Dear Remote Teams

Say “Hi” to Your New Team Members

Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS

A consulting advisor and organisation designer to leaders, founders, and teams for 25 years, Kathryn weaves systems change vision and initiatives into strategy, priorities, and operating from outcomes. From her wheelhouse, she taps into how you communicate, relate, operate, work, lead, and group think; infuses presence, power, and self-awareness onto broad, prioritised organisation strategy; and designs tangible change to elevate your system's potential and expand its human value.

more about Kathryn
, Chester, MD

Dear Remote Teams, I’d like to introduce you to your new team members. 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 began moving away from co-location a very long time ago, but many systems and their cultures have not been disciplined about setting an overt, conscious strategy to coordinate and optimize for your geographically distributed reality.

To mimic in room, you 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 your 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. Allowing technology, designed explictly for the purpose, to facilitate ease in doing all of the above is mindset and behavior change, unlearning and learning.

You begin to think about different tools and how they meet different needs based on how you actually like and need to work. Each type of tool addresses key ways to migrate how you once worked all together in a room to working all together in remote rooms – optimally.

  • 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. Teams 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 models and to become workforces enabled for the future  –  more tightly wired as a foundation to achieving more strategic and purpose-based outcomes.

Hear me though.

Technology will not single handedly deliver you culture change nor fix your broken ways of working, nor magically deliver outcome-based strategy. (If only it were that simple.) Yet you 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 change pillars – but a key and important one.

You 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. You have to build a relationship with them as much as you do with your fellow humans. Both take effort and intention.

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

  • ignoring asks and replies

  • 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 value add time expenditure

  • 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 your teaming needs can come in like any change comes in… as foes.

So, you have to get to know them. You have to get used to their ways. You have to learn about them and stretch yourselves to make room for them in your minds, egos (because you don’t like to feel dumb), and most importantly your time.

You don’t like “being interrupted” in your busyness to learn something new. And yet ironically, the tools themselves eventually interrupt the busyness to enable you to become more effective with your time.

They also connect you to one another as you navigate the landscape of progressed teaming, becoming modern organizations, and delivering continual, purposeful outcomes.

We have surpassed the moment of no return with co-location (even while apparent forces of resistance try to prevail.) And the good news is that everyone has many options to coordinate and optimise. Now, it is simply about understanding how and why to leverage which tools to build better teams . And then commit to using them.

Litigating whether to adopt progressed tools or not should be officially over. As well, using technology tools as a more advanced text messaging solution is not what we're talking about here.

Below are 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 optimise as distributed teams rather than stay off them. Use what you have access to.

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

Get in there!

You’ve got this. x

by Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS
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