In April of 2020, ProFocus hosted a discussion of Portland-based technology leaders. This was a roundtable discussion on the topic of managing tech teams during a global pandemic.

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 our one hour discussion.

Common Challenges

  • Losing creativity working remotely.
  • Severely shifting business model. 
  • Accelerating projects to meet demand and adapt.
  • Efficient collaboration remotely.
  • Lack of organic collaboration in the break room or impromptu meeting. 
  • Maintaining morale.
  • Fatigue – especially for team members with children at home.
  • Prioritizing and delaying projects.
  • Communicating the priorities and changes so everyone is on the same page.
  • Internal stakeholder response time.
  • Keeping the mission in mind.
  • Anxiety of the unknown and how long this will impact individuals and businesses.
  • Lack of focus.
  • Measuring productivity.
  • Creating an inclusive environment for everyone, especially new teammates. 
  • Lack of body language clues in communication.

Successes and Changes

  • Some are more efficient with communication and tasks.
  • Some companies and individuals were highly prepared to work remotely. 
  • Prior had daily standups with Kanban sticky notes board. 
  • Increase in ecommerce.
  • Setting visual goals.
  • Enabling stock options to reward customers.
  • Normalized remote work. 
  • Proactive scheduling.
  • Capability to interview and onboard remotely.
  • Tech side tends to adapt faster than other departments. 

Overall it is clear that tech leaders in the Silicon Forest are putting their employees’ well-being first. They prioritize human connection and constantly try to problem solve issues around communication with regular check-ins and honesty. As managers continue to address the challenges brought on by a global pandemic they are searching for ways to improve creativity, communication, prioritizing projects and motivating their teams. 

Team Engagement Resources 

  • Jackbox Games – Easy for virtual team happy hours.
  • Ted Talks & Tea – Helpful way to include your whole team in the topic. 
  • Lunch Hour Activities – Yoga or Workout as a team. 
  • Virtual Water Cooler – standing opportunity to hop in a video chat.
  • Book Club or Watch Party – with Kast.
  • Virtual Happy Hours – Consider having a topic or a theme.
    • Example: ProFocus Derby Day! This 4-week production competition ended with a team happy hour where our team members dressed up and made bets on virtual horse races.
  • Show & Tell – Let your team show off a quarantine project or a hidden talent. 
    • Our advice is set a time limit and make sure your team is comfortable, not everyone has the same circumstances at home right now. 
  • Company Challenges – Submit photos or videos of the challenge and let your company vote.
    • Example – Best Quarantine Haircut

Setting the Tone with Leadership

In the discussion, many leaders addressed the importance of setting expectations with actions. For example, to normalize household interruptions such as pets, kids and family members, one leader started doing their morning meetings with their kid on their lap. This helped team members feel more at ease and helped take away some of the shame for unavoidable interruptions. 

One of the surprising takeaways from this pandemic has been the level of personal connection willed into many teams. Sharing makeshift home offices and witnessing funny household interruptions has given some teams a deeper understanding of their team members. The blending lines between personal and professional are unavoidable but can bring people closer together and find common ground they didn’t understand before. 

Tools for Collaboration

  • Miro – A digital tool for virtual sticky notes in real time, very interactive.
  • Teams Whiteboard – Microsoft offers a whiteboard tool for collaboration.
  • Draw.io – DIagrams.net is a free tool used for collaboration. 
  • Mural – A digital space for collaboration. 
  • Encourage peer review, hackathons

Tips for Effective Check-Ins

During this pandemic many tech managers have echoed the importance of authentic check-ins. Here are some of the ideas and advice for effective temperature checks with your team:

  • Video! Although some body language and facial expressions are still lost in a video, this is an important way to connect with your tea. If someone on your team is uncomfortable with video calls consider what barriers or personal situations might be in play. 
  • 10, 10, 10!  Consider setting up your check-ins like this: 10 minutes for me, 10 minutes for you, 10 minutes for future. Don’t be surprised if your team members use more than 10 minutes to talk about themselves. Let them vent if needed. 
  • Don’t Assume! Check-ins are a great time to make sure each team member is in the loop. Did they miss a stand-up because of a childcare issue or they were sick? It’s easy to assume everyone has the same level of information but remote work requires over-communication (especially in writing). This transparency leads to more security for your team members.
  • Get Active! Some managers have encouraged their teams to use a mobile device for check-ins and take a walk while they meet. 
  • Set Priorities! As projects and priorities change, managers said they’ve had a difficult time adapting and that extends to their teams. Make sure your team is on the same page in every check-in.

Other Resources for Managing Teams Remotely

ProFocus is proud to host these roundtable discussions for Portland tech leaders to share insights and challenges. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about our upcoming events please email us at info@profocustechnology.com.