Viewing 36 posts - 1 through 36 (of 36 total)
  • Distance Working – Hints and Tips
  • Killer
    Member

    I work for a reasonable size engineering and science organisation that has obviously come to have to manage off site working in the last few months. We are working on a design project at the moment and I’m in charge of keeping a lot of different groups talking and sharing ideas. at least in an open plan office there are spontaneous conversations, adhoc meetings and open door policies where you can see who is about to have some chats.

    as I am part of the leadership team and also have my own local team I’m struggling to work out how best to manage distance working to promote those conversations and sharing of ideas.
    So I open the floor to an open question;

    What distance working best practices have you seen that I could adopt to make us more effective?

    Premier Icon crazy-legs
    Subscriber

    A previous company I worked for had a team of regional staff and they were managed / communicated via Trello. They tried to get us office staff using it too and we found it completely unsuitable for what we did to the extent that we actively fought back against being dragged into it. I think I set up a Trello log-in, used it a couple of times and then never again.

    We’re doing everything on MS Teams now (full WFH / remote working). Everyone has adapted well, there’s quite a few Channels on the go for intra-team communication and the company does webinars, Live broadcast sessions and “pub quiz” style stuff too. Personally I like it, it’s got a lot of functionality, it’s reliable and you can run stuff off text or audio or video or combinations of all three.

    Premier Icon ta11pau1
    Subscriber

    Microsoft Teams.

    Premier Icon oldtennisshoes
    Subscriber

    How about asking your teams how they want to do it?

    Premier Icon theotherjonv
    Subscriber

    Teams works well (I think Zoom’s a bit better but we aren’t allowed to use that) but they are both a bit difficult when numbers get bigger as there’s a lot of talking over / you have to manage that with ‘hand up to speak’ type arrangements which then makes it more like a meeting and less like a get together and exchange ideas conversation.

    At a former company, long before Covid, we were starting to use forum like software for this sort of thing. Rather than meetings that people felt obliged to attend and wasted lots of peoples’ time, or email chains with reply-all and getting out of phase, the idea was that anyone could ask a question and become the owner of that discussion. So you’d create a topic like on a forum but also set out what you wanted to know and a time for the discussion

    eg: where are we going for Xmas dinner this year / decision taken latest Friday 12pm.

    If you couldn’t give a toss, don’t answer and the decision will proceed without you. If you’re interested you can see what’s being discussed and chip in. Unbelievably for STW users most discussions went without too much controversy and by having a deadline, reached consensus if not unanimous agreement ahead of time. On the rare occasion that didn’t happen then depending on the nature the questioner / boss would make a decision based on what info had been uncovered, or as a last resort a meeting convened for those still with a chip in the game to thrash it out.

    It worked pretty well as the side conversations that uncover a critical learning by accident, are all allowed by this sort of branched discussion (not a linear forum like STW) in a way that a Teams or Zoom would never work with, and created connections quite effectively eg: when a branch gets too complex to discuss in written alone you’d often get the ‘can I give you a call on this’ anyway.

    Killer
    Member

    Just for clarity, we have the Teams/ Zoom setup already.

    Its more about practices suing these video tools. They’re great for what they do, but it measn the last 20 years of experience of how these projects operate is not as applicable in this environment.

    I wondered what those more experienced in Video TOols and distance working things they’ve made part of their standard day/week that weren’t there before?

    how best to get the most out of the video meetings?

    Premier Icon cookeaa
    Subscriber

    We’ve ended up with project specific Teams threads (useful), an office group (or “team”) Teams thread and various upper management Teams threads… It’s starting to feel like the tools are ruling the organisation not the other way round.

    The best thing anyone has done is put your question to the employees themselves. So ask your manament reports.

    Figure out if they have they got what they need, not just equipment but space and time free from childcare etc, keep in touch with them. Not everyone’s daily routine is going to align so well now, but see if you can find times that do for a general purpose team Skype to help establish a picture of your project group now.

    Also if there was a plan/schedule in process before lockdown, try to figure out where it currently stands, how far to the right it’s gone and what tasks can be resumed and which tasks need some help/resources and/or more time that typical. Be realistic/pessimistic there are already “heros” trying to cajole/micromanage things as if CV19 hasn’t just bolloxed all progress, don’t let them pressure you into promising results that you can’t deliver…

    Premier Icon oldnpastit
    Subscriber

    We’re using slack. It’s indispensable.

