It’s been a while since my last post on virtual teams. In January, I changed to a new company where teams were 100% presential. This started to change in the last months; with the company growth, teams started to have flexibility for remote work. With some of them, we were able to document the changes as experiments, with the following considerations:
– Which was our goal with remote work?
– What was the current situation (process, metrics & team satisfaction);
– What was the expected condition;
– Obstacles we could face (mostly listed at the begining were related to tools and people engagement);
– Steps and;
– Lessons learned.
Fortunately, the teams running this experiment were already in some level of maturity of their process, and there were no overall impacts to metrics. In some cases, team satisfaction was improved by the flexibility. Key points for remote work success were:
1- The company needs to provide the tools for remote work in a timely manner (VPN, notebooks, conference tools with chat/audio/video, wikis, murals as Realtime Board and any other tools the team can have to simulate presential collaboration);
2- The option of team self-organization for remote work agendas (maybe individuals have preferences for the week day they can stay at home and also, the team may need a day to be present for a Retro or a celebration).
So, how to replicate this to other teams?
You may also have another question in mind: What if my team is not mature and self organized enough to work remotly?
If you have a new remote team, or a team that needs to go remote and you are not sure if this is going to work, start assessing your team level using Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development.
Let’s recall a team definition: a group of people with a common goal and interdependent work, it’s important to take this in consideration when looking for Tuckman’s Stages:
– At the first level, the group is not recognized as a team, cause they don’t know each others work and how they can aggregate towards a unique goal, this is when we need an act of leadership;
– Between the second and third level, the team might have disagreements and it’s important that a commom process is stablished and related to team’s mission and values;
– From there, agile values and practices can help towards a high performance level.
In 2016, I wrote about the importance of Agile to virtual teams here. Of course, this won’t happen in one day. There is a road between team formation and high performance, for both presential and remote teams.
Another good reference for this path is the book from Patrick Lencione: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
This content together with the State of Remote Work from 2018 is the real reason for this post.
If you want to replicate virtual work to your company and teams, you need to be aware that the most reported problem is the emotional distance brought by loneliness and the lack of collaboration/comunication individuals can have when working remotly.
Emotional distance is normally the first problem reported by team members in a remote team, starting with absence of trust and leading to innatention to organizational results. So, if people at your organization are reporting loneliness or lack of communication with others, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
When I first started working with remote teams, in several occasions I faced concerns as “I have a lot of work to do, it seems I’m the only one in the team doing it“, normally, these people had no visibility of others work and no feedback as a team, this would led to work being left behind, with insatisfaction from clients being reported.
So, how do I avoid emotional distance or how do I start working to improve team morale?
The idea of Figure 5 is look to remote work dysfunctions as a root cause analysis, where innatention to results is the base and, when related to Figure 2 (Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development), can show us we have a group that needs to be worked as a forming team. At this stage, people probably don’t have a clear understanding of where they are going and which are the expected results of their work.
Some questions we can do to start are:
1 – Who are we (which are our values)?
2 – Why do we exist (who’s our client and what is our team mission)?
4 – What we do (which are the services or products we provide)?
3 – How we do it (priorization criterias/process)?
From here, the team can start defining their tools and policies for remote work, as defining a time where everyone can be together (specially when working in different time zones).