It's been a while since you and your team have gone entirely virtual. It doesn't feel like it's going back any time soon, and it's kind of working at least okay. You see the potential, but is there room for improvement?
Build a better business by embracing entirely virtual workplaces
Take a few minutes to reflect on what your team has accomplished since going remote. There have undoubtedly been some challenges, but there are some likely wins and clear benefits. When you think about what went well and what could have been better, is it fair to say that working in the same office may have made up for lack of clarity in goals and processes?
Don't default to hybrid as an answer.
As we ease into a somewhat hybrid approach for virtual work for the future, keep in mind people want to travel less, especially with the gas prices these days. Yikes! How much time did your team spend commuting before Covid? Who pays for that time?
How much more diverse and influential could your team be without asking them to come together in the same physical location?
Companies that can truly embrace a virtual first work process will be able to bring 24/7 resources from a global talent pool to bear on problems.
Communicate about communication
One of the first documents you receive when being hired as part of Concrete CMS's Core Team is a How we get things done doc. Part of this doc covers how we're committed to a virtual office and asynchronous work lifestyle, then how and when we communicate.
We need to go out of our way to over-communicate in written form, and we need to be self-aware of the tools available to us and how we use them.
It may be helpful to think of the ways people collaborate on a scale from synchronous to asynchronous. Any communication fits somewhere on that scale. One one end, two people standing at a white board with one marker is completely synchronous. On the other end of the scale, someone who has written a book that expresses their well formed ideas to millions of readers they've never met is about as asynchronous as it gets. Both are compelling ways to create and share ideas between people.
For us, the list of mediums from synchronous to asynchronous would be:
- A google hangout with cameras & screen-sharing.
- A slack huddle or google hangout with cameras off.
- An active slack thread.
- A slow slack thread.
- A jira ticket.
- A confluence page or google doc.
When in doubt, try to move towards investing the energy in using a more asynchronous communication medium. Even if it feels like it will take more time to write up your thoughts and questions than just jumping on the phone might, it often doesn't. Having the written ideas in a format, everyone can comment on, and review is well worth the effort.
When you feel you're actively being misunderstood, move towards synchronous. For example, we have an informal rule that when the little "Several People are Typing" message comes up during an active Slack discussion, we move to a quick huddle or hangout.
Clear Communication Expectations
Set expectations on when, how, and how often the team communicates with each other, both virtually and in person. When creating communication meetings, schedule carefully. Regularly scheduled meetings are great for consistency, but what if your Designer lives in Greece, a Developer in Germany, and your lead is in the US?
For us, every day starts with a slack message: "Yesterday I… & Today I am…" statement.
The simplest way to make sure people are focused on the most critical tasks daily is a hands-on daily check-in. This can be done in Slack. Please don't make your entire team sit through an hour of reading to-do's out loud unless there's a really good (and temporary) reason to do so. The format for this may change depending on the department/discipline, but having a clear to-do list and daily chance to reprioritize needs to happen. It may feel silly, but it is vital to start and end each day with a list and a review of that list.
Set Clear Goals
Effective teams have a purpose. Members need to agree with the goals and be committed. Have the team members participate in setting realistic goals, so they're bought in to the feasibility of achieving them and the clear path to get results.
Setting specific result-driven goals will set your team up to do their best work.
KPIs and OKRs
There are two easy ways to think about setting clear goals that your team members will understand and be excited to achieve.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a traditional way of measuring performance at tasks and comes out of the systems optimization thinking of the 20th century. They still work very well for known task types that can be measured:
- Support tickets have an initial response time of less than 4 hours.
- Production server down time has a monthly uptime of 99.99%.
These are both clear measurable goals. Moreover, it's easy to see the irrefutable value in answering people's questions quickly, or keeping the servers working well.
It's important to be thoughtful about the specific numbers you're shooting for. The system architecture required for a production setup to support 99.999% uptime is much more expensive than 99.99%. Answering tickets in 4 minutes is a lot harder than 4 hours. When Basecamp realized they were driving their customer success reps mad by shooting for "fastest response time possible", they dialed the response expectation down to a few hours and saw no difference in customer satisfaction.
