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21st Century Work Life and leading remote teams

Brought to you by Virtual not Distant, the 21st Century Work Life podcast looks at leading remote teams, online collaboration and working in distributed organisations.

Join Pilar Orti, guests & co-hosts as they shine the spotlight on the most relevant themes and news relevant to the modern knowledge worker.

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May 23, 2019

In this episode, Maya and Pilar call for a halt to some of the remote madness! Where’s that ‘reset’ button...

But first to follow up on the ongoing Twitter conversation from our last episode, about whether remote is suitable for everyone - thank you Bart and everybody who joined in, and do check out Maya’s recent article about this idea of challenging your own assumptions, on Medium - because it all relates to today’s theme on the flipside: while some people cannot imagine working out of the regular office, those of us who love remote work are in danger of becoming so evangelical about the benefits that we can risk losing sight of the potential downsides. So we need to talk about some of the pitfalls out there.

Don't forget to check out our book Thinking Remote or sign up for the email series

Starting with conversations -

5.50 Synchronous and Asynchronous Conversations

Most of the tools and apps we use in remote collaboration offer us the ability to communicate in a wide range of modes, and this can increase confusion about whether a conversation is happening in real-time, or encouraging response over a longer time period.

We can have lots of different kinds of conversation in our online teams - check out also Jason Fried’s new book “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work”,  from which we draw the insightful quote, that we want to go towards ‘a culture of eventual response, rather than immediate response’ - regardless of what the tool itself can do, this culture respects the time management and thought processes of the correspondent.

If we frame our communications with that intent, we’ll remove the pressure to reply straight away, whether our colleagues are head down in deep work, or fast asleep in another continent. And it will help us make our communications purposeful and deliberate… there’s a place for chit-chat, a place for talking about the work, another for actually doing the work. What are you putting out there?

14.45 And what about the tools themselves?

Back to basics! The tool shouldn’t be leading you into an expectation of how to use it… Even email can get used as a real-time conversation, in a ghastly chain of reply-alls, but that doesn’t mean we should. We have so many apps to choose from, so choose well.  If you master your own notifications on your various devices you can take back control… This blog post from 2 years ago, Your Notification Settings are Your Friends will help you, as will this great suggestion from regular listener Teresa The productivity pit: how Slack is ruining work (with a fabulous gif summing up the whole problem).

And don’t forget that a lot the business tools we use can share richer content like audio or video, all of which can be asynchronous. A great way to share an idea, or a screencast, and if you want considered feedback it might be best to give people a chance to think about it, rather than gathering people into a meeting where they’re expected to respond immediately.

If you have a clear communications strategy you won’t be searching for that remark or file wondering whether it was on email or Slack or in a document… and this includes being unafraid to say ‘I’m moving this conversation over to its channel on XXX’ - managing the conversation, so it continues to serve its purpose.

30.10 Speaking of meetings:

Just because you can do something in remote work, doesn’t mean you should.

You can join a meeting from anywhere, like your car or a park bench - but if you need to refer to documents in that meeting, then you probably need to be indoors, at a desktop device. Are you relying on someone else to share the doc, to provide more attention than you are, to the conversation?

How respectful does this seem, to the person you’re meeting with, whether that’s internal or external..?

33.33 Designing the workflow and conversation

The way we create the work in the first place can shape what we need to do to talk about it - if we design ways to make the teamwork visible, then we don’t need to report on it in a meeting, or go and update a task list somewhere else…

Anything which takes you out of the work, to report on the work, is inefficient, and likely less accurate - and if you’re collaborating online then all the information must be available anyway, it’s just a case of data visualisation and smart design of the systems. For example, a Trello board shows the whole team, as well as the manager, what everybody is working on right now and what’s next, without anyone having to go and ask about it, or get others to stop what they’re doing to explain…

We’ve got lots of suggestions as to how and why you should share your work, as part of the natural workflow, without being too noisy about it - and we’ve got lots of information in Thinking Remote

39 30 Because, it can all go wrong sometimes.

Remote doesn’t always make things better:

  • Tools can be used for the wrong reasons - or to fix the wrong things.
  • Technology can be used to control, instead of to enable and empower.  
  • Managers can project their own preferences and hangups on to global teams now, instead of just the folks in their office
  • We can use tools to track and monitor the wrong things, and undermine the trust that is vital for successful work in distributed teams
  • We can duplicate effort and waste time, because

46.10 And finally, we can get silly about what remote/office-optional work actually means day to day.

How cool is your co-working, how exotic is your home office, how much do you travel?

We love that remote work enables you to design the lifestyle which suits you best, and we don’t need hashtags and competitive glamorous Instagram images to define what that should look like. If you love hibernating at home, go for it, and if you love the London vibe and commuting to a central office then that’s great too.

It’s just as exciting -or predictable - as you want to make it.  So don’t anyone else dictate your aspirations.

Back to basics indeed!

50:50 What do you mean by that? Visual Facilitation

We asked coach and facilitator, Andi Roberts, to help us explain:

Using visuals to support (rather than take over) meeting processes helps to engage participants and bring different senses into the conversation, and it can help to handover power to the participants.

Visual tools can be prepared in advance to interact with as a template, such as for a roadmap for a process to be completed, or they can be co-created in the moment - flipcharts and sharpies at the ready, as participants draw how a situation makes them feel, or what an outcome would look like.

Enhancing interaction, showing rather than telling, and enabling new ways of expressing… You don’t need to be an artist - if you draw how you feel about something then explain it, you articulate that feeling in a way that might not have been possible directly. You can reach a deeper level of thinking, and ideas which are not always easy to articulate.

It also deepens connections between the participants, which has lasting benefits.

You can connect with Andi on Twitter too, and listen to more in Episode 177.

55.42 Tool: Scrivener

Scrivener is a great tool for long-form writing, such as a book, perfect for organising lengthy and complex content as well as research. It has tools for outlining and planning, whether you’re the kind of writer who does that in advance or when you’re halfway through it. It lets you work with huge documents, either all at once or in sections, and manage the structure as you go along.

It’s good for creating a distraction-free environment in full screen, and less distracting than using a cloud-based word processor - in fact it’s beautifully designed to help you do one thing only: write the book.  Yes, you can write a book without it. But the right tool for the job makes a big difference.

Not cheap at $45 but you can try it for free, and it’s a one-off charge rather than software as a service, also you can install it on more than one device - it’s now available for windows and iOS as well as the mac. We’d love to see collaboration tools in the next version please, Literature and Latte!