Gradually and unseemly, more of us are starting to rely on mobile working. We find ourselves working on our two hour train journeys, in airports, in the supermarket queues... We start to work away from the office one day a week. We begin to recruit people who prefer to work from home, so will only take flexible (truly flexible) contracts. We beginto understand where and when we do our best work and want to schedule our days accordingly.
Then one day, we realise that it's not working.
Some of us are feeling isolated, we haven't connected with our team members in weeks.
Our work starts to suffer: we don't meet our deadlines because our individual priorities conflict with our team goals.
We prefer to solve our problems only when we can meet face to face, so our problems never get solved. When we do meet face to face, we don't have time to give each other praise, feedback or even a smile...
Is this surprising? At no point did we look at how we were going to manage this new way of working together. It just crept into our lives.
We Never Asked for This...
A year ago we were all in the office together, 9 to 5 and now... It's all just not working out, why?
The answer is obvious: our previous way of working was better, this remote thing doesn't work.
Think about for how long your team has worked in a collocated way. For how many years most of us have been working next to each other. And now, after a short time of going with the flow and seeing where technology takes us, we decide there's no point in carrying on, it's just never going to work.
I feel about the transition to mobile working (remote, virtual, distributed...) like I feel about email. They both have just crept into our lives and we never stopped to consider how to take advantage of them and make our working lives better, not worse. Terrible use of email can be resolved by introducing a few protocols and even setting up some rules. (For some great email practice tips, check out this podcast episode with Hassan Osman, Lisette and Pilar.) But if we don't use email mindfully, we can have a detrimental effect on others and ourselves. (And I've deliberately use "we", the people - not "it" the email tech.)
I can see the parallels between the the shift to mobile working with the mindless integration of email.
I know that "change programmes" often fail, so lets' call this an "evolution roadmap", shall we?
As you transition to "remote" or just to a more flexible approach to office hours and location, or even , if you dare, as you transition to a more results-orientated approach, ask yourselves:
Have you stopped to lay down some new rules / guidelines / parameters?
Have you thought about how it might change how you need to behave?
Are you regularly reviewing and adjusting your practices?
It's the Small Things that Matter
I recently joined a small team who had just set up a network, with a view to meeting regularly in person. When I asked them how they communicated someone replied, "We use email - we tried Slack but it didn't work." (Slack is an application used mainly for asynchronous communication and chat.)
Personally, I can't stand Reply All and I find it difficult to talk in a group through email. Slack on the other hand, is very good for having asynchronous conversations, in small groups. It's not a particularly difficult tool to use, so I asked whether the group would be willing to give it another try. Luckily, being open minded and nice, they said 'yes'.
I set up the tool in a way that made sense for us (or at least, to me), segmenting the conversation in "channels", each allocated to a monthly meeting. I then created a short screen capture video, showing how and why I'd set the tool up like that and going over some of the main, simple features. The result: we now use Slack as our communication tool.
Sometimes we assume we can make a small change in our communication process and because "everyone uses email" and "everyone is on Facebook", then we'll all be able to shift into the new tool with no problem. No - we need to think through how this will work for US and then spend some time thinking about our process.
Set Up Mindfully and Don't Forget to Review
Just a few weeks ago, one of our team members did express her frustration with the tool - we'd neglected to revise it.
"It's working for me," I'd been thinking, so I hadn't thought of reviewing how we were using the tool and whether it was working for everyone else. But once the problems were raised, we addressed them and improved. Phew - we didn't have to go back to email.
Ask Questions Before Rejecting
So, if you're introducing new tools, new practices into your team and you feel yourself rejecting them, ask yourself:
What was I expecting to happen that didn’t?
What's happening that I don’t like?
Do I need to understand the process further?
Is this challenging how I see myself as professional, as a person?
The one thing that everyone working in virtual teams agrees on is that you need to make deliberate your communication. I would go one step further and suggest that at some point, you'll need to see "remote" as a deliberate change. And change, takes time.
Pilar Orti will be speaking about Change at the People At Work online Summit.
Check out our June webinar on making the transition from office-based to virtual team. eventbrite.com/e/from-office-based-to-virtual-team-tickets-24924132752