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Business Process Management Business Systematization

Why Your Remote Team Will Fall Apart Without Processes

There’s a psychological theory developed back in 1895 that still holds true today that can help explain why remote teams fall apart if they’re mismanaged. It’s called deindividuation, and states that when groups of people can’t be identified in a group, they’re more likely to misbehave, e.g. cause violence, riot.

To put it in the words of Gustave Le Bon, the psychologist who first theorized this, “a loss of personal responsibility in crowds leads to an inclination to behave primitively and hedonistically”.

Bear with me…

This might sound like a long shot, but it holds true for remote teams, too.

In an office, everyone is held physically accountable for the work they do. They’re a tangible employee in a building, being actually overseen by other people. In a remote team, everyone’s just an icon on Slack, an email address, or a source of app notifications. If team members feel like they can get away with not communicating, not keeping their team updated, and not getting work done, they’re much more likely to.

And that’s why remote teams are fragile. This is a shame for businesses who can’t manage them because 77% of remote workers are more productive than their office counterparts, and get more done in less time.

In this article, I’ll look at the problems that come along with having a remote team, and go through some methods for solving them.

Problem #1: No accountability without remote team processes

In an office you keep your team updated naturally by chatting how work’s going on the way to lunch, or just mentioning your progress while you have a coffee break. However, many remote workers report feeling isolated, which is part of what creates a lack of accountability, causing teams to go silent and work to start slipping.

How do you solve a lack of accountability?

At Process Street, our remote marketing team has several channels of communication and policies that mean we always keep in the loop:

  • A group Slack channel
  • Trello card comments
  • Two short meetings every Tuesday and Thursday

It’s enforced that all work-related conversations amongst the marketing team must go into the group chat, creating an activity log of work and information. Any task being discussed must be presented alongside a link to its Trello card, and it’s expected that all Trello cards will be commented on whenever progress has been made.

During the meetings, we present our Trello cards to each other for review as proof of work (plus an activity log recorded in Trello/Slack), and go through the tasks together.

This approach leaves absolutely no room for a lack of accountability. If team members aren’t working on their tasks, it’s totally obvious because there will be no record of it.

Problem #2: No centralization of information without remote team workflows

With your whole team collaborating over the internet (without opportunities just to look over their co-worker’s shoulder) it can be a pain to share information if it isn’t centralized. It’s an obvious problem for businesses since some of the biggest software companies — Dropbox, Box and other document management systems — were created purely to solve it.

How do you centralize information?

One of the main ways to do it is to make sure you’re working entirely on the cloud. We’ve written about all of the SaaS (software-as-a-service) products we use together before, and it made me realize how stuck we’d be without live collaboration and the ability to store information in the best, most easily accessible places.

As I said in the solution to problem #1, everything can dumped into a Trello card. Trello cards can hold links, attachments, images, and even spreadsheets, so there’s no excuse for not centralizing information when it’s that easy. For documents, we use Quip and Google Sheets, ensuring we can always access what we need, no matter where we are.

Get information centralized by enforcing all work-in-progress task material to be uploaded to Google Drive or Dropbox, or dropped into a project management app like Trello or Asana.

Problem #3: No teambuilding without remote planning

Building camaraderie through direct messages is easier than before thanks to the prevalence of emojis, gifs, and other just-for-fun things, but it’s nowhere near as easy as when you’re face-to-face.

You might get invited to a get-together after work if you’re in an office, but that’s not the kind of thing that’ll happen in a remote team, and neither will natural team-building.

This could mean that team members are shy, uncommunicative, or less productive because they feel isolated.

How do you improve remote team building?

The ways that have worked in our remote team have been have:

  • gaming tournaments (playing the card game Hearthstone against each other to win a prize)
  • sharing videos, movies, and music (we will share weekly recommendations, such as guilty pleasure movies, music to help focus)
  • having a general chat channel (a work-unrelated channel for water-cooler style conversation)

If those options don’t suit, you can also try this list of team building activities for remote teams.

