How to stay connected while working remotely

Chris Thorpe
Mar 16 · 4 min read

How we use check-ins and stand-ups as the main tools to stay connected and aligned.

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Due to COVID-19, more people and organisations are starting to work remotely. We at CAST have been doing this for a while and we thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learnt and some of the research we’ve done which shapes our practice.

In this short piece we’re going to talk about how we keep each other updated about what we’re doing and importantly, how we’re doing. Some of you who have worked in software development teams may already know a lot of this, as that’s a sector we’ve borrowed some of our practice from.

Some of our more recent work in this is designed to create an environment of supportive behaviour and psychological safety within the team. This has been proven to be one of the most important things to creating high performing teams and is more important than ever in times of crisis and anxiety.

Daily stand-up check in

One of the things we do every day as a team is a short meeting where everyone shares their plans for the day, known as a stand-up. This could be done over a video call, but we like to do it via Slack. You might choose to do it by an email thread if you don’t have Slack or an equivalent like Facebook for Business or Microsoft Teams, I’ve done that before in the days before Slack and other similar tools and it works well. We use a standard set of three questions to form the check in which are based on those in the agile software development practice/methodology:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I going to do today?
  • What’s stopping me from doing that?

In Slack this would appear as something like:

Yesterday
Writing document to let partners know we’re becoming a remote first organisation for the time being
Getting approval from IT to install Slack/Zoom on everyone’s machines

Today
Meetings with Joe, Mike and Robert
Writing document around remote working
Getting approval for telephony headsets for the team

Blockers
None, but the children will be at home as the school is shut, so you may see them in the backgrounds of video calls

It may at first seem like over sharing that you’d add something like that as a blocker, but it’s useful for colleagues to know that occasionally you may seem distracted when talking to them on a call. It’s all part of creating that environment of psychological safety.

It’s important to recognise that everyone’s physical environment will be set up differently for remote working and not everyone will have a quiet room or study to work in, so sometimes remote stand ups will be easier.

We also add in an optional section for requests, for when you might need a second opinion or some ad hoc help.

Whole person check-in

Once a week we come together for an all staff team meeting. The check-in for this is slightly different. It may seem like a large amount of time to dedicate to this, but it pays dividends in building a holistic understanding of how colleagues are doing.

The questions we answer are:

  • How am I feeling today?
  • What am I leaving outside the room?
  • What am I working on?
  • What am I doing to look after myself today?

These are all to gain a real insight into the physical and mental health of yourself and your colleagues. Part of it is about giving yourself permission to say what’s not okay at the moment (what you’re leaving outside the room) which allows others to support (this relates a lot to the wonderful “It’s okay to…” posters from GDS). The last question is important as at busy times, and all times really, self care is important, without being well, it’s impossible to support others to your best ability.

A sample check-in could be:

“I’m feeling a bit tired today, I’ve found it hard to sleep of late with all the news. I’m leaving outside that my mother has some cold symptoms, and I’m hoping it’s just that. I’m working on our remote working HR policies at the moment. I’m looking after myself today by going for a lunchtime walk and getting an early night tonight.”

This is packed full of information for the team to support a colleague with. People can offer to go for the walk with them if they want to talk (in remote working times, this could be chatting on the phone and walking) and should avoid scheduling anything ad hoc which would stop that walk happening. It also means people can think about what tasks could be taken on if more support is needed for the potentially ill relative.

We hope this short guide to what we do is useful. Let us know via @wethecatalysts if you have anything else you’d like us to offer advice on.

The Catalyst

UK collaborative to bring a social purpose to the digital…

Chris Thorpe

Written by

Technologist. Not sure what to put here; likes making things, often powered by tea. Father, husband, art lover.

The Catalyst

UK collaborative to bring a social purpose to the digital revolution. From CAST, City Bridge Trust, Comic Relief, DCMS, Esmée Fairbairn, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and The National Lottery Community Fund.

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