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Building and Sustaining Remote Teams – part 2

This is the second part to a series on managing remote teams – you can read part 1 here and part 3 will be up soon! 

The Culture of Writing Stuff Down

I’ll let you in on a secret – I’m useless at remembering things. I can’t tell you how many times I saw my wife rolling her eyes and saying “you REALLY don’t remember???”

Most people recollect through emotions. It’s just how our mind works; it was not built to store to-do lists. Remembering a face, laugh, touch or picture is easier than a number.

This also means things can get tricky in remote teams. Not only are we missing many of the usual emotional inputs, there are also fewer opportunities for casual reminders. That’s why it’s essential to create the culture of Writing Stuff Down! And also Not Keeping It For Yourself!

For this article, I teamed up with Piotr Lemiesz, who is responsible for most collaboration tools we use at Unity Group. He’s an expert on writing things down and is a much more disciplined person than myself.

Use JIRA – but be smart about it

While JIRA is a fantastic tool, you need to take time to understand and leverage it effectively. At Unity Group, we use JIRA for several very diverse purposes and we’ve learned a few things along the way:

  • Identify the fields that have clear purposes in your process. Only update those you actually use (or are helpful). If there’s a dark side to JIRA, it’s spending hours maintaining various useless fields. Don’t fall for it.
  • Learn how to build dashboards and start your day with one showing the high-level overview of your tasks.
  • Make sure all relevant documents are accessible through JIRA – either through a link or attached to the correct issue.

Don’t email stuff around

With email, there’s no guarantee people will use the most recent files or updates. Collaborate on all documents online. There are plenty of options, such as Google Suite, Zoho or Office 365. Pick one, make it the central repository for all your documents, ensure it’s searchable and then STICK TO IT!

Email is a poor collaboration tool. Period.

In a meeting? Write stuff down

Meetings are often a waste of time unless done right. Several years ago, I was involved in a project aimed at improving collaboration at a global company. At one point we collected anonymous feedback about meetings, which was very eye-opening… I have learned a great deal from this experience, so here are my tips for running effective virtual meetings:

  • Create a draft agenda & send it out in advance. Ask the team to review and add points.
  • Always write the minutes and store them in the same central location.
  • Take action points (these are different to JIRA tasks/issues).
  • Make it a habit to start each meeting by reviewing the recent action points.
  • Our short-term memory fades very fast so be timely and accurate with what you write down – do it ASAP and ask stakeholders to provide feedback.

Make it easy to create and access information

Information creep is a real problem. Make sure everybody on the team can create and access this ever increasing volume of information as easily as possible.

  • Keep things accessible with a wiki-based knowledge centre.
  • Reduce barriers to access. Use a few well defined places or tools for writing things down.
  • If you need to store something sensitive, such as passwords for tools, use a secure password manager.
  • Proactively avoid information silos – and don’t think information hoarding does not apply to you!
  • Be prepared for scale. Larger repositories are difficult to search and manage. You may want to consider the likes of Microsoft Delve (if you have Office 365) – it really helps!

ALWAYS write down the strategy, plan and goals

This one is easy to miss but it’s hugely important – take time to write down your high-level strategy and core goals, share it with the team and make sure that:

  • Everyone has read it
  • Everyone understood it
  • And finally – everyone knows where it is, if they need it

Only then everyone can work truly independently and consistently without the need to be micro-managed (a terrible practice in any case).

What else?

Next time we’ll talk about the final missing piece of the puzzle – autonomy and why it’s the key ingredient for a truly effective remote team. Until then – try to stay healthy, as these are extraordinary times with a big emphasis on remote work.

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