Slow mornings in comfortable clothes. Your favorite cup of tea or coffee. Company of your plants, pets and, a blanket that is so special to you. Your own space, safe and comfortable. Sounds like perfect conditions for work, doesn’t it? Remote teams know what we talking about.
Well, not exactly.
Although working remotely brings many new possibilities, it still is a big strategic challenge. In this article we will discuss the problems that remote teams have to face and what tools can help them in solving these problems.
Let’s take some skeletons out of the closet
Work, work and… more work!
It seems convenient to work from home. And to a certain degree it is. You just don’t have to waste your precious time commuting. Before the global pandemic average time spent on one-way commute to work in the United States neared 30 minutes. It means almost an hour of traveling to and from your workplace every single day. And that is when we consider a positive scenario. In a negative one you would oversleep and miss your bus. Or there would be heavy traffic. Or annoying roadworks would block your route. So many things could happen, making the commuting process tiring and stressful.
Compared to that, working from home is almost heavenly peaceful. You just wake up, grab a coffee and… work. And work. And work. And by the time you finish, the day might be already nearing its end. How did it happen?
You see, it is hard to come out of work, when the work lives with you in your home, occupying the same space as you do. The line between your working time and free time blurs surprisingly easily. Before you know it, you might end up working much longer and more intensely than you used to do back in the office.
It can be hard to manage your time in a healthy and effective way when you have no point of reference, typically provided by your colleagues from the same office. Talking to them, even briefly, having a lunch break together or joking around while stocking up on another cup of coffee are surprisingly important parts of everyday life at work. They may seem trivial or even distracting, while in fact they often save the day.
Life is not only about work, after all. And we should keep that in mind, no matter what model of work we are dealing with. It is easy to get lost in your responsibilities, especially when you are alone in your home office. But do not forget the importance of taking breaks! Rested mind is more effective than a worn-out one.
The curse of invisibility
In a traditional model of work you go to your workplace and stay there for a certain number of hours. Then you leave and come back the next day. It is as simple as that. But it hides a powerful secret that can easily go unnoticed.
You are at work. Everyone can see it. You are physically there, present and ready to take care of your duties. It is obvious that this morning you came to the office, worked for 8 hours and left in the afternoon. Nobody can question that.
But what if you were invisible? What if one day you came to work and no one could see you? You would still be there, present and ready. You would still work for 8 hours and make progress in your tasks. But there would be no visible evidence that you were at work on that day.
Working remotely can sometimes feel like this. Of course, you are online. Of course, you meet on video calls. Of course, you do your work. But for most of the time no one sees you. You are kind of invisible.
The awareness of this fact alone can cause a huge amount of stress. Remote workers are often feeling pressured to do more and to prove their invisible effort in a visible way. It leads to overworking themselves, just to show as much evidence of work as possible. It is not easy for team leaders, too. They face the challenge of measuring their teammates’ effectiveness, while at the same time they feel reluctant to monitor their work, because it could be seen as a sign of distrust.
In the ocean of uncertainty
Feedback is important, no matter what type and model of working we are talking about. Gathering information on what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong helps us constantly improve and always try to do what needs to be done, not what we think needs to be done.
In case of remote working however, feedback is not only important, it is crucial. Without it, we are left blind in a thick fog, unaided, navigating through our tasks only with our intuition as a guide, which can be greatly misleading.
It can be less natural for us to express our opinion on someone’s work via text messages or even video calls. It is sometimes way easier to smile and pat someone on the back, than to write “well done, I’m satisfied with your work”. That is because we are only starting to learn and adapt to virtual communication. Of course, it existed long before the pandemic, but only now do we have to use it as our main channel of communication, not only an addition to communicating in person.
Frequently given feedback can lower the level of stress and help you avoid misunderstandings. It can also positively affect relations in your team and make everyone feel noticed and appreciated.
Let’s be alone together
We have already mentioned communication in terms of exchanging feedback. But that is just a tiny bit of communication we should be engaging in in our remote work daily. Working alone in our room might seem liberating and peaceful at the beginning. However, as the time passes we will most probably start to feel quite lonely. The intensity of this feeling will, of course, vary depending on the person. For some it might be only a slight inconvenience. For others it can lead to burnout or depression. We can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of your mental health.
