Leaders, We’re Heading for a Productivity Dive — Use This Remote Working Strategy for Success

Phil Simmonds
Mar 31 · 6 min read
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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Businesses and organisations across the globe have suddenly been plunged into a work from home ‘experiment’ due to the spread of Covid-19. This unprecedented ‘lockdown’ has seen teams pivot to telecommuting so fast they barely have time to think.

In my experience, the physical transition from an office set-up to a virtual workplace isn’t always as seamless as people might believe. People react differently to the change, and not everyone will perform as expected. As a leader, you need to actively manage the situation: have trust in your team, drive the same work ethic and eliminate any chances of inefficiency or distraction.

Understandably, this period of lockdown has seen millions frantically scouring the net for the ‘best remote working tips’ to get ahead. We’ve seen a great deal of interest in productivity and workflow, which is a positive as it shows people are recognising what they need to address to make things work remotely.

But the truth is, if we don’t act fast we’re heading for trouble. Employees who struggle with self-discipline lose productivity easier than you might think- and these same people tend to be skilled at finding excuses. If you fail to get it right, the cost to your business (and indeed the economy) is astronomical.

I don’t think we yet understand the scale of the productivity dive we are heading for. Without intervention, my children’s grandchildren will be paying for this. Don’t believe me? The debts our country took on from the Second World War compromised our economy for decades- the final instalment of our loan from the US was not repaid until 2006.

Why am I so certain we are heading for economic meltdown? I’ve seen it happen before in my previous software businesses, which were built almost exclusively with remote teams. The fact is, when people aren’t being managed effectively, you’re losing money in productivity. We realised that the key to building remote teams isn’t constant communication- it’s creating accountability. For us, the daily stand-up meeting in the Agile Method worked beautifully (and we even built our own team management software to make this easier). Now our software is used by 10 million people on a daily basis, for transactions all over the world.

If we fail to create accountability, the potential cost to the nation could be enormous — a scenario nobody wants to confront.

An Opportunity For a ‘New Normal’

But let’s inject some positivity into this turmoil — the world of work is likely to change forever, and for the better. While this might be daunting to a certain extent, now is the opportunity to explore and thrive in this new virtual environment. Working patterns from the Coronavirus outbreak, such as videoconferencing, cancelling events and working at home might be equally as productive as the conventional office set-up, but what they reflect is an increasingly more streamlined business world. The nation is demonstrating how fruitless many traditional ‘office’ facets are, like continuous face-to-face meetings which are often stacked in people’s calendars, giving them little chance to actually work.

It begs the question as to why the world hasn’t previously tested remote working to this level, and why it’s taken a pandemic to throw us into it.

Developers Hold the Key to Productive Remote Work

The fact is, developers have been optimising their productivity for years, and the rest of the world is finally catching up.

In the mid 90’s, Jeff Sunderland created the ‘Scrum’ framework, the framework used to implement the Agile development. The Agile software development community is largely focused on collaboration and the self-organising team. Development teams meet every day to give progress updates in the Daily Scrum — a phrase that is also referred to as a “Daily Stand-Up’’.

The point of this daily stand-up is for all individuals in a development team to give a daily update of where they’re at, what they plan next and whether they have any blockers, which leaves the rest of the day for productivity, or in other words, it helps developers to achieve the ‘flow’. The flow is the optimum stream of productivity where the mind is totally focused on the designated task, which is why developers hate ‘office’ interruptions as it simply hinders their productivity.

According to David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails web development, working remotely should not equate to meeting remotely. He believes ‘remote work thrives on deep work’, which requires long stretches of uninterrupted time — of course, he is referring to the ‘flow’.

In this case, why are remote teams spending all their time video-conferencing if telecommuting is meant to abolish office distraction and pointless chit-chat?

We need to adopt these development principles when working from home.

Over-communication Hinders Productivity

While communication can be the bedrock of a successful remote team, it’s easier than you’d think to over-do it.

If you’re managing a team of 30 people, do you really want to be phoning each individual to check in on what they’re doing? This can become incredibly time-consuming, and is largely ineffective at keeping the momentum.

Are your team spending the majority of time on video-conferencing? Indeed, it’s great to use for topics that are difficult to manage without a face-to-face conversation, but what happens after the video conference ends?

Video conferencing is extremely useful for small teams as it allows you to assess individual performance in a short amount of time, but the larger the team gets, the more difficult this becomes. Not to mention that a group of 30 people trying to talk simultaneously is always quite counter-productive, and can leave many people feeling as though their point wasn’t illustrated.

We are privileged to be able to access the abundance of digital channels on offer as remote working has never been easier, but if we don’t use this time wisely, a vast amount of time will have unfortunately been wasted.

Team Management is the Solution

According to the State of Remote Work report 2020, 55% of people said their manager ‘doesn’t fully understand what I do each day’, a worrying revelation for those who manage, lead and monitor teams. The report also shows how 66% of people were tempted to push the boundaries when working remotely, but 74% found communication technology helpful in their productivity.

This shows exactly how remote work can be more productive, but only when people are actually doing what they say they are.

For remote work to be successful and sustainable, you need to replicate the development ‘daily stand-up’ either in the morning, or at the end of the day, to hold accountability in your team and keep people focused.

This theory is derived from the fundamental principles of behavioural science. If you condition your team into giving you a status update each day, it can also result in a little healthy competition. If individuals know they’re being checked up on every day, their efforts are unlikely to drop. It means individual performance is assessed fairly and inclusively — giving everyone an equal platform to voice their thoughts.

Working from home has an array of benefits to offer individuals a bit more flexibility into their work-life balance. But these benefits are only going to be rewarded if we prove its success in the present situation.

As a leader, you don’t want to be writing minutes of each video-conference, and then checking up to see if the actions have been accomplished. If you want a successful and productive remote team, replicate the daily stand up and avoid over-communicating on video-conferencing. Find a team management software that collates the important updates for you.

If you’d like to continue the conversation about remote team management, please drop me a message on linkedin (link in bio).

My virtual door is always open!

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