A quick note of support for all of you out there suffering from the current COVID epidemic, directly or indirectly.

 

For those of us socially isolated, in quarantine, but still hard at work, Kudos.

Reality seems quite different from what it did a few weeks ago. I don’t think there has ever been a time when so many people and businesses were called upon to absorb this level of change so quickly, at least not in peacetime.

For those of us working while isolated, here are some tips on bringing your team together in this unusual time and remaining productive and fulfilled. Working without being able to physically meet your colleagues has its challenges. It’s very possible to miss the nuance, the body language, the sentiment, and the team feeling can dissipate, trust can erode, and team productivity can drop.

My career so far has been marked by working in and managing globally distributed teams. At Leap Beyond, remote work is our standard daily situation. If your team is struggling, or if you simply want to be more robust for similar situations in the future, here is our advice.

 

Immediate WFH help:


Adopt Virtual Task Tools:
Even if temporarily.

Since you can no longer drop by your colleague’s desk to see what they are working on, nor glance at the next design the team have pinned to the wall, virtual/online tools for task-ticketing are exceptionally useful. They help your team see what other people are doing, and help your leaders also stay up-to-date. Whether that be Jira, Trello, or a Jamboard, setting up a virtual tracker should immediately benefit your team.

Add Daily Video Calls: Even if you are shy.

Although several people in your team may increase in productivity when isolated, it is likely that others in your team will not. Mixing the textual instant messaging format, with email format for longer reports, with short video calls to measure sentiment, can ideally keep your team together on the emotional front. Skype, Zoom, Whereby, Google Hangouts, or even WhatsApp.

Small and Frequent Communication: Even if there is nothing formal to report.

Without the water-cooler and coffee corner, the feeling of isolation can quickly lead to trust eroding between your teammates. Maintaining a frequent, low-level of checking in is useful for everyone to feel included. Let your team know when you are “in the office” and when you are “out for the day”. Let them know when you’re switching tasks, or feeling frustrated. Let them know you are physically OK during the crisis, and in doing so, let them know they are important to you.

Remote Discipline is Important: Professionalism without draconianism.

Turning up on time for virtual meetings is if anything, more important than for physical meetings, since the context is so different. If at home, set yourself “work hours”, and put additional effort on fulfilling your daily agreements, to combat the trust erosion which can occur. Distractions are multitude at home, and should be controlled, but not necessarily entirely eliminated. After all, distractions also exist at work!

Take Advantage of Remote Benefits: Don’t lose sight of the good things.

Ideally going into work for you and your team was enjoyable for multiple reasons. Working from home also has advantages. A quick chat with your kids, fun interaction with the cat, or taking a short break to refocus, all just became things that can be included as part of your workday. Don’t let the house distract you away, but do let it positively contribute to your wellness.

Control your Workplace and Distractions: Your house is now your office.

Even if it’s a pile of boxes making up some kind of office box-fort: try to create a dedicated space at home to continue your work. Be in charge of what you let distract you. 

Be Considerate: Allow for misunderstandings.

Communication can be tougher when not face to face. It’s important to be aware of that. Ask for clarification if a subject seems strange or is poorly understood. Don’t read too far into the frustrations of others. Expect mistakes which would not have happened before, and increase tolerance to those differences.

Be Flexible: Allow for non-standard approaches.

Perhaps paired programming is now useful for you for the first time ever. Perhaps your corporate standard video tool is overloaded, and a team-member suggests temporarily using something else. Perhaps you had a physical scrum board which now should become virtual. Adapting to the new normal, can be facilitated with changes of tooling. Flexibility is a corporate virtue.

Longer-Term actions:


If you’re in a data team, and looking for ways to improve collaboration in general, collaboration tooling is key in high-quality data science, just as it is key in distributed teams. For the longer term here are the general things you should be considering:

    • Standardized development setup (local and powerful)
    • Standardized development setup (centralized and well-connected)
    • Common online data exploration and collaboration environment (Data Lab)
    • Best practices from software engineering (Version Control, code reviews)
    • Contiguous route to production
    • High bandwidth internal systems (centralized)
    • High bandwidth connectivity (e.g. cloud-decentralized)

Stay Safe

For more details on those topics, or if you’d like us to help you with arranging your distributed team for the mid-term future, reach out. We’re holistic in our approach. We know that your collaboration setup is a key ingredient in realizing your value to business. We would love to help you achieve that.