Tommy serves as the President at ThreeWill. In this role, he works with his leadership team to hire the best people, find the right business opportunities, and ensure that ThreeWill delivers for our clients on projects.
With almost 18 months of “testing” remote work, ThreeWill has settled into some productive practices that have optimized remote work. Pre-pandemic, we had a portion of our workforce as remote workers. With that experience under our belt and being a company that helps teams with collaboration solutions, we went into remote work well-prepared. Our organization has no plans to stay fully remote, but we have learned a few things while operating this way.
I would like to share some observations of what we have learned so your remote workers can be more effective, productive, and healthier.
Work Out Loud
Early in my career, I explicitly remember someone indicating to me that “I appreciate how you work out loud. You are like a B-52 Bomber vs. a stealth F-117 Nighthawk.” At first, I was not sure if that was a compliment or not. The person indicated it was desirable to work with someone on a project that shared progress and challenges along the way so there were no surprises at the end of the project. This is the first time I heard this analogy and the value of being “noisy” as you land a plane. At the time, I was building training material for Microsoft Development Training Bootcamps. This effort needed to get done on time and the company that engaged ThreeWill wanted no surprises and they wanted to be involved in left and right turns. At the end of the day, they had a choice in figuring out how to land the plane in time.
Of course, Working Out Loud can have its drawbacks as you can overburden folks with communication. In the balance of the pros and cons of Working Out Loud, there are some strong pros of making your communications more public.
One of the key pros of Working Out Loud is giving people the opportunity to take part in your work. You can easily get out of touch with what is important to your team members. Learn about their successes and struggles so you know how to best support the work relationship to help them maximize their impact on the company’s success.
As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we have found tools like Teams and Yammer as a way to facilitate Working Out Loud. The extra communication that can be facilitated around documents in Teams allows the creation of the virtual “war room” to get a document that needs high collaboration out the door quickly. Unlike an email thread with a limited number of participants, Teams or Yammer give visibility to progress and direction. Without that visibility, there can be confusion or concern of what is the true progress or struggles with a team. That can create uncertainty or anxiety that can be a mental strain when you don’t have a way to physically peek in and see how a team is doing without disrupting the team and asking for an update.
[Sidebar – If you are new to the Working Out Loud concept there is a great LinkedIn Article from Stan Garfield on – 8 reasons for working out loud and narrating your work]
Create and Nurture Community
For online collaboration, there are plenty of pure projects or small team collaboration areas to get work done (work that has a direct impact on driving results and revenue for the company). Those collaboration locations are key, but there is another dimension of collaboration that can be overlooked and is key to a healthy remote workforce.
I find that you need to create areas that speak to the passion of the organization and speak to the value your people bring to the company. We have three very important communication channels in Microsoft Teams (or they could be in Yammer). These channels are “Praise,” “Morning Brew” and “Lunch and Learn.” These are areas we use to invest in our people and create community. I could highlight more channels, but I am very partial to giving examples in groupings of three.
This is the channel where we “catch people doing great things.” This is probably one of our most active communication channels across our whole company. Maybe only second to our Technology Channel (we have many passionate engineers, so no surprise on this). We have created a culture of excellence where we look to recognize folks that are making a difference and going the extra mile. Praise is something that can come naturally when you are face to face in an office. When remote, we know that we need to be intentional in recognizing contributions. Working remotely can take a toll on people, so we want to be sure they know they are appreciated, and we recognize their contributions.
Morning Brew Channel
Out of these three channels, you are probably most curious about the Morning Brew Channel. For ThreeWill, we have this as the excuse for the entire company to come together to connect for 15 minutes a week. This is not a mandatory meeting, but it has very high attendance and engagement. Because of it being a lightweight weekly way of checking in as a team, we briefly repurposed it as a “water cooler” to hang out and talk about how we were processing the early days of the COVID-19 Shelter-In-Place. We were so fortunate to have that weekly meeting already established.
This Morning Brew Channel is where we take timely topics that need to get out to the company without having to interrupt their calendars. This has been on our calendar for years and is the space we create for impromptu sharing across the company.
Lunch and Learn Channel
The Morning Brew is leveraged for our short form knowledge sharing. The Lunch and Learn Channel is the place for the meaty topics that you need at least an hour to share some knowledge that helps us grow as an organization. It is healthy to have a cadence of getting together to take a deep dive and share key information and progress that helps the organization mature. A sister channel to Lunch and Learn is the Book Club Channel that is also long-form by being a series of get-togethers to cover a topic through a book. It is important to have these different channels that invest in your teams. It shows that you care about the growth of the person and not just the output they provide in delivering a product or service.
In a remote work situation, finding opportunities to show you care are so important. When in-person, you have those impromptu moments to show you care and that is removed in a remote work scenario.
Remember you are Working with People
In a Remote or Hybrid work scenario, it is so critical to recognize that you are working with people and relationships are very dynamic. Each person has different opinions, experiences, and needs. To be effective with people, meet them where they are to understand what support they need to stay healthy in the workplace. When working with people, it is key to understand that fast is slow and slow is fast. I learned this concept within the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by Stephen R. Covey).
When addressing a stressful or sensitive topic, be sure to “measure twice and cut once.” Ways that you can measure twice is to get someone else to read the content before you share with the company/team for sensitive topics. Also, I have found it helpful to have a person in your company that can be your accountability partner to point out when your tone or message is not congruent with your values or leadership style.
Another productivity tip that we can easily overlook is picking up the phone (or Teams call) to have a one-on-one. We are finding one-on-ones in a remote work scenario is key to having your team feel valued and connected to the team. This is especially important for sensitive topics or conversations such as coaching for a challenging situation. Overall, the tone is easily lost in electronic conversation, so picking up the phone is a key tool for a remote work environment.
I hope these tips are useful for your organization. There is such a massive amount of remote work occurring today, so my desire is that this information can help optimize the way your team works remotely. I would like to hear from others on this topic, so please add to this conversation for the benefit of others.