Thriving from Afar: Strategies for Effective Remote Teamwork

The world of work is changing, and remote and hybrid models are here to stay. With that in mind, managers are looking for effective ways to ensure the work gets done, without adopting an invasive “big brother” approach.

Finding the balance between collaboration and independence

While Agile requires collaboration — people working effectively together —  working remotely requires individuals to self-manage and work independently.  Somehow team members must figure out both how to work better together and how to work better alone.  This requires individuals  to figure out what they need to work on and how they should work on it in an environment where visibility and transparency is challenging. This means managers are often feeling in the dark, requiring a high degree of trust in their teams that is often tested any time things go wrong. This often leads  to management  questions of commitment, productivity and dedication.

Helping your remote teams work better

It starts by being more precise about defining our expectations and ensuring every team has the tools to meet those expectations. Expecting people to have high-productivity work-at-home skills is like expecting a home-taught cook to match the skills of a fully trained chef.  This is  why it makes sense to double down on coaching  and providing support structures to help remote teams do better. Whether teams are brand new or seasoned Agile teams, there’s one common denominator: the pursuit of continuous improvement..As individuals, there are two key issues that need to be addressed:

How am I working? (How am I managing my time, my day?)
How do I work with others to deliver things together?

They’re actually connected. The one depends on the other. Individuals don’t deliver outcomes, teams do.

Productivity is built on accountability
To boost productivity in remote work teams, you (and me) need to build accountability into our daily work schedules. There are a number of strategies that can easily be employed that make this possible:

Use the daily Scrum to establish the team’s goals for the day
What do you want to solve today? By integrating the daily scrum with individual goals, you can create a collective set of goals for the day.

Apply the rule of threes
What three things do you want to accomplish today? Your day doesn’t end until you’ve accomplished them. It creates a sense of alignment around what your team wants to accomplish.

Partner up
Every task you work on, you have to partner with somebody else. As an example, this can mean that you have to be online on Google Talk with somebody else at the same time. At the very least, there is an expectation that there’s an assignment, project, or module that can’t be executed by one person. It requires multiple people and creates a sense of mutual accountability.

Open collaboration windows
During your day, create specific times when you get online with your team: 9 to 10 and 3 to 4. This eliminates the need for managers to oversee processes and do spot checks because you’re touching base more than once a day to get updates.

Define dedicated blocks of work time.

Try using the Pomodoro technique. Create a list of things you want to do. Then, choose what you want to focus on and set a 25-minute timer. Turn off your phone, notifications, alerts, etc. Unless there’s a major crisis, most things in your life can wait 25 minutes. Then, take a 5-minute break.

Scheduled regular retrospectives
Whether your team is a scrum team or not, scheduling regular retrospectives dedicated to identifying specific areas that the team can focus on to improve is a cornerstone to continuous improvement.

Create structures of fulfillment, instead of enforcement
Do regular team check-ins. Schedule regular meetings in which we debrief and review  everything the team has accomplished as well as align on the next set of priorities. You have a choice: create structures of enforcement or create structures to help fulfillment.

Think Pink: Motivation is driven by mastery, autonomy, and purpose
As Daniel Pink writes in his book, Drive, Mastery is being motivated to get better at doing something right; autonomy is the ability to be self-directed; and purpose is doing something we believe is important — something bigger than ourselves. By elevating enforcement, we remove autonomy, which reduces motivation. When we focus on “ARE you working?” instead of “HOW you are working?”, we lose sight of the purpose.

Purpose is one of the main factors that affect our ability to do difficult things and endure discomfort. Organizations that actively work to improve employee motivation and elevate engagement will find it easier to initiate the strategies that help their teams stay focused on their purpose and become more productive.

What strategies are you using to ensure your team delivers? Let us know in the comments.

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