Dear Remote Teams, I’d Like to Introduce You to Your New Team Members

by Kathryn Maloney

By Kathryn Maloney

Open work practices for geographically distributed teams is the best way to mimic the in room experiences we value as tribal people. The reality is that we’ve been moving away from co-location for a very long time, and have not been disciplined about setting an overt, conscious strategy to coordinate and optimize for our geographically distributed reality. To mimic in room, we want teams to have default access to one another’s work and to be able to pull and access necessary information in real time. Through both, people are able to move faster, make better decisions, feel included, stay connected, and work from more emotional safety.

Technology doesn’t replace human interaction, but it certainly facilitates easy exchanges and eliminates much mystery, story and narrative that can otherwise become barriers and blocks when teams are far flung. Regardless of where our physical bodies are, the objective is to get functional and cross-functional teams (1) into alignment (2) able to solve problems quickly (3) collaborating with clarity and (4) accessing one another’s thinking and doing processes for the sake of business continuity.

We think about different tools and how they meet different needs based on how we actually work. Each type of tool addresses key ways to migrate how we once worked all together in a room to working all together in remote rooms.

  • Video tools enable distributed teams to experience an “in room” effect by seeing one another’s faces, experiencing facial expressions, sensing tone, and interacting.
  • Persistent chat tools invite asynchronous and open communication across work projects, time zones, and geographies.
  • Cloud-based document storage stands up information distribution/access with little to no friction.
  • Real time document authoring and collaboration tools eliminate version control and the time suck of sending files back and forth.
  • Project and task management and kanban/workflow boards give teams the ability to organize, manage and expose their work for better team efficiency and dashboarding — greatly reducing the need to spend time updating anyone on what’s happening.

Each of these technology solutions puts power into the hands of teams. They experience greater sync, inclusion, shared voice, access, openness, and collective awareness. When used together as a system of tools (e.g. you will hear us ask what is your tool stack?), the technologies become one of the key pillars for organizations desiring to change their cultures and operating systems and to become workforces enabled for the future — tightly wired to achieve outcomes.

Hear me though. Technology will not single handedly deliver you culture change nor fix your operating system nor magically deliver outcomes. (If only it were that simple.) Yet we also cannot do culture or any other meaningful system level change, become future fit, get through this moment in time, and remain competitive without the technology. It is only one of the pillars — and yet a key and important one. We work in relationship with one another and in relationship with the technology. Consider technology tools as important members of the team in this new normal. We have to build a relationship with them as much as we do with our fellow humans.

When used well (because you actually have to use the tools to experience how they’ll become meaningful and additive members of your team), they help to close gaps that are often identified as common tensions to the flow of work in nearly every organization. Such gaps are:

  • waiting games
  • lobbing work over the wall without rooting in a broader strategy
  • inability to access information quickly and without having to call, email, bother many individuals
  • stopping long email chains
  • cc’ing and bcc’ing crazy amounts of people
  • the monkey mind imagining things that aren’t necessarily true due to an absence of information
  • thinking organizational spin (due to communication gaps) equals valuable time spent
  • managing email inboxes as valuable time spent
  • lack of visibility on key project / strategic initiative progress
  • team members in other time zones feeling marginalized, left out, less valuable
  • inability to understand dependencies and impacts across one another’s work
  • missing context around your piece of work
  • not seeing each other’s faces, eyes, and expressions to develop and maintain trusting relationships
  • leader interruptus (e.g. dropping work bombs and doing drive bys)
  • isolation

I could go on, but you get the idea. These gaps cost time, money, trust, and create so much unhappiness—resulting in organizational swirl.

On top of the swirl, technology tools meant to meet our teaming needs can come in like any change comes in… as foes. So, we have to get to know them. We have to get used to their ways. We have to learn about them and stretch ourselves to make room for them in our minds, egos (because we don’t like to feel dumb), and most importantly our time. We don’t like “being interrupted” in our busyness to learn something new. And yet ironically, the tools themselves eventually interrupt the busyness to enable us to become more efficient and effective with our time. They also connect us to one another as we navigate the landscape of future teaming, becoming future fit organizations, and delivering outcomes.

I suspect we have arrived at the moment of no return with co-location. And the good news is that everyone has many options to coordinate and optimize. Now, it’s simply about understanding how and why to leverage which tools to build better teams — and then of course commit to using them.

Here are some of the tools we use ourselves or have used and heard about inside our client organizations by need and category mentioned above. We love some and don’t love others quite as much based on design and usability. We’ll get to that in another article. For now, the idea is get on tools to coordinate and optimize as distributed teams rather than stay off them. Use what you have access to. Litigating whether to or not is officially over.

Let us know what you decide and how it works out.

Video. Zoom, WebEx, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts

Persistent Chat Tools. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Mattermost, Workplace, Google Hangouts, Webex Teams

Cloud-Based Document Storage. Box, Dropbox, Sharepoint, Google Drive, Microsoft Teams/Office 365

Real-Time Document Authoring. Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote, Evernote, Office 365, Box, Confluence

Project and Workflow Management. Notion, Trello, Basecamp, Jira, Microsoft Planner (which now also exists within Microsoft Teams), Virtual Task Board (within Service Now), Asana, Monday

Kathryn is a Leader Advisor, Organization Design Consultant, and Systems Coach. She strategizes with organizations large and small to build capacity in designing organizations of the future, evolutionary leadership, prosperous teams, and coherent systems.

For a complimentary view on tools, please also check out Spencer’s article Tooling the Open Organization.

The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works.

The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works. Topics include org design, self-organization, and dynamic teaming.

Kathryn Maloney, MA/ABS

Written by

Evolutionary Leadership, Coherent Systems, Prospering Teams, Organizations of the Future

The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works. Topics include org design, self-organization, and dynamic teaming.