
- Focus on impacts. The paradigm of doing a certain amount of work loses value in a model in which schedules are not used to measure the performance of a team. In teams that work remotely, it is preferable to measure the impact of the work done rather than the amount of tasks executed.
- Keep the team under control. Many of the resistances to the implementation of the model result from a lack of confidence. There is still the mistaken belief that only direct control and face-to-face monitoring can ensure that employees are working and what they are doing. Unfortunately, this control is only an illusion. A study conducted at J.C. Penney’s headquarters shows that about five thousand employees working in an on-site model used 30% of the company’s Internet bandwidth by watching YouTube videos.
Consequently, if we have made a bad decision in hiring a person who systematically shuns his responsibilities, these behaviours will occur in both an on-site and a remote working model. In this case, the dilemma that comes up is not limited to the remote or on-site work format, but has a deeper focus that affects the role of our managers: do we need police officers or leaders to guide our remote teams?
It is advisable to learn to trust the people you work with … or find others to work with.
In any case, this point should not be an impediment to remote work either because, currently, there are systems that allow us to monitor the activity of our remote staff.
- Security and confidentiality of information. At present, organizations have all the systems necessary to keep their data protected at their disposal. In a remote working model, you only have to make sure that the staff, in case of problems, will have the necessary support to solve incidents from a distance.
It is obvious that the transition from a model of on-site work to a model of teleworking requires changes at the organizational level that affect the routines and rituals of the company. But it is also essential that, at an individual level, the employee adapts this work system to a new reality.
- Home is full of distractions. From the couch to the snack pack in the pantry, at home we are surrounded by a number of elements that can distract us from our work objective. Therefore, it is important to define rules concerning rooms, schedules and even dress. Evidently, working in pyjamas late at night cannot be considered a reasonable example of remote working.
- Remote does not mean isolated. Part of the routines to be established should include contact with other people. Even if all the work can be done remotely, offline activities in the real world must be integrated in the agendas.
- The coffee room. A team working remotely is rather a “team” than “remote”. For a sound development of the team, maintaining spaces or forums where the team members can talk and share some private information must be recommended. This is why the coffee room somehow must have its digital equivalent so that these routines can also be practiced in the remote type of a team.
- Blind communication. The quality of remote collaboration depends on the amount of information that is communicated in each of the contacts. It is necessary to take advantage of the full potential offered by the technologies we have at our disposal. Meetings must be held with the camera and microphone activated, so that the reactions of all the participants are perceived.
- Dedication. Working remotely can lead to a significant increase in productivity, but to make the results sustainable, routines, schedules, and breaks need to be defined and observed. Working longer does not mean doing the job better or achieving a greater impact. It simply means working more hours. In the short term it may seem that this kind of dedication translates into results, but in the medium and long term it eventually will create more problems than it can solve.
- Teamwork rituals. Sometimes teleworking leads to an increase in reports, meetings or follow-ups that are intended to justify that work is being done. If there is sufficient trust for remote work, the entire team will participate in defining the team’s coordination rituals and only those that are really necessary will be put into practice.
- Overlap and points of contact. Successful remote work requires a minimum of overlap between the schedules of those people interacting in the same team. Each team must define the limits of the freedom to schedule in order to ensure the proper performance of collaborative routines.
For all the reasons explained, remote teams has advantages for both the company and the staff. But please consider that it is not a black-and-white decision.
It´s the ideal situation when employees have the responsibility to decide any time how to best perform their work best and also the autonomy to do so.
If you want us to help you to facilitate a culture of remote work in your teams, contact us and we will align all the necessary factors to make it happen.
In addition, we invite you to subscribe to our digital collaboration guide and remote work so that you know in detail the five keys that make it possible remote teams and you can acquire tools and knowledge to accompany yourself on these days when digital collaboration is more than ever necessary.