Due to that reason, healthy remote working requires communicating with your teammates as often as possible. You can meet online everyday to catch up with each other’s work. Coffee breaks on video call are a great idea, too! Another option are integrative games you can play together online. It is important to make everyone feel that they are a part of the team. And that this team consists of real people, not only names with avatars attached to them. The stronger the relations between teammates, the more effectively they can work together. When communication within the team thrives, everyone knows what to do and where to look for help, if it is needed. They also support each other and are more invested in the outcome of the team’s corporate projects.
How can Atlassian products help remote teams?
Having covered the main challenges and problems that remote teams face, we can now discuss how to actually deal with them. In this situation, thankfully, technology comes to the rescue. There are countless softwares and applications out there that lend a helping hand in managing remote teams.
One of the biggest sources of various useful tools is Atlassian, a company focused on creating software for teams’ work development. If you are not familiar with Atlassian yet, and want to know their offer and how to get started with their products and applications, we invite you to read our previous articles: Holding Up The Sky: A Beginner’s Guide To Atlassian and The Best of Best Jira Plugins.
When it comes to remote teams, these are a few Atlassian products that can completely transform the way you see working from home:
- Jira Software: it is built for every member of your software team to plan, track, and release great software.
- Jira Service Management: helps to collaborate at high-velocity, respond to business changes and deliver great customer and employee service experiences fast.
- Confluence: allows you to organize your work, create documents, and discuss everything in one place.
- Trello: boards enable your team to organize projects in a fun, flexible, and visual way.
Each of the above tools is built and designed to make your work easier. But that’s just the basis! The Atlassian world consists of many more options. There are about 5,000 apps available on Atlassian Marketplace. Some of them are real game-changers.
Atlassian products with additional features provided by apps will help you bravely face the challenges of remote work. Here are some of the plugins that we have found useful:
- To make your work visible and trackable try Worklogs.
- To make your teamwork smoother and the flow of information easier try Microsoft 365 for Jira.
- To connect Slack with Jira and reduce context-switching for better concentration try Slack Integration+ for Jira.
- To work on creative diagrams and collaborate on ideas on a digital whiteboard try draw.io.
- To engage every member of the team in product backlog estimation try Planning Poker.
- To receive, analyze and share visual feedback in Jira try Usersnap.
Let’s get creative!
Developing new working habits in these virtual circumstances is not an easy task. To guide us through this process, Atlassian provides their users with a lot of resources and tips on how to make remote team collaborations as pleasant and effective as possible. Here are some of their ideas:
Get to know your teammates and how to effectively work with them by sharing user manuals, which include communication preferences and more. You can do it with the Confluence template provided under the link above.
Use this regular team huddle so everyone can share their progress and any obstacles getting in the way. You can do it with the Trello template provided under the link above.
The 4Ls is a retrospective technique where team members identify what they loved, loathed, learned, and longed for in a project or sprint of work. Using this simple framework, reflect back on your work and use what you’ve learned to improve as a team. You can do it with the Trello template provided under the link above.
Grab even more ideas here: 18 virtual team building activities and games for 2022.
Our best practices
We have talked about others’ tips and tricks, now it is time to share how the SolDevelo Foundation team is dealing with remote work. Each one of us lives in a different city, but that does not stop us from doing great things together!
To organize our work, create and assign tasks and track their progress we use Jira Software. It gives us a clear overview of what needs to be done, who is responsible for which task, and how much time the task requires to be completed. Along with Jira, we use Worklogs to help us see how many hours each one of us spent on work and what were the tasks we progressed in during that time.
In order to keep all important information together, as well as share our knowledge within the Foundation, we use Confluence. It is really helpful if you want to save some content and be sure that it will not get lost and will be easily accessible for anyone who needs it.
On a daily basis we communicate via Slack. It is a very handy tool that allows us to chat with each other, ask questions, give feedback and sometimes even send memes. We have our shared channel, where we discuss the matters of Foundation together, as well as separate direct messages, when one-on-one consultation is needed.
One of the most helpful things out of our practices are Daily Scrums. These are 15-minute video meetings that we do every single day at a fixed time. It is a space dedicated to updating our progress on the tasks and sharing our thoughts with each other. We can also use this chance to express our problems or blockers and ask for help from the other members of the team. Daily Scrums are a great way to stay updated on what the whole team is working on. It also helps to connect with each other. Other scheduled spaces to meet are Spring Reviews and Sprint Plannings, where we discuss the past two weeks of our work and make plans for the next two weeks.
It might not be equal to working together in an office, but seeing your team members every single day is kind of a relief. You are not alone in this. There are real people working by your side, always curious about your progress and always willing to lend a helping hand.
We are alone, but we are together. And we are a team.