Due to the COVID-19 spread many companies have to transform their working reality towards a fully remote approach. Wherever possible, companies try to remain their operations while protecting their workforce. Before the spread, the company I’m working at allowed a part of their workforce to work remotely for one or two days a week. The spread completely changed that.
In a sense of protecting the workforce, everyone capable of doing remote work is now obliged to. We, the modern knowledge workers, are not used to this new situation at hand, being fully-remote workers in a remote teams setting.
Missing opportunities for informal communication
Everyone knows occasional “coffee breaks” or informal chatter which occurs naturally in on-site settings. Talking to your colleagues is a vital part in maintaining relationships within a team. But in a distributed teams setting those opportunities diminish. The amount of informal communication decreases if not actively stimulated. If there are no occurences which substitute informal communications, people will feel lonely at some point in time.
Early hours are eroded
A fair share of my colleagues do visit the office early to get “stuff done”. Within these early hours individuals have a lower chance of getting interrupted by calls, chats or meetings. And people are actively seizing that opportunity. But if everyone is obliged to do remote work those commuting will now start working right after finishing their morning routine.
What happens to the “early hours” with no interruptions? They are eroded as people will start their workday at the same time.
Managing the continous buzz of notifications
Work flows different in remote teams settings. To aid us in getting stuff done we heavily depend on communication and collaboration tools such as Slack, Teams, Jitsi or Skype. Roughly two work settings are encountered by the individual working in remote teams.
“Deep work” comprises settings the individual has to engage a good amount of it’s cognitive capabilities to successfully complete a (mostly complex) task. An example for deep work is the implementation of an algorithm to solve a given problem. Individuals being in deep work settings are vulnerable to interruptions as those realize unwanted context switches. Remember the developer in his flow getting disturbed on the progress of task x. The context switch realized will make it harder for the individual to progress with the initially started work.
“Shallow work” defines settings where it’s not necessary for the individual to engage with their complete cognitive capabilities such as attending meetings. Those settings require individuals to manage their attention and beeing present whenever necessary. Interruptions may occur but what’s striking here is that the individual will not be that vulnerable to them. They are expected in those shallow work settings and may be managed quite easily.
But managing the individuals attention becomes key within the unknown situation for remote workers. The necessary collaboration tools produce a constant buzz of notifications to be consumed by the individual. Every individual produces new parts of information, tasks, updates which are turned into a never-ending stream of notifications.
The individual has to be aware of managing their attention and apply strategies to keep and maintain focus.
- Bridge the distance to your colleagues by using rich communication channels. Apply the usage of video wherever possible in remote settings.
- Facilitate informal communication within your teams. Create opportunities to let informal communication happen. You could organize virtual coffee breaks, create offtopic chatrooms or play icebreaker games with your colleagues on occasion.
- Be aware that collaboration tools facilitate interruptions. Balance your usage based on the necessary work setting to complete a given task. Being offline in Teams to remain productive is not a crime.
- Allow asynchronous work to happen. Use defined sync points within your team e.g. “the daily” and avoid asking for status updates where not necessary.
Worth to read