    Also have regular conference calls over BlueJeans (we also tried zoom, but thankfully that seems to have gone quiet – it made my head hurt).

    TheBrick
    Member

    Teams.
    Team for a big project, thennchanells within team. One general, software, one mechanical etc. Files uploaded to folders within the team.

    Screen share on meetings. I don’t have one but my partner uses a graphics stylus for annotations to documents in a more natural manor. Just a cheap one from Amazon but large format. ~£50

    Need to come up with a good way to manage meeting, some sort of hands up button / emoji on the chat and a chair person may work.

    Premier Icon ta11pau1
    Subscriber

    Teams isn’t just video – in fact it’s most useful for the group chats/individual chats, team cnahhels etc etc that allow people to stay connected.

    Premier Icon crazy-legs
    Subscriber

    I wondered what those more experienced in Video TOols and distance working things they’ve made part of their standard day/week that weren’t there before?

    how best to get the most out of the video meetings?

    IME:
    They’ve made the meeting more productive, more structured and less likely to be dominated by one or two people who shout others down in a standard face-to-face setting. Have a defined agenda (even if it’s just a half hour meeting where everyone talks through their daily updates, that’s still a defined and structured meeting). Keep it on track. It can still be fun, doesn’t need to be all dead-serious-work-hard stuff but if there’s any ambiguity as to why that meeting is happening (the ones where the manager is sitting there going “um, so is there anything else, does anyone else want to say anything…?”) then it’ll be a waste of time.

    And then outside of that, people can keep in touch on chat function, ad-hoc calls and email. Seems to be working with us although it took some settling in. The company did engage with everyone pre-lockdown though and ask what we wanted from remote working and it’s kind of evolved naturally.

    Some people have migrated to quite extreme flexi time (like starting at 6am or working til 10pm) but so long as they’re there for the important calls and do the required hours/produce the required work, no-one cares if they’ve just got out of bed at 11 or they’re about to log off at 3pm. If it works for them, it’s fine.

    Premier Icon molgrips
    Subscriber

    Video calling doesn’t replace in-office chat, because it’s on-demand – you have to actually call someone or a group of people, which means scheduling meetings and stopping what you’re doing to attend.

    Slack on the other hand is perfect. People chat on it, you can listen in, ignore it, or join in if you want. You set up channels for different projects or teams or just random ad-hoc groups of friends even. And you can PM people or groups of people. It’s not radicall different to any other chat system, but it’s a great implementation of the ideas and is really well balanced. You do have to promote it as the preferred method of communication though, make sure everyone uses it.

    Premier Icon FuzzyWuzzy
    Subscriber

    I don’t think there’s anything that replicates the ad-hoc collaboration stuff, people are more reluctant to use a medium like Teams to contact someone rather than just walking up to their desk.

    I think having a weekly (or even daily) Teams/Zoom/etc. team meeting is a must to keep everyone involved. Encouraging screen-sharing during that (or more specific meetings) can be good to encourage participation, e.g. to collaborate on working through a technical issue someone is trying to sort (I guess could work for creatives to).

    Unfortunately most of the stuff my team works on is classified OFFSEN or above and we can’t use Teams etc. for that so we have limited times for when the above can be used.

    I’ve done some instructor-led online training via Teams & Zoom recently to which works well and other teams within the company are knowledge sharing using a similar format (i.e. not just explaining how to do something but demonstrating it via screen-sharing).

    TheBrick
    Member

    I don’t think there’s anything that replicates the ad-hoc collaboration stuff, people are more reluctant to use a medium like Teams to contact someone rather than just walking up to their desk.

    I find the opposite. Send a chat message or post in a channel and sorted. Don’t have to worry about X has just popped to the loo or to brake or to see Y, then I have to wait around or remember to contact them again. Message sent and done. Quick call maybe if needed. Extra clarification.

    Premier Icon toby1
    Subscriber

    Working remotely is more async and requires a different way of working a lot of the time. The levels of success you see will be based on the type of people you have and the way they like to work more than the tools you give them.

    Some people love being an individual contributor and think other people slow them down, so realise that not just basing things on their own opinions doesn’t slow progress but helps realise a better end product.

    Encourage people to use documents to raise ideas and have async discussions around things, that can move to a call/conversation if there are some parts that need more in depth discussion.