You may find in the 21st century workplace that some of what you really need to achieve isn't quite as easily measured as our grandparents' jobs might have been. Objective; Key Results (OKRs) works well for these more nebulous challenges. OKRs are written like a hierarchy. First you clearly state a goal in broad terms, then you detail out what success would look like in reaching that objective as the key results. For example:
Objective: Have a healthy sales pipeline.
Key Result 1: Have a marketing system creating 400 qualified leads per month.
Key Result 2: Have a sales process that generates $250k in new recurring revenue per month.
Key Result 3: Have a training process for new salespeople that gets them effective in 60 days.
What makes this work is big problems being divided up into smaller more measurable problems. Other people can take each of those key results and make more OKRs for achieving that goal. When you take the time to clearly express and quantify what you want, you give your team a chance to meet or even exceed those goals.
Marie Kondo Your Goals
Not everything you measure is going to be that helpful. Any measurement you make a big deal out of, creative people will find a way to improve, even if it hurts other parts of your business. Be thoughtful about revisiting what you measure. Recognize that no one is perfect and you'll likely get some, but not all, of what you want.
"Thank it and let it go if a goal doesn't bring joy to the business. Markets are continually changing, and what looked right a month ago might not be the best thing to do anymore. Be ok with that."
Use a standard SOP or SAP format
It doesn't matter if you call them Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) or System Action Plans (SAP), but there should be a template for making clearly documented steps that need to be followed for commonly performed tasks.
Every one should have a clear title, a single employee role that is responsible for its completion, and a series of steps that have room for easy notes to be added.
Ideally each should be measurable with a KPI as well.
These deserve to get their own blog post, but I can't stress enough how much it helps to get the basic stuff that you "just know how to do" documented in a way it can be handed off and improved over time.
Have one weekly virtual meeting
We have a weekly all-hands meeting on Friday morning. Web cams are expected to be on and distractions should be off. For a good while we dropped this meeting in an effort to be truly asynchronous, but over time we found it too important to skip. Everyone felt disconnected and we didn't have the same sense of trust and camaraderie that we did when we were in a hybrid setup, or certainly back when it was 9-5 in a regular office.
It only takes 30 minutes, and it follows the same agenda every week:
- Targets for next week
- Process, Problems & Solutions
- Wins from last week
The first slide is a table of every KPI we're tracking and the last few months to compare it to. We then quickly list goals for next week, these shouldn't be news to anyone.
For the Process, Problems & Solutions we call out any problems that have emerged that have actual solutions figured out and in place. This isn't a forum for bringing up complaints or concerns, there's other systems for that. This is an opportunity to show that while nothing is perfect, improvements are constantly happening.
News & Questions is an opportunity for general information (vacation, having a baby, events, etc.) We're not looking to have big discussions. The goal is to have a quick meeting to make sure your team is on the same page and leave them inspired for the next week.
Vision is a chance for leadership to re-express what the current goals are. How does the company's future look better than today? Even if you feel like you've said this all before, it's important to give your team a chance to hear your vision for the future on a routine basis.
Wins from last week are accomplishments out of the normal housekeeping that happened this week.
We then end on a slide that has our 6 core virtues listed out, and we give everyone a chance to shout out any team member who really went above and beyond. It's a little touchy-feely, but it's essential.
A lot of organizations have been thrown into virtual work situations without expecting it. Even in the technology space, Steve Jobs famously designed the bathrooms to be in a central location in the hopes that the serendipity of having to meet coworkers from different departments taking care of personal business would somehow make magic happen. Do we want to have to rely on foosball tables and 'desk drop bys' as the system by which we create amazing things? Take the time to know what you want and communicate clearly and you'll make a better place for everyone to work.
“It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work | Basecamp.” It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, basecamp.com, Https://Basecamp.com/Books/Calm. Accessed 31 May 2022.
2Tability.io. 2022. 50 Tips for Outcome-Driven Teams | Tability. Https://www.tability.io/outcome-driven. Accessed 31 May 2022.