Whether we wanted or not many of us were forced to find themselves in the new, virtual, remote reality and occasional remote work has become a new standard. At the very beginning I asked myself some questions. How to keep the team engaged and motivated? How to effectively organize meetings, workshops or trainings? How to survive in the current situation? I share experiences and result of “How to work remotely with your team” meeting series that I organized at Lufthansa Systems company.
How to keep the team spirit and motivation when moving to remote work?
First of all, take care of the things that you would take care of while working in the office. Do not impose all possible solutions, let the team self-organize, set the rules for cooperation, observe and ensure transparency. Use technology and transfer physical boards, flipcharts, boxes, sticky notes to a virtual tool. Applications like Ms Teams, Slack, Miro or Mural will be very helpful. For physical boards or flipcharts – platforms for collaborative online collaboration such as Miro (free license with restrictions) or Mural (30 day free license) will be useful. You will be able in real time cooperate with several people on one board by choosing from pre-built templates or creating your own.
The Retro box channel – a virtual version of the box, for gathering topics during the sprint which will be discussed during the retrospective, will be perfect as a channel in the Ms Teams application or Slack room. Using video during the meetings would also be a good habit, which for many people, especially at the beginning, can be challenging. So how do you encourage team members to use video during calls? Start using it by yourself to encourage others. In MS Teams, you can blur the background in case someone does not want to show their workplace or change the background to one of the available images, or your own image. In many companies using video calls is not a standard, so ‘thank’ the team having a chance of seeing them. It is worth taking care of informal interactions, where the team members are able to say hello, connect and have a coffee or work together. One of the solutions I used was creating the MS Teams channel called “Open space chatting” where the team opens a meeting at any time for coffee conversations, office/open space discussions, or talk about non-work related topics.
A good solution is also the “good morning” message, where the team greets each other in the morning and say goodbye when finishing the work. Another solution are meeting series for morning coffee with the team. This allows you to maintain integration, maintain interactions that were very strong while working in the office. One of the ideas I have created is a separate Ms Teams channel dedicated strictly to topics related to work, we call it the “Home office” channel – there we exchange ideas, ask for help, talk about topics related to daily work and at any time we open a meeting to for brainstorming or work together. A good way to maintain team spirit can be the challenge to create a collage of photos during remote work. Each team member sends a photo of how he works from home. Photos are used to create a collage that is published on the company’s channel together with a nomination for the challenge for the next team. Having a beer or team computer games after work can also be helpful in maintaining interaction.
Online workshops – you can do it!
Before an online workshop, it is worth to form a solid preparation. Create clear guidelines for all participants, prepare and send the agenda (remember about frequent breaks). Provide as much information as possible in advance. If you plan to use the online tool, make sure you explain how it works. If you plan to work in groups, take care of a person to help with facilitation. Check the connection and go through the prepared agenda to avoid technical surprises. Remember to stick to the scheduled time box.
A good solution for conducting an online workshop with group work is to use the Mural (collaborative tool) and Ms Teams application (division into rooms / groups). In the Mural, you can create a virtual space for cooperation that will perfectly reflect traditional flipcharts, electrostatic boards, post it’s and drawing walls. It will be helpful to add all elements / charts to the agenda “outline”, thanks to which meeting participants will be able to easily move to the appropriate place of the workshop.
By combining the Mural with the Ms Teams application, you can easily divide participants into smaller groups working in separate virtual rooms at the same time as well as allowing everyone to return to the main virtual room to share the result of their work. Each group has its own element on the board with a link that leads to the appropriate room.
During virtual workshops, when maintaining the group’s attention, focus and energy is very demanding, the role of facilitator is invaluable. Proper preparation, focus, meeting dynamics and constant research about new tools and solutions can be the key to success. Do not forget to always collect a feedback from the group to improve your workshop every time.
Self-survival – don’t forget about yourself!
Without our daily routine or commuting to work, moving to remote work mode is a challenge. I would like to share tips on how not to get crazy and persevere in the virtual world. Do you check your emails first thing after waking up? Are you comfortable lying in bed or on the sofa sitting in pajamas? Oh yes! This strategy will work for the first few days, because after a while it can affect your body. Take care of the right space and workplace. Organize the necessary equipment, avoid sitting on the couch and remember to ensure a comfortable working position whenever possible. If possible, organize a secluded place (desk / table) where you can focus. Explain to your family or flat mates your need of having calm place to work, set boundaries – I’m in a meeting / I’m working = do not disturb. Communicate your availability clearly. What is your morning routine? Get up, dress up in comfy clothes or keep a company dress code and prepare yourself for work. Do not start work immediately after waking up, and even worse sitting in pajamas. The time you would spend on the road to work, use for morning exercises, yoga or tasty breakfast.
What are your habits at work? While working remotely, we often throw ourselves into work, time runs away magically, and everything we need is at hand. It is a good idea to specify working hours and breaks. Take short breaks every 1-2 hours while working remotely. Go to the balcony, breathe, refresh your mind and stretch your body to add some energy. This is currently not possible to go out for a lunch with your coworkers or have a coffee break in the kitchen. However, do not forget about meals and drinks. Before starting work, it is worth preparing a jar of water for the whole day to ensure your hydration. Plan also lunch breaks (maybe a virtual lunch with coworkers?), coffee or a small snack, preferably at a fixed time of a day. Separate your life from work. After work clean up your workstation, hide/close the equipment until the next day. Do not use work equipment when you are not working. Let your brain understand that you are “after” work. Run, exercise – even half an hour of exercise or a walk (in the park or neighborhood) after work will help you to keep your mind clean. Keep discipline and follow which day of the week is today. Remember what you / your family used to do while going to the office/school. At a time when contact is both needed but also difficult – take care of relationships. Keep in touch with other people, call, send message and join a virtual chat room with coworkers. Do not forget that some colleagues may be in quarantine, unable to leave the house, or simply struggling with the current situation. Remember to support and contact them.
Maintaining a healthy level of social interaction is the key to success. Certainly, each of us is in a slightly different situation, has different working conditions and different needs. However, I believe that the above tips can be helpful. Do not you have any habits and remote work is difficult for you? Take small steps – Inspect, adapt & repeat – observe what works well for you and what makes you event more tired than working from, the office. Keep up the good habits and put them in your daily routine, act!
The coronavirus outbreak has certainly revolutionized the realities of many companies, and we’ve just completed an accelerated remote work course, a distributed team course, and an agility and self-organization exam. Over time, people will return to normal life and we will be able to work from the office again, meet friends and family. Until then, let’s try to make the most of this difficult and changing time. I think this lesson has given us solid knowledge, increased trust in organizations and approach to remote work. Good practices, new tools and habits will stay with us for longer.
Scrum Master at Lufthansa Systems. Constantly developing competences in the field of agility and leadership. She has been associated with PMI Gdańsk Branch since 2015. In free time, she discovers the world planning smaller or larger trips around the world, cycling and learning Spanish.