Remote Teamwork: How we work together as a team in the home office
Can you live in different cities, countries and even on different continents and still work together as one team?
Of course you can!
Remote teamwork, for us, is not simply a necessary consequence of the Covid crisis, but an inherent part of our corporate culture. In the ﬁrst part of this series of articles we have listed the advantages that we see in mobile work or working from home – both from the employees' and the company's point of view.
In this second article we would like to tell you how exactly we live remote teamwork. And how we eradicate or at least minimise the disadvantages we have described in our previous article.
Remote work as work standard
The most important factor for the success of remote teamwork is attitude. Everyone, from trainee to CEO, needs to internalise that “work” is not synonymous with “office”, but can take place anywhere. Only then will remote teamwork become an integrated part of your company’s working culture.
In practical terms this means:
- No one is expected to come to the office regularly, even if they live close-by.
- Nobody is frowned upon for attending a meeting from a car, a park bench or (for topics that are not too sensitive) from a train. Or if children appear in the video feed.
- Just like work, most team-building measures also take place remotely. Of course, this does not rule out occasional face-to-face meetings and team events on site, because we do cherish meeting our favourite colleagues in person. However, those meetings are always supplemented by remote events so that the team can grow together regardless of distance.
- And, last but not least: There are functioning remote solutions for each and every workflow.
If these basic requirements are met, it is not a problem at all to work together in teams that have never met in person.
Because our team has grown enormously over the past two years, we have successfully integrated more than 20 new colleagues into the team – some freelance, some permanent. In many cases, everything about it happened a hundred percent remote, sometimes without a single face-to-face meeting – and often across national and continental borders.
Just because our workplaces are sometimes hundreds or even thousands of kilometres apart, we do not all work solitarily. Given that contact is not automatically established through casual meetings in the hallway, we have integrated it into everyday life in other ways. Our central daily communication point is the daily stand-up call. During this half-hour meeting, each colleague gives a short overview of what they did during their previous work day and what they plan to work on today. Short questions can be answered on-site – if they need more space, we schedule a separate meeting with only those involved in the topic.
Those working in the Cologne office can join stand-up in the conference room where the other colleagues are then "conferenced in" on a large monitor. Alternatively, they can join with their own notebook from one of the office rooms.
We don’t want a collective sigh to go up when stand-up time approaches. And nobody likes half of their working day slowly ﬁzzling away in meetings. That’s why we divide the team into random groups for stand-up – with a growing number of groups as the size of the company increases. That way, there are usually no more than 12 participants in a call, and stand-up lasts no longer than 30 minutes.
Even if we don't see every colleague every day, this daily routine helps us to get to know all our colleagues – even those with whom we don't work directly –, to keep in touch and to get at least a rough overview of what the rest of the company is currently doing.
In stand-up it often happens that you suddenly notice connections you didn’t realise were there before – or that someone can contribute to a topic with their own experience. For me, this kind of daily exchange is an easy and comfortable way to get my bearings within the team.
Stand-up was already part of bevuta's daily routine when most of our team came into the office every day. But since we started to have our daily meetings completely online, our team has grown even closer together. Our colleagues from the Kosovo office no longer meet separately but are now part of an all-company stand-up and thus more closely integrated into the team.
The nearest office is right next door
If you want to talk to a colleague, you can start a chat via our in-house messaging software Mattermost. And if things get more complicated, simply open a video conference room and invite the colleague to join you. It's almost like walking into the office across the hall. Some colleagues or teams have also established permanently open video conference rooms – especially during very intensive phases – in which they can (almost) always be reached directly. Or they have their own Mattermost channel for side conversations.
And we also chat about personal topics via video, just as we do at the coffee station. Those who long for more private conversations on a regular basis schedule a weekly remote lunch, for example. Or meet for coffee dates via Jitsi.
Institutionalising random and small talk meetings is one of the things we’re still working on because there is always room for improvement. And as much as we appreciate our remote routine, we will of course keep developing, with regard to this and everything else.
We are huge fans of being different. We are nerds and that's a good thing. It also means that each one of us is a little different from the others. First and foremost, that's great because other perspectives, new perspectives enrich our work enormously. There are way too many Windows computers, cheese sandwiches, and Volkswagen Golfs in this world already.
In software development, it is crucial and vital to look at a technical problem from different perspectives. Almost every problem has several technical solutions. If you only view the problem from the viewpoint of one single individual, you run the risk of simply not seeing the best solution. That's why we at bevuta are grateful for every perspective that questions our current solution in a constructive way in order to make it a little bit better. These different perspectives also help to make our digital solutions usable for as many people as possible.
Individual = efficient
To make working in a team as pleasant as possible for everyone, our teamwork operates with some basic parameters, but also affords a lot of freedom. As mentioned in the ﬁrst part of this series, remote work shows its greatest strengths when everyone can live their own vision of how to work as efficiently as possible.
