As of early 2020, remote working is no longer a privilege, but a necessity. With only 31% of UK businesses having the right technology and tools to start working remotely, the remainder 69% had to figure out overnight how to move their operations off-premise.
This is no easy feat.
How can businesses manage the shock of an entirely new way of working, while keeping performance, productivity and collaboration high?
In this article, we will discuss the capabilities your team needs to successfully work remotely.
How efficient is remote working?
It’s hard shaking off decades of office-based work. When you’re used to having an office culture and building relationships through informal discussions, it can be difficult to adapt to remote working.
As such, it might be counterintuitive at first to learn that there are more benefits to remote working than downsides. A number of pre-COVID studies highlight some impressive numbers:
- Cost savings:fewer and smaller offices can bring costs down considerably by lowering rent, maintenance staff, utility bills, and taxes. A study concluded a $2000 saving per remote employee.
- No more commute: workers gain back a considerable amount of time which is no longer spent in traffic. Lower transportation costs, accident risks and emissions are also beneficial.
- Higher productivity: Remote employees work 1.4 more days per month compared to their office-based counterparts. They also take shorter breaks, fewer sick days and less time off.
- Fewer distractions: 75% of people who work remotely have fewer distractions and focus breaks to deal with, so they can concentrate more without being interrupted.
- Reduced stress: 86% of people feel that working remotely reduces stress. This leads to better employee retention and increased productivity.
The list goes on.
However, simply becoming remote will not bring about those benefits. You will need to make a deliberate effort to become high performing and to compensate for those built-in benefits of office-based work.
Productivity takes work. Otherwise, you will face plenty of challenges which can cause remote teams to fail.
After we spoke with over 100 software companies, we found that over 70% of respondents did not have a process in place for documenting information. A similar number of respondents said that they faced considerable challenges knowing what other teams are up to in cross-team projects.
If you don’t set your team up with good remote work practices first, there’s no tool or system that you can buy that will save you.
Remote team management principles
Most advice available around best practices for remote working are quite vague and generic. These go along the lines of ‘communicate regularly, use the right tools, maintain company culture’.
These high-level recommendations become much more useful when they are looked at through the prism of your company. Variables such as company size, number of teams and functions, and complexity of your productivity stack will determine how your teams share knowledge and create relationships.
For example, a 10 people, early-stage startup could have a daily stand-up call, a weekly team update and communicate mostly via Slack. On the other hand, a 400 people mid-market software organization operating across 4 offices in 3 time zones might need a more structured mix of regular Zoom calls, employees 1:1s, cross-functional catch ups, and asynchronous reporting—and a much more complex company stack.
Once you identify your teams’ specific requirements, you should look at implementing these principles:
1. Promote radical transparency on every project and team
Make full visibility over projects, team goals, responsibilities, and related documentation a default for every team. When everyone is aware of other’s roles, skills, and tasks, it becomes significantly easier to engage in productive conversations.
When you remove the need to ask questions such as “What are they working on?”, “Who’s she reporting to?”, or “What’s the latest with that project?”, you’ll free up a lot more time on actual, constructive collaboration.
2. Encourage asynchronous communication
Enable your employees to focus on value-creation activities by minimizing time spent on video calls and endless Slack chats. Instead, promote written documentation and asynchronous updates, so you can nurture a culture of thoughtfulness and intentionality.
After all, the more you write, the better you can articulate your thoughts, the more you will build conviction to get where you need to be.
3. Create a cross-team collaboration system
Create a single source of truth that can pull knowledge from various sources where all employees can refer to and be kept in the loop. This is only possible when making a conscious effort to store and organize information surrounding people, teams and projects, with shared updates, resources, and workflows—all-in-one place.
4. Gather shared protocols and processes
Define boilerplate remote team processes to maximize team consistency and alignment, and promote a culture of transparency and feedback. These could include company-wide back-office operations such as onboarding new joiners’, hiring process, and expense reporting. It can also include team-specific practices like starting a new marketing campaign, customer onboarding, design briefs, or placing and approving an equipment request.
The more you have these processes in one place and readily available to everyone in the organization, the more team members will provide feedback to improve them.
Let’s look at a few remote teams who seem to be doing all the right things.
- Zapier have employed a ‘default to transparency’ company value. It helps them communicate in a way which helps others do their work more efficiently. They promote specificity and clarity, disencourage jargons and acronyms, and also use hashtags and communication channels that are easily searchable.
- Buffer ensure their teams’ productivity by cascading goals from a company-wide level to team-specific levels and to the individual. This makes sure that all the work which takes place within the company will be aligned with the wider company scope.