    Encourage people to utilise tools that allow for pairing, whiteboard tools, live updating tools like the google office suit of tools, coding tools.

    Ultimately it’ll work just fine for the right type of person and you’ll find out who really just likes their own opinion in your organisation.

    Premier Icon mrhoppy
    Subscriber

    You can’t formalise the informal Comms that took place. Provide tools that let people pick and choose how they do it and allow time for them to do that within their working day.

    TheBrick
    Member

    One point is “buy in”. There are some people where I work who just don’t want to try anything new / learn a new system / technology but will just complain about using emails being shit. There’s not a lot you can do when people have a closed mind and a bad attitude.

    Premier Icon lunge
    Subscriber

    A few things that I’ve found worked well when using Teams/Zoom/Whatever. Most of these should be standard practice in a normal meeting but often aren’t, Zoom makes them even more important:
    Have an agenda and stick to it. Whoever is chairing needs to be strong enough to move people back on to topic as needed. This helps keep things concise and also keeps people interested. Send the agenda in advance and make sure people have read it and read up on any additional things.
    Don’t have AOB on said agenda, ask before the meeting if there’s anything else that needs discussing and add it if needed, AOB is always messy and so remove it.
    On that note, only invite those who really need to be there to the meeting. No-one wants to sit in a 45 minute meeting when 95% of the content is not relevant to them.
    On that note, keep it as interactive as you can, don’t let people drift off, keep asking questions to the audience. I personally don’t like people on mute as it allows them to drift off more easily.
    Don’t have the same person chairing each meeting, mix it up, it gives responsibility and changes the dynamic of them.

    Premier Icon cookeaa
    Subscriber

    Actually the thing I note is the OP is talking about an engineering team (mech?), that’s where I’ve found tools like Teams/skype/onedrive/sharepoint have significant limitations in the past.

    I could pack a fella off home with a high spec laptop and he could churn out CAD models/drgs, log into the company servers and make sure they were checked into the right file management system, and then punt them off to a structural guy at the other end of the country and it was all good. It would be maybe 25% slower but let him make use of his own time more flexibly.
    But the best we could really do for follow up collaborative working/discussion online was get him to generate screen grabs and pdfs, maybe do a screen share if his broadband/the VPN was up to it (it generally wasn’t).

    Chucking a model up on a projector with a meeting room full of technical people is very hard to replicate over teams still. That’s all assuming you can send the appropriate hardware home with them.

    Anyone can play with spreadsheets and word over the interweb, it’s when you have some meatier tasks to achieve and your stuck at home with a poverty spec laptop, shonky wifi and screaming kids that the wheels start to fall off IME.

    Premier Icon TiRed
    Subscriber

    People either communicate or they don’t. You have a mobile phone and can instantly contact any of your family who also have the same. Do you do so more, less or the same as you always did? It’s a phenotype not a technology.

    We use MS Teams and WebEx. We have informal coffee meetings on webex where the dog/kids make an appearance too. Teams is for collaboration with documents and team sites. It’s ok, but you need a fast connection to play with documents in the web tools.

    The other bugbear is in Teams you switch between windows to “multitask” during meetings. I find this very annoying if I am in a mtg, chatting to someone and looking at other work.

    But I’ll be at home probably until the end of the year.

    chrisdb
    Member

    I’d say if you are having a meeting, have a real long think about how important it is to actually have that meeting. They are highly disruptive to a working day having to sit and concentrate on a zoom/bluejeans etc.

    Slack is far more productive ime.

    Premier Icon FuzzyWuzzy
    Subscriber

    Slack is far more productive ime.

    Interested in what makes it more productive than Teams. I’ve never used Slack (it’s banned within the company I work for and Teams was deployed for everyone to use). When you’re talking about just chats within teams/projects so people can read and respond to at their leisure – that just sounds like a Channel within a Team in Teams (or Chat and include a group of people). Curious about what Slack does differently that makes it better.

    We’ve replaced Slack with MS Teams and they are very similar, both are primarily for messaging either individuals or groups, and some of these can be temporary/ephemeral whilst others are permanent and used for reference information. I work within the software development part of my organisation that have historically been anti-Microsoft and prefer open source tools, but everyone quickly switched to Teams without resistance as it did everything we used Slack for (including webhooks to automated services etc).

    One thing I will credit Teams with is how much it’s developed in the last few months, e.g. the ‘raise hand’ option to indicate you want to speak and the increase in the number of people on the screen plus custom backgrounds etc. Some of these are improvements, some are catching up with competitors.

