How to Remote — common challenges with remote work

Joriam Philpe

May 15, 2020

April 7, 2020

The invisible challenge of remote work is that many things happen automatically when you’re face to face — and it might take you a while to realize what’s missing in online interaction.
“We’re having the same amount of meetings. Why is everyone so tired? Why haven’t we decided anything in 2 hours?”
If coronavirus is forcing (enabling?) you to have your first constant home office experience, it’s useful to name the issues you’ll most likely find. Previously natural parts of your work — and particularly teamwork — will have to be deliberate from now on.
Fear Not!
Fortunately, the internet has plenty of sources of information to help you navigate this new normal, so let’s address the most common tension points we’ve seen from working in agile, remote teams and distributed networks — and direct you to solutions.

Remote Meetings

It’s just like an in-person meeting, right?
… Right?
From an infinite myriad of possible technical issues (Anybody hear me? Mary, you’re muted. It’s all cut out, I don’t understand!) to social dynamics (like people not knowing when to add a comment) remote meetings can be easy peasy, but often they’re not.
If you can’t rely on body language, coffee breaks and the presence of a whiteboard, you need to find other tools to help you out — including social tools!
Here’s a basic intro video, a video playlist covering many topics and a deep dive opensource document with a lot of everything.
Also check out this opensource video conferencing tool, but if you’re like many companies these days you’re looking at zoom and it’s cool little features.

Remote Decision Making

Decision making is an art.
It doesn’t happen on a whim, it’s a brick by brick process. This is one of the areas where remote work changes things most — and many times for the better!
Online tools allow teams to have a wide range of easy decision making processes at their disposal. Asking advice? Check. Gathering feedback data? Check. Tools that help you schedule a meeting with 60 people? How about all of them taking notes at the same time? Check, check, check.
Here we must admit we are suckers for our friends at Loomio, an opensource decision-making platform, a vital tool to our work. For participatory financial decisions, we use and recommend Cobudget.
Did I also mention Loomio makes great content about different kinds of decisions like this article and this article?

Remote Open Line Communication

How to replace talking?
You don’t. You do something else.
It’s true that a lot gets lost when people are not face to face, but what do you gain in return? Online conversations can have multiple levels that people have the opportunity to manage at their own pace. While in-person convos have the tendency to change rapidly between topics, one of the strengths of online chatting is to keep certain topics in certain channels, even if users can navigate multiple channels at once.
The one-tool-to-rule-them-all here is Slack, but many big corporations also use Microsoft Teams for that. You can also try the open source Matrix or the surprisingly powerful Discord, if you don’t mind their gamer looks and jokes.
But it’s not just setting up the right platform. There’s work to be done if you want conversations to really roll! Here’s a basic intro video and also a longer conversation with specialists.

Remote Project Management

The reliability of a good project manager is really important to most teams around the world.
The thing is: in office work, the presence of a project manager is many times enough to keep the engines running; while in the home office… not always!
One of the best features of remote work is to allow people to tap into their own preferred schedules and worktimes. So if the strategy up until this point was to have a PM always checking on progress, this might get tricky at 2am — yet it’s super valuable to allow people who work well at 2am do so.
Now it’s the time for project managers to try to put their organisational skills out there in the wild. Your brain will not do anymore — how can you lay out your plan in a way that the team can access it at any given moment?
Here’s a video to ease you into the new mentality and another one to explore it in a bit more detail.
And here some of our preferred tools: OpenProject is an opensource tool, Trello is great for sprints (check this video out), Asana is better for longer endeavours with a bunch of people. Oh and Canva is useful as a whiteboard substitute.

Remote Team Care and Trust

We got to the tricky bit, eh?
It’s not a matter of “no team lunches”, it’s “no eye contact”. Videocalls have a tendency to be practical and offer little space for the eventual bonding moment between people. The issue is particularly strong with newly formed teams.
So what to do?
Building care and trust between your teammates should be considered part of the tasklist. It’s amazing how people can really care about each other’s well being, state of mind and work if you just give them the chance.
It might sound like not-work, but a team that really gives a damn about each other will always outperform some I-forgot-your-name-again mentality.
Here’s a Ted talk to get you started, then you can give this video full of interesting protocols a look.
If trust and care are at the very core of your organisation’s values, then you can check the deep and fun stuff.

That’s a lot.

Yes.
Learning how to remote is no trivial task and even just exploring the links here (that will certainly lead you to other links and recommendations) is already a project.
Yet, those skills are useful right now and tend to be more and more crucial as the future of work is built. We believe it’s a goal worth pursuing.
Still, if you’re in a rush and want results fast, we’ve prepared a 90min live training about virtual meetings that can be immediately applied to your next meeting.
Also, if you got really into the subject and you wanna really dive into this universe, we’re currently preparing a 5 week course — and we’re offering a 40% discount before it launches.
And, of course, we’re happy to accommodate your customized requests, let us know.
Cheers from Germany, Spain, New Zealand, Australia and Brazil!
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