Roundtable Discussion Topic: Challenges and Best Practices when Managing Remotely  

by | Nov 19, 2020 | General

In October, ProFocus hosted a discussion of Portland based technology leaders. This was a roundtable discussion.  John Boone, the President of ProFocus Technology, moderated the discussion.  The leaders in attendance offered various advice, best practices, and lessons learned. The following are notes from the one-hour discussion.   

Interesting Points Raised: 

  • Covid is an accelerator not a generator or destroyer.  For tech it is an accelerator.  If someone was already overtasked in the office, they are going to be more.  If they were rocking it…going to be better.    

 Challenges Tech Leaders are Facing Now 

  • A manager started his job in pandemic. The development teams were very ticket oriented.  However this is a problem with Covid because you get less collaboration on the tickets.   
  • People feel disconnected…exponential issues with morale.  Zoom fatigue, different time zones.  Complex social problems are coming down into the business.   
  • We only know some employees from the virtual screen.   
  • We have decided to become a much more remote company.  Now the challenge is that the team scattered to the winds including internationally.   
  • Employees are getting sad from not seeing each other.  
  • Challenge – How can you get the group to relax and have some free time?  They are working too hard and not taking time off.   
  • I manage by walking around, so how do you continue to do that in the virtual world?   
  • Finding creative ways to go from in person to virtual is difficult.  Random conversations are lost…everything has to be more intentional.  Less spontaneity. 
  • Working remotely doesn’t work for some people… 
  • There is no time to debrief after a meeting since no time between meetings.   
  • You want to do social and team building activities with your team, but everyone has Zoom fatigue.   
  • Working in person in complex organizations helps give you context that you lose in virtual work.   

Best Practices Shared by Tech Leaders 

  • Team Meetings 
    • One company has a 30 minute meeting every Monday.  No business allowed.  Water cooler type conversations.  Everyone shows up.  
    • Start every meeting with watercooler conversation.  
    • Schedule time after meetings to do a debrief.  
    • Make sure 5-10 minutes between meetings.  This helps because we have lost our transition time between conference rooms.  Always schedule meetings to end on the 20, 25, 50, or 55.  
    • Every Monday they have a kickoff for the week…goals, challenges, plans for the week.   
    • Change meeting requirements. No more than 4-5 people. 30 minutes only.  Agendas, objectives. Don’t start a meeting without an agenda in the request.  Don’t even go.  Feel free to leave meetings.   “this is a really expensive meeting”, it better be good.
    • Only allow meetings for standups.  Everything else goes through slack. 
    • Meetings are no longer 60 minutes. Each has to have an agenda. Each has to have an outcome. Keep in mind that this is a really expensive meeting.  This improved meetings dramatically for one manager.   
  • Collaboration
    • One company makes sure everyone is on video every day.  “We see each other every day.” 
    • Collaborate on google docs or Online Word docs.  This allows a whiteboard style place to write things down. Provides more channels for communication in a meeting.  
    • Use Monday.com to organize the work.  
  • Team Building
    • One company has a weekly personal team check-in.  Team members across the world bring all kinds of fascinating conversations.  
    • For team building, one manager has employees read these three books:
      • Crucial Conversations: 
      • 5 Dysfunctions of a Team 
      • 1 Minute Manager 
  • Have senior developers partner and train others. “I like how you do this…why don’t you go out and show Steve how to do this too?” 
  • Supporting your Employees
    • Pandemic, BLM, election…pick up the phone…call and ask “how are you doing”  “how can I help you feel better?”  Some people have a feeling of despair. 
    • Great time to talk about career pathing…developing skills.  Provide more confidence and security to individuals. 
    • Not one size fits all…people are impacted in different ways.  Just listen.   Acknowledge that for each individual. 
    • Read Crucial Conversations by Patrick Lencioni.  Don’t ask how are you doing. Try to open the door to start the conversations.   
    • To solve the problem of people working too hard and not taking vacation:  Inspire people to do other things.  Weekly challenge to team – show me something you did besides work.  
    • Ensure people are taking time off or taking breaks.  Take a day off…for mental health.  Allows people to clear their mind and get out of the weeds.  Need to lead by example.  
  • Simplify 
    • An example was shared about BJs restaurants.  They have trimmed their menu due to Covid and now they plan to keep it that way.  They realized they don’t need the complexity.  
  •  Having Some Fun
    • Race track – beat your time.  All tracks are different…
    • Scheduled fun time takes out the fun…  One manager likes to have fun things that come out of the blue to break up the monotony with something fun.  
  • Get Away from Zoom
    • Talk on the phone instead of the computer…lets you get away from the computer.  Zoom is exhausting…because you are seeing yourself.   
  • Collaboration
    • Google docs is great for collaborative documents.  So is Microsoft Word Online.  
    • Using Trello for strategic planning stuff. 
    • Jira and Confluence 
    • Company used Trello for onboarding…every new employee gets a board.  This was used for onboarding only…not a company that uses Trello widely.   
  • Spark Creativity
    • Give people time to work on things unrelated to their projects.  Just a new technology they want to try out.   Cycles of production get draining.
    • Enroll the team in a course…online learning…take the course and give feedback.  Do individual course of their choice.  Trys to make sure he follows up…to help them complete the course…  
    • Coding challenges – set an objective that would bring value to your company.  Set aside a time when they can present.  Set aside one judge.  Have criteria for winning such as The Most Inventive Way or the Fastest Running Code.  Give out door dash coupons. 
    • Self entrepreneurship at Quicken.  Innovations come from developers…they see a problem and then bring solutions to what they are doing.   One thing was taking days to run and he solved it to run in minutes  

Resource Links 

If you are a leader in Technology, and would like to be involved in future roundtable discussions like the one above, please send an email to Info@ProFocusTechnology.com with a request to be invited to upcoming Leaders Lunches.   

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