Thought Leadership

June 17, 2020

Transition from traditional to remote work activities

In this article, Javier Garcia, Product Owner for Arkus, shares perspectives on activities and challenges generated by shifting to a remote software development format. He shares some activities that can be carried out to avoid hurting your organization’s culture and maintain and/or increase work efficiency.

Summary
In this article, Javier Garcia, Product Owner for Arkus, shares perspectives on activities and challenges generated by shifting to a remote software development format. He shares some activities that can be carried out to avoid hurting your organization’s culture and maintain and/or increase  work efficiency.


Introduction 

In recent weeks, my company Arkus was forced to move us to remote jobs basically overnight, due to a situation which was outside of our (and the company’s) control. Such change although not completely desired, was necessary for health and security reasons. 

For a company whose culture is deeply rooted in face-to-face collaboration (even though most work activities can be carried out individually and isolated) it can be challenging to engage in the work from home model without the benefits of interacting in person with other colleagues or actors with whom you have developed trust or simply a close relationship with. 

One of the simplest challenges a company is faced when transitioning from traditional to remote work is responsive collaborative activity. The smallest minute detail can potentially result in collaboration interruptions, in part due to factors like for example: somebody may walk away from their desk to grab a cup of coffee or prepare an aperitif; perhaps to attend someone at the door. These subtle interruptions may generate absences that can potentially be significant depending on the nature or urgency from the person’s counterpart seeking a response from this person.

Transition problems

Responsiveness then becomes an individual sense to each of the members of the team, which for a remote environment results in a difficult situation without an established structure. In order to delve on this item, Joris Beedra has mentioned in his article "The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work Series", that it is necessary to understand there are in general, three essential areas to this sensitivity and the process of working remotely: Tools, culture and triggers.


Remote work cultural framework by Joris Beedra, 2020 “ The ultimate guide to remote work series: Responsiveness
  1. Tools work to provide a structure in the organization, however the more tools we have for collaboration and communication, it is more likely to confuse employees or even generate mental fatigue and lack of interest. These tools should be understandable and have a simple learning curve. Sometimes we come across organizations that may be using MS Teams, Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom all at the same time for one (project) account and that can result in confusing communication channels.
  1. Another aspect is work culture, one of the most important aspects to consider when generating remote collaboration for any company. This is a grouping of written and unwritten rules that delimit, express and promote certain behavioral guidelines for team members within the workspace.
  1. Continuing to the final area, your triggers are an essential element. Those are usually generated within the company walls and give way to the collaborative guideline of your team. Simple things like grabbing coffee with someone from a different (project) account, casual hallway chats and even gatherings outside of work hours helps your team establish an interaction that paves the way for motivation, creativity, productivity and thus higher work efficiency. 

These triggers may be strongly impacted when a company with traditional activities transitions to remote work. Responsiveness may decrease and a lack of interest in generating a more open collaboration may be present. This is the main reason why such triggers must be designed and embedded into the team’s culture in a remote experience.

How to succeed at remote activities

In order to design a culture that includes triggers, it is essential to distinguish the formal from the informal and have a democratic strategy, meaning that, your possible obstacles, metrics, agents and evaluations must be acknowledged by each and every one of your team members. It is your leader's responsibility to lead by example in the implementation of this new culture.

When a transition from traditional to remote work begins, it is important to carefully select the tools you will use to interact with each other and set your intent from the get go. From collaboration, communication, definition of channels for specific topics to be discussed, schedules, etc.

In a formal way, you should expect availability from your team member’s to be available during work hours. Yet it should be OK to set your status to AFK when getting the door or stepping away from the desk to help kids with homework.

In practice, a video call generates an emotional trigger of inclusion and collaboration and typically provokes your team members to be alert and pay closer attention to conversations. Again, it is recommended to follow this practice as much as possible, however if for whatever reason cannot occur, it is not mandatory.

  • Formal triggers, especially in communication and interaction, should be designed by the organization. In a Scrum framework, which is what Arkus follows, there are already ceremonies in place for this purpose. In the same way, your team members must leverage their calendar as both a tool and trigger and always keep it updated and adhere to these formal triggers from your organization.
  • Informal triggers are those that will allow a non-work related conversation with other members of the team, this can be a "daily catchup" grabbing a virtual drink that allows chatting with colleagues. This can either be between members of the same team, other team leaders and in the case of Arkus, even with the CEO of the company.

Other cases of remote triggers are for example weekly based activities (high recurrency recommended) such as continuous education, talks, book club, video game night to name a few, these activities should ideally be generated by your team member’s but fostered by the leadership. And yes the use of emojis is alright within your company’s communication tool.

Through Arkus’ TTC (Top Tier Collaboration) process, Arkus has ensured a strong bond and communication with our partners and team members. Yes, we miss the hallway chit chats and group lunches, but in terms of productivity, client communication and overall delivery, a positive response has been seen.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, these are only but a few steps towards transitioning to remote activities and maintaining a culture of fellowship, loyalty, fun, responsibility and efficiency. 

In my opinion the secret to productivity increasing in the scenario of working from home or even reducing work weeks, has to do with the fact that team members will demonstrate loyalty by working harder for a company that provides these benefits.

If you sense your company already has good loyalty for the majority of your team members, then the challenge may lie in maintaining it through remote collaboration, camaraderie, responsibility and creativity just as it was a given within your company walls. 

The abrupt and forced change of model that current health conditions have generated, should not be an obstacle to continuous improvement and with it, be able to learn and develop processes that can reinforce your company’s culture in a remote environment.

About Arkus: Arkus is your local software development consultancy. Servicing Southern California for 17+years, the group assists companies grow their software development capacity and accelerate delivery of software products.

Javier García
Javier is a product owner for Arkus, he is also a master griller, stout lover and DnD player. He enjoys reading Neil Gaiman and collecting professional baseball team hats.
jgarcia@arkusnexus.com
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