What To Do if Your Team Becomes Distributed Overnight In Response To Coronavirus

Tactics and Tools for Jumping Into Fully Remote Work

David Sneider
Mar 4 · 5 min read

[Disclaimer: This is a post about software. Please prioritize you’re health and security.]

If you’re reading this post, it’s likely that COVID-19 has caused your once co-located team to start into remote working without much time to prepare for the transition. This post will cover a few key topics that aim to maximize productivity and maintain a culture of thoughtful excellence in these less than ideal circumstances.

The Number One Lesson From Asynchronous Teams: “Intentional Transparency”

Remote work exists on a spectrum. At one end there are teams that try to fully replicate an in-office workflow. This is probably where you’ll start and that’s okay. Be sure to set the expectation that there will be multiple phone and video calls everyday.

On the other side of the curve are fully asynchronous teams. There are groups of people who are building amazing software and provide stellar services, without talking to one another in realtime that often. Generally, these teams are clever about how they use the communication and collaboration stack (Slack, Jira, Trello, Zoom, etc) and get on a call once per week . The best of these asynchronous teams are “Intentional Transparent”, a phrase coined by Victor Wu (afaik).

There’s no need to jump fully into being fully async if you find your team being distributed all of a sudden, and intentional transparency can be rolled out incrementally. Victor’s tweet, embedded above, gives some good examples of how to do this. Another key example is to use Channels instead of DMs in Slack. This ensures that your whole team has a chance to understand what’s happening.

Ensure Tasks are Not Slipping Through The Cracks

Our human brains have working memory, which is the cognitive system responsible for temporarily holding information. Put another way, working memory is your “active short-term memory”. The system is quite limited and most of us can only hold 4 items in working memory at one time (source).

With the limitations of working memory in mind (a bit on the nose, I know), here’s a quick overview on how modern teams communicate across their stack of collaboration tools:

Knowledge workers have to manage conversations happening in a multitude of ‘inboxes’ and within each of these there are threads, subthreads, channels, direct messages, comments, etc — it’s easy for important tasks to slip by, which causes the cycle time between sense and response to stretch from moments to days to weeks.

via https://amplitude.com/blog/creating-flow-value-in-product-development

At Unblocker, we’ve create software to ensure that the time between sense and response is kept in check by applying natural language processing across the communication and collaboration stack to surface action items that are categorized into “Blocked By Me” — items where you owe someone else a reply and “My Follow Ups” — the items where you’re waiting on someone to get back to you.

Being able to sense and act across all the tools helps to ensure that the limits of our brains don’t result in delays.

“My Follow Ups” via Unblocker

Track Engagement, Without Being Creepy

Forcing your team to install screen capture or key logging software is gross. It says “I don’t trust you” to your team, and that’s the exact opposite of the culture one should aim to create if they find their workforce being distributed overnight.

However, it’s quite appropriate to use the meta data aka “data exhaust” from the shared collaboration tools to get a sense of how your team is spending time. By way of analogy, putting tracking software on someone’s computer is like putting a camera in their home. Analyzing how your team uses the communication and collaboration stack (Slack, Jira, Trello, Meetings, etc) is like having a camera in the city center (of your company) — which is quite accepted all around the planet.

Unblocker gives individuals and their managers (provided that individuals opt-in) an unprecedented view on how time is spent during work across the stack.

Workflow Intelligence via Unblocker

Two key items from the dashboard above are “Focus” and “Fragmented” time. Focus time is blocks that are greater than an hour and a half without interruptions. Fragmented time is the blocks of time less than an 90 minutes between interruptions. Focus time is important because it’s when “Deep Work” happens.

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way. (Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World)

Using the Work Interaction Graph (Wig) API to Build for the Future

The Unblocker (screenshots above) is built on top of a novel Work Interaction Graph API, which unifies and standardizes interactions across a company’s communication and collaboration stack.

This data can be used for company wide projects like exploring relational analytics or this API can be connected to your human capital management system.

Wig can also be used for for a more specific use-case, like seeing how much toil your SREs are doing, setting up early detection for burn out, understanding if new hires are getting properly settled, or flagging disengagement.

If you’re ready to explore any of these or some other creative use-case, please get in touch.

Stay Safe

Unfortunately, the coronavirus is here. As you continue to work and create, check the CDC’s website for updates and stop touching your face!

Wash your hands too

Thanks to Chris Cassano

David Sneider

Written by

Not worried about rain because we’re already drenched. | founder @Deco_Network | creator @GalacticTick | frmr founding team @Sendbloom (acquired by @LinkedIn)

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