- Gitlab have implemented detailed collaboration systems such as preparing for every meeting with a Google Doc agenda. The agenda is used for documenting discussions, decisions and actions. This works for two reasons. Firstly, being intentional on what is expected out of each meeting. Secondly, they’ve chosen a single company-wide tool for managing the meeting agenda—Google Docs, which is easy to use, applies to every team, and can be viewed and edited asynchronously, without the need to share screens.>
Build your remote collaboration toolkit
Now that we’ve pinned down the core principles of remote collaboration, let’s look at which tools you need to make it happen.
There’s no one-size-fits-all remote collaboration tool that can be used across functions—yet. Each tool is great at something, depending on the specific problem they’re solving.
Let’s have a look at what the modern productivity and collaboration toolkit looks like:
- Collaborate synchronously with instant messaging apps (Slack, Microsoft Teams) and asynchronouslywith emails or wikis (GitHub, Confluence)
- Track your work with project management software (Asana, Trello, Jira, Monday.com, Basecamp)
- Create, store and collaborate on files with documentation and file sharing apps (Google Drive, Dropbox Paper, Notion)
- Create an org-wide knowledge baseof shared protocols, policies and processes with company wiki software (Notion, Confluence, Github)
- Set, track and cascade objectives with goal tracking apps (Lattice, 7Geese, GtmHub)
- Visualize org charts, book holidays and track team performance with HR Tools (Charlie HR, HiBob)
- Build, automate and scale internal processes with business process management software (Process Street, Tonkean, Next Matter, Kissflow)
A diverse portfolio of tools will ensure that your team covers all the use cases you really need to be productive and collaborate effectively as a remote team.
On the other hand, creating a system with many moving parts also has its drawbacks. How many tools are too many? Can you save money on tools that integrate more than one use case? What happens with cross-functional projects and teams, where different teams use different tools?
Imagine you are a product manager leading a project which involves software engineers, designers and growth marketers. They all depend on input from each other and they use different tools. It becomes very easy to get lost in a jungle of workspace apps.
Different teams using different tools might contribute to organizational silos. This simply means that people in different teams do not communicate enough with each other leading to the following drawbacks:
- Breaking focus: people having to ping their colleagues asking where they can find information
- Wasted time: when a piece of information is not found, and then work has to be duplicated
- Knowledge silos: If there’s only one person who knows something, and that person leaves, the information leaves with him
- Misalignment: goals are not aligned between teams, resulting in wasted effort and delays
What if there was a better way to cross the bounds of workspace apps?
The all-in-one work hub that brings all your teams under one roof
In an ideal world, teams would enter an online workspace that gives them the context to work smart by finding information quickly, tracking and sharing their work effectively, and connecting with their people remotely—regardless of platform, format, or account permissions.
What would it take for anyone to instantly aggregate all the information they need in one place?
1. A central directory of every person, project and team
You’ve noticed that as your company grew, everything got harder to track. New projects, new hires, new clients. Wouldn’t it be great to have an automatically updating dashboard with org charts, responsibilities, live projects, and document repositories—everything tightly-linked together—in a single work hub?
2. Search files, messages and projects across tools with
Imagine a “Google of the organization” where you can type in ‘product go to market plan’ and get a list of results that pulls from across Google Drive, Slack, Trello, Notion, Confluence, Jira, and more. Each list item comes with a short description and, when clicked, opens the app right where the document is located. How much time would that save you?
3. A consolidated channel for asynchronous updates
The software engineers have completed testing for the latest feature. They can share an update in their team space, and marketers and designers working on the same project are notified without creating noise. They can then find back the right update without scrolling through endless threads and cutting on unnecessary video calls.
Bonus: the update is clearly labelled as a blocker, so the problem can promptly get escalated to the right person. How many more hours of deep work you'll get instead of unnecessary meetings?
4. Company-wide workflows
Imagine you are onboarding a new hire—you would have to explain your repositories and—oh...did Jim from the HR team already cover that?
Wouldn’t it be easier to write down your process once, and have every new hire go through the process autonomously? That’s a powerful way to increase transparency of the processes and set better expectations with team members—while gathering feedback to actively improve your shared protocols.
At Qatalog, we’ve developed a work hub which brings together all these core capabilities
Our platform acts as a single pane of glass for all the integrated workspaces, giving you the required control to manage your remote teams.
At Qatalog, Matteo looks after Growth Ops and Product Marketing. No day is the same for Matteo — you can find him interviewing customers, writing down product messaging, or setting up various customer acquisition and lifecycle channels. When not at work, Matteo enjoys reading psychology books, practicing meditation, or planning his next year-long trip to Asia.