How do you build teams when everyone works from home? How do you manage / control complex projects with distributed teams? Different people will face different challenges working from home, how do you respond to those differing needs? And what happens when this is all over, if ever? What behaviours will you keep and what will you discard?
Seventeen questions to ask your teams about team building, with some potential solutions:
1. Have you got the right life-work or work-life balance? Working well from home means a good healthy balance between work, family or care responsibilities, social-life and productive work.
However, it can quickly get out of balance where, either, the work floods the home-life and the laptop invades the living room the dinner table and degrades all the family / friend relationships. Or, the home-life dominates the work life and our output suffers a drought.
Looking out for yourself and your team members is key. Poor mental health outcomes can come from either extreme and in stressful situations, this risk is heightened.
2. What happens now that there’s no water cooler? Good social relations between team members won’t happen ‘naturally’ anymore, so, deliberately and knowingly we have to put effort into video social activities such as
- virtual pub crawl
- team quiz
- team lunch
Set some boundaries — such as, when it’s fun, no mention of work is allowed! Or else…! ?
3. Are my expectations of myself right? Working from home with kids (especially young ones) means we need to adapt our expectations of what we can achieve. There is a limit to how much multi-tasking we can do. Sometimes expectation adjustment is required
4. Do we need different strategies for different team members? Virtual team members typically break into two groups — Integrators and Separators — according to an idea from Olio. Some team members want to integrate more closely and others want to break off into separate groups. Somehow, we need to find a balance between these two tendencies. We can’t have everyone on every call — but we do need (say) weekly ‘town hall’ company meetings — and then we need our small / short 1-to-1 catch-ups or quick-fire challenges to stimulate our minds and our motivation.
5. Have you increased face to face time enough? Learn when to (quickly) get off email and jump onto a video conference call. When working remotely, get used to escalating things out of messaging and email services into face to face calls. These can often happen faster than old style meetings, where once the feet are under the desk and all that… So, get used to instant video conference calls lasting 2 or 20 minutes.
6. Does everything need to be a video call now? No! Create team messaging groups — such as a team WhatsApp group — and create a daily / weekly structure of things to share, such as;
- Fun facts on Monday (about your market, a department or your business, your founders) to build the sense of identify and connection
- Crazy challenges on Friday — like ‘can you rewrite the company slogan to make a 5 year old laugh’
- Share a joke (that your granny would enjoy)
- Choose a film to watch over the weekend to share experiences next week
7. When do we stop messaging and start talking? Learning to manage the transition from messaging to face to face communication is a critical skill that all team members need to master. And part of the mastery is to recognise that different people need different responses.
8. Do you have routines? Help team members build personal routines — such as a ‘commute to work’ walk around the neighbourhood (or whatever is allowed). Maybe look at other physical exercise options too? A Wednesday workout?
9. How are you feeling? When you run your regular online team meetings address the question — ‘how are you feeling’? Or ask – ‘Who feels they need a boost to motivation’? Remember to ask, when sharing what’s happening in the company, what are we doing, what are we targeting.
How do you feel is your most important question, ask at every meeting and keep it candid, with separate individual calls if necessary.
10. Team or community? Our challenge is to build community among our teams. This is also an opportunity for our customers and suppliers too — they are also human and coming to terms with the new reality. We all need our community and a strong community breaks down the barriers between teams and customers.
11. When you do stop video conferencing? It’s great to turn off the zoom call and get on with some work. So, encourage activity off line but set up a natural way to come back to the community to share learning and celebrate success, insight, progress or anything else.
12. Should the whole company use a single platform to communicate? Yes, but only the managers, leaders and heads! For instance, developers love slack — they slack each other even when sitting side by side in the same office! However, content or creative teams naturally use other tools. Let each team choose their tools — but insist that at the company level that there is a common platform.
13. Are you experimenting? Building home based teams is an experiment — so keep testing and trying new ideas — follow the evidence, measure the response and don’t be afraid to drop ‘old’ ideas that worked in week one but are no longer relevant. Things that work for one team won’t work for another, so don’t be afraid to call time on things that did work well but no longer do.
We are in a fast moving situation, people’s response to different structures and ways of working will keep on changing. We need to adapt too.
14. What’s the ’community’ opportunity? The skills to build a great home based or distributed team is the same skill needed to build a strong community with our clients and customers, suppliers and supporters.
For instance, Developing Experts — an Ed Tech company — asked kids to post back experiments in response to something they learned online. In turn, these videos are treated as an ‘engagement moment’ and used to drive the content creation agenda as well as used in the next video to celebrate what those children achieved.
15. What are you celebrating? A key insight is that our online meetings and get-togethers are an opportunity to celebrate success, new ideas, contribution and so on. Celebrating what people do is something that can easily get lost when we move from office to home based work and we need to build it into our regular communication.
16. What about complex tasks that can easily go wrong or get side tracked? For bigger and more complex tasks — such as product development with a distributed team — choose a dedicated product owner. This risk is that too many conversations happen in silence and are lost to the product development process. Make someone responsible for collecting and unifying insights and ideas as well as for delivering the product development.
17. What about for a one-off project? When running a project team — say a video shoot — choose an official channel — such as a WhatsApp group — and insist that all communication goes through that channel. It’s the only way to keep everyone together and heading in the same direction.
The stand out observation is that if you can only do one thing — do this — build community — both with your teams but beyond too; so, with your clients, customers, supporters and suppliers.
Both the community strength and the ability to build communities will empower your teams and organisations to thrive in whatever post-coronavirus environment we find ourselves in.
I’m particularly indebted to Helen Williams of Vitaccess — a medical data company, and Sarah Mintey of Developing Experts — an Ed Tech company, for joining me and sharing deep insight and wisdom during our regular Friday 10am UK time / 11am CET ‘open house’ coaching calls. If you want to join these free scaleup coaching sessions click here for details.