How the corona crisis is reshaping remote work for cesonia

Korbinian Sontheim/ March 26, 2020/ COVID-19, Remote work

How to manage Remote projects

The corona crisis is currently forcing many companies to change their structures and working methods, as many companies have decided to send their employees to home office to protect them from the high risk of infection.

Even if this does not fit into the New-Work trend and start-up culture, I was very skeptical about Remote Work for a long time. As a young technology start-up with a team of about 10 people, the physical proximity of this was always important to me. Especially regarding creative workshops as well as defining and communicating product requirements, which we generally do via story mapping and then specify it using example mapping, I couldn’t imagine how this could be done in a digital way.

I saw this proximity and therefore the direct and fast communication as one of the biggest strengths of a start-up and a small team, which ultimately makes it possible to act quickly and flexibly and which is also essential to create a common team spirit and solidarity. But with Corona, a lot has changed and we have now been working in home office for over two weeks, even across different time zones. To my astonishment, I have to say that the first resume is very positive. In the beginning, we informed ourselves a lot about the management of a remote team and the work in the home office from different sources in order to find the most suitable options for us and experiment with them. In the following, I would like to introduce them to you briefly.

-Rules to manage remote teams –

1. Compensate for in-person interactions

The short distances and corridor discussions in particular often lead to spontaneous and cool ideas. Therefore, you have to compensate for the fact that you don’t meet each other by chance, and in return, you have to digitally enable the spontaneous exchange over a cup of coffee or tea to promote ideas that you would otherwise never have had.

One way to do this is through Constant Virtual Chatrooms, where you can exchange ideas about all kinds of work-related or even private topics. On the one hand, this allows the important small talk that you know from local organizations and, on the other hand, it allows the team members to get to know each other better and thus promotes a natural exchange and the creation of ideas. All this helps enormously to build up a remote team culture even without a common workplace.

A good and easy way to get in contact if everybody checks in the morning, wishing everybody a nice day and share something fun that happened or a joke.

2. E-mail and Chat Overload

An overload of communication is often a general problem, which is especially aggravated in remote work and home office, be it through e-mail, chat messages or discussions on slack. It is therefore important to encourage employees to switch off these communication channels to allow a healthy work-life balance. Otherwise, this will inevitably lead to unhappiness and stress and ultimately to lower productivity.

3. Most Important Forms of Communication

Furthermore, it is important to communicate exactly which form of communication is the most essential and which communication channel should be used for which purpose. For us, this ranking looks like this.

  • Video calls are fast and efficient and support different aspects of communication and via screen sharing support close interaction on a topic.
  • Audio calls are also very fast and efficient, but unfortunately, the important aspect of body language is left out.
  • Collaboration tools are more or less fast, but they are comprehensible and transparent, keeping everyone in the loop.
  • Chats are reasonably fast, yet not comprehensible for everyone, but all the more personal.
  • E-mails, on the other hand, tend to be slow and unclear, which is why we communicate least with them.

As you can see from this ranking, we prefer to communicate via video or audio calls. In addition, we set certain guidelines as to what content and for what purpose should be communicated via the respective channels: When do we use chats? Why do we write emails? At what point do we pick up the phone? These answers should be clear and reflect the team’s efforts versus that of one person.

4. Visual Communication Tools

In workshops and especially in the creative environment, it is also extremely important to find a visual way of recording what is discussed in a manner visible to everyone, comparable to a whiteboard at a local workshop. This enables fast and understandable communication and interaction of all participants in real-time.

5. Establish a Meeting Schedule

Daily, weekly or bi-weekly meetings are an integral part of working life, even on site, and should therefore have a fixed date espacialy when working in remote teams. For us this looks like the following:

  • Standups take place every day and are just there to discuss in the morning what status you are at, what problems you have and what you want to achieve that day.
  • Product planning takes place weekly and is used for development planning and the definition of requirements via stroy mapping and example mapping.
  • Team meetings take place every two weeks and provide an update on current topics from all areas, i.e. management, administration, sales, marketing and development.

Thus we have clearly defined goals for each meeting and a structured agenda. It is also important that the meeting only takes place in one room when everyone is there; if even one person is remote, it will be a video conference instead. Therefore it is important to consider (and follow) video call etiquette.

6. Establish and Use a Project Management System

This point is absolutely essential to ensure that all those working on a project are up to date, know what needs to be done and where all important information is documented. While in a local organization many of these things can be communicated in the daily business on the side and can even be called easily across the desk, this is not possible in remote work. Therefore everything that needs to be done and everything that needs to be organized must be recorded in a project management tool; everyone is responsible for this, not just the supervisor.

7. Implementing Systems and Processes

You also need to implement systems and processes to ensure that for repetitive activities there is a process or checklist that everyone can follow. This helps to maintain quality and ensure that the desired result can be achieved independently of specific people. Furthermore, best-practice solutions for internal collaboration should always be communicated for a continuous improvement process.

8. Deploy Flexible Work Hours

The most important point here is to focus on efficiency, not on when and how which tasks are done. This also allows you to cover the preferences and needs of everyone. Nevertheless, it is important to make sure that there are fixed components, such as meetings, to have a fixed point of contact for everyone and still foster a sense of community within the team. Everyone has to attend these meetings if possible and inform everyone else in advance if they cannot attend. Nevertheless, overlapping work hours are important, especially when working in different time zones. This is vital to allow for the spontaneous communication mentioned earlier.

9. Quarterly Review of Team Members

Regular feedback for employees and team members is an essential part of the working environment, whether it is an on-site or remote organization. But especially in remote work, feedback plays an important role, as interactions are much less spontaneous and therefore indirect feedback via conversations is less frequent. In addition, it is important to give feedback to a certain structure to enable the best development of employees and team members.

10. Meet in Person (Team Retreats At Least Once a Year)

If at all possible, you should also try to arrange personal meetings with the whole team. There is, of course, a financial aspect behind this, but personal meetings help a lot to bring the team closer together and to get to know each other better on a personal level.

For many of the points mentioned above, we are currently still in the process of implementing them ourselves. We are learning daily and the structure and tips help us to evaluate and develop the steps we have taken.

Thank you for reading and don’t miss out on our blog post about Tips and tricks to keep you sane when you’re working from home.

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