    If you want to try and recreate some of the informality of the office environment, you need to accept that people don’t work for 100% of the time in the office. Private chats work, but also setting up 15 min “coffee break” calls where teams can get together and chat without a structured agenda can work. As a manager, you may need to try and introduce some of the community events back, e.g. having a quiz on a Friday, having a theme for the weekly meeting (e.g. ‘hats’ or ‘the colour red’ etc) can help – whilst making sure no one feels pressured to do it if they don’t want to.

    TheBrick
    Member

    e.g. the ‘raise hand’ option to indicate you want to speak

    Ooh where is this!?! Just what I have wanted on these calls.

    Premier Icon Dorset_Knob
    Subscriber

    Miro for whiteboarding and general collab where you all need to be looking at the same thing at once.

    Premier Icon llama
    Subscriber

    I’ve been working 100% at home for the last 2 years, and mainly at home for quite some time before that. I’ve worked as part of and led a lot of remote teams for about 10 years.

    First thing. In the type of work that you describe you will not be as productive working remotely as you will co-located. You just won’t. Sometimes you can get close, but you will never be as good all the time. That has to be clear to everyone, especially the people holding the money.

    Second thing. This tool or that tool is not as important as people getting buy in to adopting and making use of the tool. The graveyard is full of tools that only 1 person ever ended up using even though they told their team to all please use it.

    Third thing. Sounds like you want a regular status meeting. 15 minutes same time every morning. Everyone together. If you have too many for that split into sub-teams of people working closely together and let them status themselves separately; then link up as a whole less frequently.

    Personally I don’t like coffee meetings, quizzes, etc as I prefer to spend the time I take a break during working hours doing something away from work, e.g. walking the dogs, singletrack etc. But appreciate not everyone is like that.

    Premier Icon Dorset_Knob
    Subscriber

    The formal 15-minute catchup is of limited use beyond maintaining communication lines.

    The freer, less formal, and more useful exchanges of ideas you speak about will happen organically, depending on the individuals involved but they need a basic tool set to allow it to happen – Skype, Slack, Miro, Teams … are typical, but whatever. Death by tools is possible but quickly worked through. You need some tools though or nothing will happen.

    We have found that Miro is great for synchronous and asynchronous sharing – it allows people to add stuff informally and ad-hoc when it suits them for others to work with and respond to immediately, or later. It also allows for more structured and formal sharing sessions when required.

    I work closely with my creative partner who I chat with constantly on Skype chat, and quite frequently have open in a video call on monitor 2 while we work on something with a shared screen or shared board in Miro on monitor 1. It’s very close to sitting next to each other in an office somewhere.

    Don’t overcomplicate things – working to minimum requirements works best because it’s the most flexible.

    Some people will respond differently. Those that were most vocal and ‘active’ in the office may feel least comfortable with remote, and struggle to be or appear productive. Quieter folk in the office may prefer the quiet, solitude and opportunity for reflection that remote offers, and may find it easier to contribute and for their voice to be heard. So be prepared for some re-orgnaisation of team dynamics from that angle too. You may need to ‘reach out’ and give support to people who you might not have expected to need it, and vice-versa.

    Killer
    Member

    Second thing. This tool or that tool is not as important as people getting buy in to adopting and making use of the tool. The graveyard is full of tools that only 1 person ever ended up using even though they told their team to all please use it.

    This is exactly the challenge. the tools are only as good as the people wielding them. I can see a lot of potential, but also recognise that just moving the old style of working onto digital ones may not be ideal.

    What features does Slack have that makes it so good?

    Premier Icon Dorset_Knob
    Subscriber

    What features does Slack have that makes it so good?

    It’s easy to use and lots of people have it (well in my field at least, where it’s been the default comms tool for years).

    Premier Icon crazy-legs
    Subscriber

    This is exactly the challenge. the tools are only as good as the people wielding them.

    Yeah, we still get documents emailed back and forth with changes here, there and everywhere (sometimes tracked, sometimes not) when it could just be put into Sharepoint and worked on directly. The risk of ending up with the wrong version in publication is dramatically higher with emails.

    Same in Teams – there’s still a lot of random “for info” chat that goes out via email when it would be far better done in a Teams channel.