The long-term solution: Agile process management

All three problems explained in this article are caused by a lack of communication, policy, and process.

As Atul Gawande explains in The Checklist Manifesto, key aspects of how we get work done can be overlooked without a process, and policy to enforce it.

When we look closely, we recognize the same balls being dropped over and over, even by those of great ability and determination. We know the patterns. We see the costs. It’s time to try something else.” — Atul Gawande

Remote teams are susceptible to disconnection, deviance from process, and an attitude of unaccountability.

As Gawande says, and as we’ve found in our time building process software, the solution is strict regulations and processes that enforce the centralization of information, encourage communication in open channels, and actively build culture.

It doesn’t sound as appealing as letting a strong team grow organically, but it’s a lot more likely to work.

Resources to help you get started: Your remote team processes!

Below are some public Process Street templates and then a whole load of really useful blog posts they’ve published too, to help you get started and systemize your remote business!

Process Street remote team processes

Remote team blog posts about remote work processes

I think this is a pretty complete round up! If you have any other recommendations or resources, leave them in the comments below!

Categories
Business Process Management

How to Build Efficient Processes for Your Remote Team

remote-worker-stock-image

Working remotely is a skill. People often don’t realize this.

Working remotely is something you learn to do and you get better at with time.

As a manager, you have to recognize this as much as anyone on your team. You have to recognize this because you have to take responsibility for your team members’ ability to deliver.

That’s why I’m writing this article to give you an insight into some of the processes we use to keep our team’s productivity high while working remotely, and to give you some idea of how we constructed these processes.

We’ll look at:

How to build a process without bringing in consultants

The first step to running any remote organization well is to create processes.

The thing is, you probably already have a stack of processes you use day to day whether your team realizes it or not.

As such, the first thing we need to do is identify one activity central to your team’s activities so that we can begin to look at the method of improving the team’s performance.

To make this easy, we’ll take an example process that I would use within my team as a writer – the content creation process.

This process already exists. Let’s say it happens in the following way:

  1. An article is assigned
  2. Keyword research is undertaken
  3. I do research for the article
  4. I write the article
  5. The article is formatted
  6. The article is approved and published

Super simple, no?

What we have above is the most basic iteration of a documented process. Once we have this, we can start analyzing its constituent parts; adding detail or assigning roles where necessary.

How is the article assigned? Does an editor send an email? Does the writer propose the article and have the idea accepted or rejected?

These are the little questions that need to be asked of that basic documented process.

Eventually, we’ll start to see that there are multiple smaller processes within this workflow. The process of researching for keywords could be considered a standalone process. The process of formatting an article could be too. You can see two basic version of these processes here:

You don’t need to go into this level of detail at the beginning. Start by doing what you normally do and document each step of it. Every action you take, note it down.

This will give you a clear linear flow of how your team operates on a daily basis.

From here, you can present this process to your team and collaboratively improve it. Some team members might have tools they use to improve steps: e.g. Use an extension like Grammarly to be continually checking spelling and grammar, saving time in the proofreading.

Your team are the ones who will be using this process regularly so they need to be the ones most comfortable with it.

When your process is fully documented, make sure your team use it each time they undertake that activity. Over time, this will highlight any obvious mistakes in the process and naturally result in proposed improvements.

In the meantime, we want to find ways to improve these remote processes. Which brings us to the tools which help remote teams thrive….

Tools you can use to improve remote working

I’ll give you our 4 key tools to help a remote team get more done. I’m of the school where I believe less is more. Every interruption during a task is a potential moment for lost productivity. As such, if you keep your team working from the smallest number of platforms, you’ll see less moments of distraction.

My 4 recommended tools:

  1. Slack
  2. Process Street
  3. Airtable
  4. Trello

Slack keeps your team connected

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hate email.