This is why our joint stand-up does not take place early in the morning, but at 11 a.m., so that everyone can start the day at their own pace. All other appointments are scheduled individually between colleagues. If you can't attend a meeting at a certain time because the children have to be picked up from kindergarten, you just say so. And that's ﬁne.
Within the company, written communication takes place (almost) exclusively via chat/messaging software. E-mail is only used for external contact – or when e-mails coming from outside are forwarded to colleagues. Thanks to our helpdesk software, this is hardly ever necessary.
This way of communication is quicker and more direct, and it also saves the time usually spent searching the mail inbox. Moreover, it enables direct conversation with several participants – because in addition to one-to-one chats, we also use (topic-related) group chats.
Compared to talking in the office, messaging has two big advantages:
First of all, everyone can decide for themselves when they want to take in and process which information. This reduces interruptions and thus increases productivity.
When requests come in from colleagues or clients, it is up to me when and how I take notice and deal with them. In the office, colleagues can come in at any time and "demand" immediate attention. When I am deeply immersed in a problem or topic, such interruptions can be very distracting.
Interruptions through messenger and other services also occur, of course, but they are easier to balance and I can also switch off those services if necessary.
The second advantage: the context can be delivered directly via URL. Because everything we work on is placed somewhere on a central server and can be addressed directly using an absolute URL. No more "Have a look at folder xyz".
Central data storage and collaborative tools
As we’ve said before: for remote teamwork to work, there must be a remotely functioning solution for every single task.
From design to software development – the different software tools we work with all have one thing in common: several colleagues can work with them online at the same time. Data, code and documents are not stored on the computers of our employees, but on central servers. (Since in many cases these are our own servers, we deliberately don't call it a "cloud". You can read more about "What is cloud computing?" in our blog). This way, everyone who is involved has access and can work on it – even simultaneously.
Over many years, we have tried and tested lots of software to ﬁnd the one tool that is particularly suitable for each purpose. Today, we have a well-established mix of self-hosted open source solutions and easily handled third-party platforms. In the third part of this series, we will tell you more about all of them and present the individual tools in detail.
Onboarding and getting to know each other
One of the biggest challenges of team building in remote teams: You only get to know each other to a limited extent if you only ever meet in video calls.
The challenge starts with onboarding – how does a new colleague get to know (daily) routines in the company? Which (all too often unspoken) rules exist, which traditions, which peculiarities?
At the beginning of onboarding, bevuta offers a handbook (online, of course) that summarises the most important aspects of work organisation in the company. From A for absence regulations to Z for Zammad (our helpdesk software). In addition to the organisational details, this handbook is also a place for the most important thoughts on our corporate philosophy: What is important to us? What do we pay attention to in our contact with customers and colleagues? Which dos and don’ts should I bear in mind as an employee?
But of course not everything that's important for starting a job can be ﬁtted in an employee handbook.
That is why each new colleague’s ﬁrst day starts with a long video call with Dorkas, one of our captains. She introduces bevuta and its corporate culture, provides access to the software needed and explains why we need it, points to important documents and gives plenty of room for questions and explanations. Afterwards, she accompanies the new team member to the ﬁrst meeting with colleagues. Subject-specific onboarding then takes place within the respective team, together with the team lead – at the individual pace of each employee.
All this is accompanied by an onboarding tutorial that guides new employees through their ﬁrst tasks and familiarises them with the team as well as with the software we use.
For some, remote contact is enough, others prefer a personal contact to start with. Depending on how far away the new colleague lives and whether there is a need for a personal meeting, it is always possible to meet in the office. Thanks to many good experiences, we do not share the view many companies have that onboarding is a process only possible "on site".
Of course you can still ask Dorkas questions later, at any time (and not only her). Because the probably most important and ﬁrst bevuta principle is: Ask questions! Better too many than too few.
Control is good, trust is better
Yes, of course we use a time tracking software. And we do want to have an overview of who works how many hours on which project. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for planning a working day and tracking the hours worked lies with each employee.
We ﬁrmly believe that an exciting task, a good working atmosphere and, last but not least, trust in our team are much better motivators than any control mechanism in the world.
From trainees to captains – everyone working in digitally remote teams needs to have trust. Trust on the part of the employee that their work will be appreciated. And trust on the part of the employer that the job that was agreed upon will be done. Every day we experience that this trust pays off, for both sides.
(By the way, our colleague Alex collaborated on a study on the topic of trust in a digital working environment in 2019).
But we could tell you anything…
There’s nobody who knows the advantages and pitfalls of remote teamwork at bevuta better than the colleagues who live it every day. They know exactly how remote work works in practice at bevuta – where it enhances or simplifies their everyday work, and where there might still be room for improvement. That's why we asked them what they actually think of their working model.
We have already included a few of their quotes here and there in this series of articles. If you would like to take a closer look at the everyday routine of remote work at bevuta, we recommend you take a look at the series of interviews that we will be publishing here in this blog in the next weeks. Watch this space!
Header image: iStock.com/blackCAT