    One email from A to B, C, D and E becomes 4 replies (one each from B, C, D and E) cc’d to all but then C sees an email and replies while D is writing something and you end up with branches off and it’s a nightmare to follow. One chat in Teams. Job done.

    Premier Icon nwmlarge
    Subscriber

    I find Teams frustrating as you can’t Keep on Top like with zoom so I can listen in and see whats going on while undertaking other tasks.

    Premier Icon simon_g
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    We use teams and I’ve worked remote for years – but with any of these tools a key part IMO is getting into the “working out loud” mindset.

    Let conversations happen predominantly in appropriate channels. You might have a go-to person for something who you could IM/chat/call directly but doing it in channel means someone else might have input or even just follow along for useful info. It also means someone who joins the team later can find some back story. Even a quick question directed at one person is better in a channel, if people can get over a reluctance to be seen as someone asking stupid questions.

    Have documents in shared libraries (within the team/channel) as soon as they’re at rough first draft stage. Again, you don’t necessarily know who might have useful input. Some people don’t like to show their work until it’s all finished and polished but if it’s not quite right (maybe they misunderstood a requirement) they can get defensive and it can take more work to correct than if they collaborated a bit more early on. Ideally a document just lives in one place and gets worked on there rather than endless versions scattered far and wide.

    Meetings should absolutely have proper agendas and I’m in the habit of responding to invites with tentative until they do. The inviter should lead and cover the agenda. Short specific meetings are always better than multi-hour epics that try to cover loads.

    We have quick catch-up meetings on a Monday and Wednesday then a longer one on a Friday with extra time for just chatting. Some do daily stand-ups, some do weekly calls. No point these just being status update calls though, as things happen they should already be posted in channels and managers should be following along there.

    Premier Icon footflaps
    Subscriber

    Yeah, we still get documents emailed back and forth with changes here, there and everywhere (sometimes tracked, sometimes not) when it could just be put into Sharepoint and worked on directly. The risk of ending up with the wrong version in publication is dramatically higher with emails.

    I find it doesn’t work that well in practice, eg for major changes it’s faster to just donwload it, edit offline and then replace the online file, only someone has left it locked and I can’t replace it. Also the online version of Word really struggles with page formatting, lots of basic docs just appear garbled and you have to open them using the proper desktop app.

    I also prefer keeping various revisions with version numbers in the names, so I can go back to them. I find that far simpler than an online version history where it’s not very obvious which changes were made when; whereas I can keep a note of V1 vs V2 etc. Possibly old habits, but I always keep the full version history of any doc, as occasionally I need to refer to them and know when we made a change.

    Premier Icon mogrim
    Subscriber

    We have our daily 15min “stand up” which works well for us, but it’s a relatively small team (8 of us or so) and we’ve been working together for over a year now. Some days it is a bit of “I did this”, next person: “I did that”, next etc. etc., but usually it’s a bit more useful and it’s an ideal time to bring up concerns / pain points / etc.

    One meeting I hadn’t counted on, and also find useful, is when our Great Leader descends from Olympus and we have a 30min “coffee chat”, with no real set agenda. It gives him a chance to let us know what’s going on at the bank, official updates to the covid/wfh arrangements, etc. It’s also a chance for us to ask him questions. Fortunately he’s a nice guy so the meeting remains informal, this wouldn’t work for everyone.

    We also have the occasional virtual pub visit, drinking optional, which help maintain the team spirit. I think it’s important they’re not that frequent, maybe once a month. It also helps we finish work at 3 on a Friday, and start the meeting at 2 🙂

    Premier Icon beej
    Subscriber

    Also the online version of Word really struggles with page formatting, lots of basic docs just appear garbled and you have to open them using the proper desktop app

    You can do shared docs/simultaneous editing in the desktop apps, not just the browser versions. Doc needs to be in cloud storage (OneDrive/Sharepoint/Sharepoint pretending it’s Teams) and autosave turned on.

    Coauthoring

    Premier Icon willard
    Subscriber

    I know a few teams that have a private ‘Mumble’ server and just leave the team channel open all day so that anyone can join it, chat for a while about random stuff and then do other stuff. The same with Jitsi for video. Hell, I had a small after work with some of my old team using some video thing.

    The way we have managed to stay on top of things is to have a short morning catch up with Teams, then use a dedicated channel in Slack for general stuff during the day. If we want to talk, we fire up a VTC and have that running in the background.

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