Remote Work

What we Learned From Working in a Hybrid-Remote Office for 10 Years

To ensure a switch to remote work is healthy in the long-run, you need to prepare for the communication problems your team will face with it! It’s all about visibility, expectations, and staying in touch.

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If we are to take some lessons out of the COVID-19 crisis, we can say without a doubt that most companies around the world weren’t ready to flip the switch and start a remote work culture right away.

It’s a complex situation, and not all positions fit the remote work mold. However, those that can be adjusted to it will find the challenge of dealing with it for the first time.

Aside from technical details, such as picking Slack over another communication tool, or defining proper remote access protocols, there are some day-to-day hurdles remote teams must overcome to smoothen out a remote work operation.

We’re talking about the ins and outs of remote working, the deets.

These small issues start appearing with time, and they can mark the difference between a team who is up to date and communicative, and a disconnected array of one-man-band operations that don’t feel like a team at all. These are the sort of things you start hearing when they happen.

Jumping Remote Work Hurdles at Prey

At Prey, we’ve had a hybrid-remote culture since the company’s conception, back in 2009. We’ve faced many hurdles along the way and have managed to create a location-fluid work environment, where it doesn’t matter if you’re going to the HQ today, or moving abroad to an entirely different time zone, we can work together.

In 10 years we’ve jumped many hurdles. We ditched several management tools; we switched emails for Slack; workers moved out, and we moved offices; and faced many communication and humane challenges along the way.

But, more importantly, we’ve had plenty of time to identify and jump these hurdles so that they don’t surprise you. Let’s take a look at some of these and we’ll share our advice on how to tackle them.

Setup Availability and Collaboration Expectations

When your coworkers stay at home, the first trouble you will face is that virtually anything can disrupt their schedule. Especially in a sanitary crisis scenario, where not only they have to stay at home, but basically everyone else. Their family, roommates, pet of choice, etcetera.

So, from time to time, something will come up. Someone’s at the door… and the phone’s ringing! Also, the dog made a mess, and to top it all a member of the household needs help with something. Asking for a complete shutdown of the worker during work-hours will put stress both on the worker and his environment. Be flexible, and adaptable, because it will happen.

Plus, when your crew is working remotely, you can’t simply glance over your shoulder to see if they are available or working on something else. So, to ensure your team doesn’t miss each and create bottlenecks, you need to set up expectations:

• Do you need to work with someone this week, or have to review a task with a manager? Let them know in advance so that they can save time for it.

• Is your dog on the roof playing with fireworks? Update your status as you run to save him. This way you ensure you don’t leave anyone hanging. 

Feel out of sync with your team’s day to day progress? Have a 15-minute sync meeting everyday to follow your team’s progress, goals, and blockages.

You can kick off this by adapting one of Scrum’s ceremonies, the daily -or stand up- meeting to your area. This is a short, ideally 15-minutes, meeting when the day begins.

Each team (by area) has a quick-sync call to see what are the tasks for the day, coordinate efforts, and raise flags for obstacles or needs, like dependencies! If the mold doesn’t apply well to an area, take the check-in concept and build one that makes more sense to the area’s pace and type of work.

Keep Updates, Changes, and Decisions in the Open

Following one of journalism’s commandments: never assume knowledge. When working in a remote environment, important information gets lost easily.

Sometimes someone couldn’t make it to a meeting, and he missed some important decisions; other times a private discussion results in changes that don’t reflect previously stated goals; and other times we simply forget what we agreed on, and that’s when assumptions generate the worst kind of issues.

There’s simply not a virtual water cooler where the day-to-day chit chat goes about. So, in its place, you have to make it. Well, that or have some communication ground-rules set, whichever works best!

The 5 Commandments of Remote Work Communication:

1. Agreements, changes, or decisions that come out of meetings should be documented and made public.

2. If you’re working on a platform such as Slack, keep work-related discussions public to ensure anyone can hop into the conversation and give input.

3. Assign a task’s responsibility to one person only to avoid communication issues, like two managers making decisions in parallel. 

4. Someone is missing a call, or a presentation? Record it if possible.

5. Using a work/task management platform? Granularize tasks to keep an eye on day-to-day progress without falling for micromanagement.

Make Time for Your Team to Connect and Share

The internet community is stressing this one well enough. The first thing you’ll notice when going from on-site work to an entirely remote team is that you’ll hear and see a lot less from your coworkers.

Some might find it a relief! After all, positive or negative, a distraction is a distraction. For others, they might feel a bit disconnected, and miss the jokes and daily little moments with their work-pals that fill in the gaps in between work.

Whether you’re one or the other, one thing is common grounds: you need to keep a good chemistry with your team. It helps each other collaborate, it helps keep spirits up, and it will help everyone overcome the difficulties they find in remote work.

There’s an endless list of things you can do to work on this, but here are some examples of things we do at Prey:

TGIF Celebration

Thank God It’s Friday. When we end each sprint, we save a couple of hours to get together share some food, talk, and hang out to celebrate all the work done!

Now that we’re 100% remote, we still do these! Each one brings their own snack and drink to the virtual hangout. We do have other instances for each of our teams, but this is a great opportunity to have all teams together for something other than a planning meeting! In this space we tend to discuss team issues, internal news and updates, and check-in with everyone to see how they have been doing during their stay-at-home time.

TGIF Talks

This is our own version of Ted-talks. Every other week, during our ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ end-of-sprint meetup, we have members of our team present and share on topics they are passionate about. This is non-work related, and helps us learn about each other’s passions, and share knowledge! What have we learned so far:

  • The origin of the Ubuntu concept.
  • How to care for, and grow plants.
  • What can you achieve with modern data science.
  • Micro-aggression and Stereotypes in the Workplace
  • How stress affects our day-to-day.

Voice Chat Rooms

You might be familiar with the advice “hang out on Zoom from time to time!”, or “have a couple of drinks over a call!”. We have a different approach to this.

Instead of using Voice Call services to replace your office’s off-work happy hours (you can do both!), use Voice Chat Rooms to fill in the void of conversation that an office space provided in the day-to-day.

What’s the difference? Well, voice call or conference services like Zoom or hangouts are scheduled spaces that once they are uses, they disappear. On the other hand, voice chat rooms like Discord offer a static place that’s always available for anyone to hop-in and talk.

This way, you can have a server with several ‘rooms’, which your team and coworkers can use to ‘hang out’ during their work. It doesn’t matter if you leave for a meeting, or if you are muted for a while, you’re just there sharing the space like you would in an office. It’s a place for small talk

It’s as easy as seeing who’s on, pick the group you want to join, and hop in. It’s okay if groups form, it’s only natural. After all, this sort of emulates desks in an office, or the water cooler talks you’d have with your work-friends.

Takeaways

Remote work isn’t easy for everyone. Not all will get used to it right away; there will be communication issues from time to time; and you and your team will need to work together to stay in sync, and sharp.

However, from our experience, it is worth each and every hurdle in the way. Remote work gives your team flexibility to grow without boundaries, and will force you to be better at communicating and documenting.

Take this chance to adopt it fully! But remember: preparing your communication etiquette is the number one priority to ensure it’s healthy on the long-run.

Nicolas Poggi

Nicolas Poggi is the head of mobile research at Prey, Inc., provider of the open source Prey Anti-Theft software protecting eight million mobile devices. Nic’s work explores technology innovations within the mobile marketplace, and their impact upon security. Nic also serves as Prey’s communications manager, overseeing the company’s brand and content creation. Nic is a technology and contemporary culture journalist and author, and before joining Prey held positions as head of indie coverage at TheGameFanatics, and as FM radio host and interviewer at IndieAir.