The number of people working from home has increased dramatically during the last weeks. With more and more companies forced by the pandemic to make a quick shift, the challenges of creating a successful remote working setup are evident.  

At intive, remote culture is a constant part of the company’s DNA. We have been working remotely for many of our customers for years.  In the light of the escalating coronavirus (Covid-19) situation, we’ve made a smooth transition to a home-office-first approach, and now we’re operating fully remotely.  

However, I am well aware, that numerous enterprises, who are now willing to switch to remote work, don't necessarily have effective systems in place. Remote working can be challenging at first, especially due to the limited control and difficult coordination across different geographical regions and time zones.

Based on my experience, I’d like to share 5 key factors involved in creating a successful remote working setup:

1. Ensure Transparency and Trust

Fostering a transparent work culture is paramount to employees’ engagement. Everyone should feel connected with the business, regardless of where and when they work. Here are a few tips on how you can facilitate transparency:

• Always start with setting up clear project roles – when you are open about employees’ responsibilities, you can rely on their accountability. It might be good to write down the “ground rules” for each remote team, appoint key decision-makers and make it easy for all team members to report their work output. 

• When it comes to software development (but not only), it’s essential that the business side remains involved throughout the whole creation process of a digital solution. My advice is: a person representing the business (a product owner) should get involved in the development process as much as possible. 

• Another important thing is accessibility. Most information (documented project details, written policies, project blueprints, etc.) needs to be written or recorded, available forpeople to consume it in their own time.

2. Focus on Communication 

If trust and transparency are the foundation of remote work culture, then communication is the framework. Make sure that people in your company communicate well and pick the right tools to convey messages. Here are some points on how to achieve that:

• Keep everyone in the loop – inform all involved parties about the work progress regularly. Adopting a reliable communication system into your daily operations is the best way to keep everyone on the same page regarding big announcements, minor changes and updates. If you don’t have good  communication software yet, it’s time to browse your options. 

• Use video-conferencing as much as you can – non-verbal communication is an important factor in getting the messages through. Video chats expand sensory contexts that might be missed otherwise (by emails, chats, phone, etc.)

• Make daily sync up meetings routine and take them seriously. Regular stand-ups allow everybody to report their progress and announce plans, help maintain accountability and reveal the first signs of possible risks.

• Encourage honest feedback – create a safe environment where all team members can share their comments, talk honestly about the state of their work and admit their mistakes. 

3. Implement Agile Project Management

Based on my professional experience, I can say that managing remote teams becomes much easier when a chosen working methodology is being followed. Thanks to frameworks like Agile, teams working in different parts of the world can become as efficient and productive as collocated teams. Here are some recommendations on how to implement the Agile processes for distributed teams: 

• Start with assigning a dedicated product owner for the project – a person, who will make decisions on behalf of the business and define the requirements. 

• Encourage ongoing communication and close collaboration, aiming at building self-sufficient teams that can develop a single piece of functionality autonomously. There will be challenges along the way and managers won’t be able to control everything all of the time, so it’s important to let employees find their own solutions to challenges and move forward.

• Each team should be able to self-organize their work, but they still need someone from the management on their side (scrum master, project manager). These people will help remove impediments, motivate and foster an environment for high-performing team dynamics.

• Outlining important deadlines and targets, as well as prioritizing are very important as well. A good approach is using the Pareto Principle: 20% of the backlog items make for 80% of the desired functionality. At the end of each iteration or when a feature is complete, the remote team should be able to provide a demo and check if it aligns with the common vision.

• Finally, it’s a great practice to schedule retrospective meetings after every release. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss everything that went wrong and emphasize things that went well and should be repeated in the future.

4. Use The Right Tools

Another piece of the puzzle for a successful remote working setup is to choose the right tools for organizing virtual teams and keeping the projects progressing. Here’re a few of my suggestions for great tools, grouped by different kinds of tasks: 

• Team chat: MS Teams, Skype, Slack, HitCHat, Workplace 

• Meetings and Video Chat: MS Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom, JoinMe

• Project Management: Jira, Asana, Trello, Basecamp 

• Document Sharing: Confluence, Share Point, Google Drive, DropBox 

• Dev and Design: Bitbucket, GitHub, InVision, CodePen 

• Productivity and Time-Tracking: Toggl, Tick and Timesheets, Todoist 

5. Remember about Team Integration 

Last but not least, there’s a social aspect of remote work, which is really important. In a co-located environment, the emotional connection between people often comes naturally, while remote cooperation can require more effort. Therefore, I very much encourage you to organize different activities for informal communication of remote employees. Here are some ideas: 

• Mimic your office culture remotely – for example by setting up “virtual coffee” or “virtual lunch” routines.  These are digital conversations that can mix work-related discussions with “water-cooler style” chats and help remote colleagues network better. 

• Virtual team building activities are also very good icebreakers. You can invite remote workers to play online office games together, join remote workshops and training, or create a separate chat for random conversations and sharing casual content between team members. 

• All the things described above will certainly help with connectivity, but I must add that nothing can replace spending time together face to face. That’s why, when possible, enable occasional co-location of team members and business representatives (joint trip, retreat etc.) to encourage interaction.

Summing up, I understand that remote work is not and will not be for everyone, and surely not for all industries. But if going remote is a viable way of doing business for you, I certainly advise you to try it.  Though challenging, it can bring great benefits and a new level of productivity, while ensuring the safety and health of people in current trying times.

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