The age of remote work is upon us. Came quite suddenly didn’t it? We’ve not only been thrust into the work-from-home environment, but we’ve needed to figure it out when our partners also must work from home, when our kids aren’t going to school, and when our pets can’t go to doggy daycare.
Luckily many companies have the communication and collaboration tools in place to manage 100% remote work. Tools like Zoom, Slack, the plethora of messaging apps, the ease of document sharing, and Facebook groups make collaborating remotely easier than ever.
What is lost, and may take much longer to acquire, is the social cohesion that exists on a daily basis in a physical office. The social culture and feeling of ‘working together as a team’ that inspires and motivates us will be harder to come by.
Admios, the top nearshore development firm in the Americas, has been working remotely with US-based clients for over 15 years. We pride ourselves on integrating our devs into our client’s culture even though we may physically sit a thousand miles away. We’ve found our commitment to cultural integration is really important, resulting in better communication, alignment, and ultimately higher quality work.
Here are some things we’ve done successfully, and not so much, over the years:
Turns out that videos are just about the closest approximation to a real social encounter as you can get (which is why we love movies so much). Make every meeting a video conference with the camera on. Seeing a smiling face builds social interaction and helps communicate the many non-verbal cues in dialog.
Set 5 minutes aside for small talk at the beginning of every meeting. This mimics that water-cooler chit chat dynamic at the office. Leaders or those running the meeting should be responsible for creating time for this. This will naturally take hold after a few calls.
Slack channels are your virtual office corridors. Encourage interest channels which can be anything from pets to shared curiosities. This allows for team bonding. Integrate tools like Donut (https://slack.com/apps/A11MJ51SR-donut) that make it easy for colleagues to connect, just like grabbing a coffee and donut at a cafe.
Leaders need to make a concerted effort to be available. They need to proactively reach out to team members, just like you might when you bump into them in the office. This prevents social isolation that can creep in when working from home days or weeks in a row.
When you are sitting next to someone, it is easy to overhear a conversation and ask, “What is the status of that?” These triggers will not happen while sitting at home which means communication can start to lag.
Here at Admios, we over communicate as much as possible. This could take the form of daily standups, weekly project check ins, or monthly strategy steering meetings. We calendar these recurring meetings early to be proactive about staying in touch.
Wait, we said 2 minutes ago to embrace slack. What gives? Chatting tools are good for quick, short exchanges or sharing links/content. They are not good for richer, more meaningful exchanges of information. Critical information or tone can get easily misunderstood through chat. If what you want to communicate is important, or you’re wanting to more deeply understand someone's opinion, a call is the best way to go.
While working remote, it is easy to not realize you are part of a team. The environment plays a big role in how we think and not being surrounded by others makes us more independent by default.
If we get blocked or stuck on a problem, we’ll often spend hours trying to figure it out. Little did we know, there is someone on your team who has already solved an issue like that and can help you out. Your team is the greatest resource you have, use it. In the same way, be available and let others know you are there to help as well.
In the office, there are social triggers that create boundaries between work and not-work: rush hour traffic, coffee shop lines, everyone entering the office, lunch break, people packing up from their desk, a quiet office. When working from home, these environmental queues don’t exist making it easy to overwork yourself.
Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. It is often good to get into a routine like wakeup and shower right away before you start work. This signals the ‘start’ of the workday. Plan to workout, walk the dog, or cook at a certain time which signals the ‘end’ of the workday.
As we all transition to this new style of work, it is up to leaders to implement new policies and dynamics for their teams and actively test and try new things. With all the tools we have, working remotely is easy, too easy in fact. This rapid change can lead to a deterioration of culture and communication. It is important to be proactive to hold these social dynamics together while we are physically socially distant.
So. Go forth and smile on video calls, reach out on slack, and turn off the laptop at the end of the work day. If you'd like to learn more about how we integrate our remote software development teams for your business, click here to set up a quick intro call.