5 home office lessons for teamwork

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As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are currently (still) working in our home offices. We asked the awork users what the biggest hurdle they faced during this changeover was. One of the most frequent answers is that teamwork is not being given enough attention.

Many teams have (for the time being) found a solution in order to work together digitally, but how does one maintain coordination and creative exchange when a team is split up for a long time like this?

We asked 100 awork users about their biggest hurdles when transitioning to working from home.

Just like many others, the awork team has been working from the home office for weeks now. Some of our team members already worked from home regularly before the pandemic. In other words, they already have experience when it comes to digital team organisation and the necessary technical infrastructure.

Organising the entire team remotely was nevertheless an unfamiliar situation. Now some time has passed and the initially new work processes are slowly becoming routine.

Start the week together

Since the switch to the home office, our marketing team has introduced a weekly kick-off, meaning the team starts the week together every Monday. In the office, the team meeting normally takes place at the end of the week.

If you work together in the same location, you exchange ideas more often during the week. You get to know what everyone is working on at the moment. Even spontaneous meetings for a short team update are not uncommon. But now that everyone is at home, one loses sight of what the others are doing on a weekly basis much more quickly.

Thanks to the weekly kick-off idea, everyone immediately knows what to-do’s are pending in the team. There is also a direct vote on who does what and what topics we work on together. And of course, a joint start to the week is also great for team spirit.

Implement daily update meetings

In order to ensure that the mutual exchange does not fall short in other teams, our colleagues have also introduced short daily meetings in some cases. Our development team works according to the scrum method. They also continue to have daily remote scrum meetings.

Since the changeover to the home office, the support team has also introduced a daily team meeting. Even if you are not working from your usual place, complex topics can be discussed centrally and directly. For the sales team, the morning check-in and evening check-out have become part of the home office routine.

By no means do daily exchanges need to take a long time.

Just 10 to 15 minutes are enough to distribute tasks, exchange information about progress, and clarify any ambiguities. This is not only great for the team structure, but it also saves time. Central coordination like this prevents to-do’s from falling under the table or topics being discussed twice.

Use the chat properly

Communication is key. This saying applies especially to home office cooperation. A video call is not always necessary. For internal team communication we use a chat tool called Slack. Since the conversion to working from home, certain features have become particularly important in order to work together smoothly from a distance.

Using the Slack integration, we can connect a channel directly to the respective awork project. All events in awork are thus displayed directly in the Slack channel.

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We use topic-related channels for quick talks between the teams. For example, if support asks a question on there, our developers are notified directly and can react quickly.

Even if several team members are working on a topic together, we simply set up a separate channel for it. In this way, questions are answered in one central location, even though everyone is sitting at home. Additionally, it results in communication being clearly documented for everyone.

Due to the increased use of the chat in the home office, one is often involved in many discussions. For certain topics, however, focus is required. In order to work without distraction, one should not only set one’s own status to “absent” or “busy”, but also temporarily pause chat notifications.

Use your status to create transparency

Transparency is essential for productive remote collaboration. This also includes knowing who is currently available and who is not. Since the conversion, our team has started to use the status feature in Slack more than ever.

For example, we have predefined certain statuses. So, you can change your own status by clicking on “In a meeting” or “Lunch”. You’ll then immediately see who is currently available and save yourself the impatience of waiting for an answer.

If someone is absent for a longer period of time (e.g., because he/she is on holiday or sick), the whole team knows immediately.

For even more transparency in the home office, it is also helpful to track times directly on specific tasks. Our team uses awork for this, of course. It helps everyone better assess how time-consuming individual tasks are.

Thanks to the individual time reports, you’ve also got an overview of who has worked on what project and for how long. In this manner, the capacity of the team members remains transparent even in the home office.

Set a clear agenda for meetings

We noticed that many of our teams have been organising meetings in different ways since the changeover. Meetings from the home office are less likely to be spontaneous, which allows for more precise planning and better preparation.

The onboarding team, for example, now collects the topics to be discussed in a central location in advance. Doing this allows everyone to think about these topics before the meeting, meaning people are better prepared. All relevant information is then exchanged during the meeting.

Communication during remote meetings is more focused and goal oriented.

Unanswered questions cannot be discussed in the office during a short conversation at the coffee machine after the meeting. It would require a new video call, which would need to be scheduled. A clear agenda also helps limit the meeting to the essentials, which in return means that time is used as efficiently as possible.

What actually comes after home office?

Our home office cooperation methods work really smoothly now. And while we will not be separating ourselves from our office (at least for the foreseeable future), one could ask oneself: “why not switch to remote work completely?” Nevertheless, home office remains an option, just as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the changeover, we have gained some useful insights and experience that will help us improve teamwork in the future.

What do we intend to keep doing even we return to the usual everyday office life?

  • Regular team updates: the switch to home office has made it even clearer how important regular exchange within the team is. The mutual coordination is not only efficient but also great for the team feeling. For even more productive cooperation, team updates will remain a fixed component in the office: as weekly kick-off, evening check-out, or daily scrum.
  • Efficient communication: even after returning to the office, we will use the chat more often. This means that you are less likely to be put off by interposed questions. More people can take part in discussions and agreements are documented in a way that is visible to all. Another thing we learned: switching off push notifications in order to work for a certain period of time without distraction works miracles. We will also continue to maintain focused communication through the use of a clear agenda in meetings in the office.
  • Even more transparency: even after the corona crisis, everyone should know whether or not someone is in the office, on holiday, or working remotely. We will also keep using our own Slack status in everyday office life. And we will continue to track the hours spent on tasks in order to make our own capacity transparent and to be able to distribute to-do’s in the team more effectively.

Although home office has its advantages, we are looking forward to seeing the team in the office each day again. Regardless of whether everyone is working from home or sitting together in the office, one thing is certain: teamwork makes the dream work!

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