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Update: Apparently what happens when you post something to the internet saying you can’t find sources of information is that they then fly out of the woodwork (or internet ether in this case). Since posting this, I’ve come across some great resources about working from home. I can’t say whether that’s because of the significant increase in people working remotely in the past week or not but it has been helpful. I’ll post a list at the end of the blog. (See what I did there? Now you have to read it.) Two things my team is doing now since I wrote this are daily stand-ups in Slack. I even learned how to program a reminder in Slack for those, which brought my Slack skills up to intermediate and I’m so proud! (reference below for instructions) Also, this is a way for us to connect each day with a short round-table of successes, challenges and things we’re looking forward to. Plus, it involves emojis! We’re also going to try a team movie night…well…not really a night since some of us have young kids but we’re going to watch a Ted Talk together using MS Teams. Everyone will share what snacks they have first and use the chat feature to converse during the talk. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

So far I haven’t had the time to sit down and map out the data management posts that I want to write about this year. There are a lot of topics that I want to cover to continue to discuss the need for data management in research and what my team does with lab data. But that’s a post, or posts, for another time. I have something else in the forefront of my mind related to managing teams.

My work has been one of the companies that has recently asked employees to work from home for an extended period of time due to the potential of coronavirus spreading. Fortunately, we already had remote work policies in place, a technology suite (Slack, MS Teams, etc) and best practices around virtual meetings, and a culture of including remote workers so the transition has not been too bumpy. Aside from making sure people have monitors, etc, there hasn’t been too much interruption in the day-to-day work. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly all the virtual meetings have been going so far (minus forgetting about a video meeting and looking like I just rolled out of bed).

Since I’m not one to just take a good thing at face value, I’ve been pondering how to keep engagement up and the sense of team cohesion going through this extended work from home arrangement. Of course I immediately went to do in-depth research on engagement on all remote teams by Googling it. Snicker if you will but Google does bring up some great ideas, especially if you know what sources to trust. So I wade through the Google search results for hits from sources like Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Forbes, and sometimes even articles on blogs from business like Slack or Smartsheet.

There were some good ideas in the articles I found, fun games to play and ways to connect online. To be honest though, not as much as I would have expected given the changing landscape of work. There were more articles about managing remote workers through the lens of incorporating them into an existing on-site team and the repeated advice to bring the team together in person to really ensure bonding (um…not an option right now). Granted, this was not an exhaustive search by any means but it was still a bit surprising. Here is what I’ve gathered from my own experience this week with managing a remote team:

  1. Having the right technology is key but it doesn’t have to be exclusive. Our teams are predominantly on Slack, which does help for quick questions and a feeling of cohesiveness. We’re also using MS Teams for virtual meetings since Slack hasn’t always worked for larger meetings. Having options allows for flexibility and the ability to switch platforms as needed.
  2. Set clear expectations for your team about working remotely. We had both an organizational remote work policy and team-specific add-ons. Even little things like letting everyone know your work hours and how to communicate when you will be unavailable for appointments, etc. helps.
  3. Little things make a big difference. We started our first day off with sharing pictures of our work from home spaces. This small effort thought of by someone on my team helped each of us visualize where the team was working and started the day off with a bit of normalization and fun.
  4. One of the best recommendations that I saw during my research was to have virtual video chats on topics not related to work. My team has a standing coffee meet-up when we’re co-located and they are going to keep that going now that we’re all at home. They changed it to a virtual meeting where they will chat and catch-up with coffee brewed at home. These non-work related meet-ups help capture that esprit-de-corps you get in person.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the video meeting. As much as it was slightly embarrassing to be caught off-guard this week in a meeting, that embarrassment was momentary and went away as soon as I saw everyone else in their casual wear. Additionally, the benefit of seeing people while the meeting was occurring far out-weighed any fleeting sense of unease about meeting in my hoodie and make-up free face.
  6. Keep your sense of humor. Humor is one of the self-identified values of my team. A well-place gif in a Slack conversation goes a long way.
  7. Keep the team aware of the work being done as a whole. Whether that’s tracking work in one online location everyone can access, or posting your top 3-5 To Do items in a Slack channel (our practice), it’s easy for remote teams to get isolate and siloed in their work. Helping the team be aware of what everyone is working on (including you as a manager) keeps the sense of a cohesive team while everyone is working apart.
  8. As a manager, be prepared to see some decrease in productivity prior to an increase. Studies have shown an increase in productivity for remote work given the lack of office distractions. What we found in the transitions was a slight decrease, especially for managers, as teams adjusted to the new way of interacting. Without the ability to drop-by a desk or office, there was a noted increase in email and Slack traffic for managers as questions needed an answer. This is likely to level off as the teams settle in.

That’s all I’ve got for now but we’re only a few days into this particularly experiment. I’ll update my recommendations as we go.

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