I blame it on having done sales in the past. A few quick reasons:

Email just isn’t fun to use. It feels formal and stale. Even the best organized inbox will distract you with unimportant mail. It’s terrible for multiple people to communicate through together. I don’t like using it on mobile.

All of those problems, conveniently, are items where Slack does well.

Provided you learn to use asynchronous communication techniques, a remote team using Slack can be really well connected. Slack’s instant message approach with both individual messaging and team channels creates a really well streamlined way of keeping up to date with each other, and other teams.

We have a rule where all communication must exist in public channels. This fosters a stronger sense of company culture, and means that you learn from reading other people’s conversations. The knowledge spillover which results from public channels is a resource and you should be using it.

Keeping communication strong across your team will make sure productivity doesn’t take a hit. No one likes mass emails, but a post in a public channel feels less intrusive.

Process Street lets you track your processes

Process Street lets you build your processes in template form and then run each process as a checklist whenever it needs to be done.

As a manager, you can see these checklists and monitor the progress. It also means that when the template for the process is updated as part of your never ending attempts at optimization, all employees will now be working from the updated process.

This simply allows you standardize company activities and iteratively improve them.

What’s not to like?

When you’re part of a remote team you need to make sure everyone is doing each task properly. The best way to do so is to Stick To The Process.

Airtable is your database in the cloud

We’ve moved a huge amount of our activity to Airtable over the last year.

Airtable is primarily a cloud based database set up which allows you to view your data in a spreadsheet form. Much faster than Google Sheets much more comprehensive, Airtable lets non-techies manage data like they’d just done a course in MySQL.

It’s a great place to store information and we first started using it to archive and track all of our output – articles and the like.

However, in 2017, Airtable released a new feature which allowed line entries to be viewed as cards on a Kanban board. This along with an improving calendar feature encouraged us to switch over for our task management.

The result being that all information entered into our task manager was now archived forever in our database. Very smooth and very manageable.

Trello manages your tasks so you don’t have to

Full disclosure: it is Trello which we’ve been moving away from.

For us, the amount of data we had on our Trello boards made it slow and difficult to find things from the past.

However, for less data-intense teams, Trello is a great option because it is intuitive and the Kanban system is a very effective means of organizing.

When you’re working remotely, it is beneficial to be able to hop onto someone else’s Trello board, find the task they’re working on, and check their progress. Particularly if your work is reliant on some of their work.

You don’t need to reach out to that person, you can simply enter their virtual office and see if they’ve uploaded that file you need yet.

It saves you interrupting them and it saves you waiting for their response.

How to optimize these processes over time

Once your team are working from standardized documented processes, your job as the manager is to improve those processes.

Utilizing tools like the ones mentioned above can improve your processes through speeding up communication or making helpful resources easier to locate.

But optimizing a process requires you to pick it apart and look at different sections:

  1. How well is the desired output being achieved?
  2. How often does the process break down, and why?
  3. How much of the process can be automated?

There are whole libraries of books to help you improve your processes. You could use techniques related to the Deming cycle, like PDSA or PDCA to improve the quality of the output.

Or, you could employ Six Sigma techniques to reduce the defects in the process, like DMAIC.

But point three is even easier.

Tools like Zapier, IFTTT, and Flow can be used to cut out some of the more time consuming menial tasks like data entry. They can also be used to set up notifications to other team members automatically when another activity is created.

These third-party automation tools – of which Zapier is my personal favorite – can shave time of your processes and allow your team members to focus on the work they do best.

Build effective processes designed for your remote team

According to the McKinsey report Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation, the typical marketing executive could save 15% of their working hours by automating simple tasks.

Automation is here and it can help you.

But automation will be of little use if you’re not working from set processes. Because if you’re not working from set processes, how will you know what to automate to attain best results – not just for yourself but for the whole team?

With a mix of process management philosophies, cloud based modern SaaS products, and one eye on the future, you could drastically improve the performance of your remote team.

Not with a whip. But by building processes which help them focus on what they do best.