Remote working is being discussed more and more as an innovative way for teams to become more efficient. Improvements in home internet speeds and developments in tools and technologies that foster communication and collaboration mean working remotely is an increasingly viable option for modern companies.
But remote working can be challenging – for the individuals involved and for organisations to realise the potential benefits.
At Perform Green, we are in the innovation business, so we recently took the plunge and gave our entire core team the opportunity to work remotely full-time. As consultants, we naturally spend a lot of time out of our office and working on-site with our clients, so working in a geographically dispersed team is something that is built into our DNA.
Full-time remote working is not always easy; it requires a lot of trust and discipline from everyone involved, but we believe the benefits of remote working outweigh the challenges and we use a number of tools and techniques that allow us to make remote working work for us.
The daily stand up
We start every day with a short “stand up call” where everyone on the team confirms 3 important things:
- What I worked on yesterday
- What I’m working on today
- What is blocking my progress
This meeting is timeboxed to 15 minutes and people stay on their feet (or so they say!) to ensure everyone gets a summary update of the whole team’s work plan without any temptation to go off on a tangent with unnecessary detail. Point 3 also lets us ask for help from other members of the team when we need it and removes any blockers to completing tasks/projects.
Real-time communications with Slack
Slack is quickly becoming the industry standard for real-time communication, and I LOVE IT! When we kick off a new project, we set up a slack channel so that the whole project team can start discussing plans and ideas from day 1. To show the team something, I click 1 button to dial them all into a video call and share my screen with them. When clients come on board we add them to our slack conversations to make sure they are always kept in the loop. When we produce a new report we can share the file directly with everyone via drag and drop file share. Some people have complained that Slack is just another new toy and will be replaced by the next new fad any day now, however, I disagree and firmly believe that for a remote team, Slack is a critical tool. If your team aren’t using it yet, they should be!
Task tracking in Trello
Trello is our go-to application when it comes to planning, tracking and delivering. Essentially, it lets us quickly build Kanban boards for all of our projects; we create Trello cards for all of the tasks we need to accomplish and put them into a project backlog. We can then invite team members to the board, assign the right tasks to the right people and start working together. On every card, we can comment, attach files, add delivery dates, labels and checklists to help us stay organised and on track. Like slack, we invite our clients to join our Trello boards and collaborate on work with us, wherever we are and wherever they are. We even use Trello to manage our internal processes and procedures including HR, new starter onboarding, company policies and more.
Configuration Management in Google Drive
As consultants, we produce a lot of reports and analysis so having a well-structured document storage solution is essential and being a remote team it needs to be accessible by all members of the team, from wherever they are 24/7. Because of this, we don’t use a clunky old intranet system, we use Google Drive. In this day and age, I’m sure most people are familiar with using Drive to store and share files, but I’m not sure that many businesses use it to its full potential. We are able to quickly set up file structures, collaborate on documents, control who has access to which documents at a very granular level and access anything we need at any time. We even give clients and partners limited access to certain parts of our drive structure so they can access the stuff they need.
Resource Management from the Guru
One of the major challenges of having a fully remote team is knowing exactly who is doing what and when they are doing it. To stay on top of this we use a time and resource tracking tool called Resource Guru. When we start a new project we can plug the teams allocated days/hours into resource guru. This lets us see who is working on which projects, who has some capacity and who is overloaded and may need some support. It helps us with project planning, financial planning, reporting and resourcing, we can’t imagine life without now.
Tomato Time Management
Staying focused when working solo for long periods of time is another challenge of remote working. One of the most common questions I get is “how do you stay focused on work all day when you aren’t in an office?” There are a number of things that can be done to maintain that discipline and one of our favourites is using the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is Italian for Tomato and essentially involves breaking work up into 25-minute intervals (Pomodoros) with short breaks in between, using a timer and check sheet to keep track and taking a longer break after every 4 Pomodoros. Fun fact; the timer used by the creator of this technique was Tomato shaped hence the name! We find this is a great way to stay focused and avoid task switching. In many ways, working remotely reduces interruptions from other team members and makes this process easier.
Of course, one of the big downsides of remote working is we don’t get to see our colleagues smiling faces as often and can miss out on the social interaction an office provides! To combat this we hold regular (at least monthly) team catch-ups where the whole team gets together in one place to catch up and build the bonds that lead to better understanding, higher morale and more motivation to go the extra mile for the others we are working with. The conversation is mostly (though not exclusively) work-related and having this time to chat through specific topics, ideas, problems etc. is really beneficial in supplementing the other tools and techniques we’ve described here.
So, those are some of our favourite ways of making remote working work for us. What about your team, are you using any of these to facilitate remote working? Are you thinking about trying it? Are you using other tools and techniques that we haven’t discovered yet?