How to use remote collaboration now and after the coronavirus pandemic

Due to the coronavirus, the majority of IT professionals are working from home. At some future time, things may calm down a bit. Tomorrow’s question is: Can it continue?

Today I’m going to tell you how to demonstrate some of the benefits of working remotely, so you can keep doing it when the crisis is past.

The good news about remote work

More for CXOs

For many generations, we’ve been used to working together in one location—an office, a coal mine, a factory. Knowledge work can happen nearly anywhere that has power and internet. Products like Linux and git were created by non-colocated teams. FTools are now available to make working from anywhere, with effective communication, possible. Video chat, group meetings, online collaboration, collaborative documents, and workflow tracking systems have become ubiquitous seemingly overnight.

With these advances, it’s time to acknowledge that working from home is just better. It is easier on the family, gives you time in your life back, and it is better for the environment. I started working remotely at Socialtext in 2008, and haven’t spent much time in an office since. I do not miss it.

SEE: Policy pack: Guidelines for remote workers (TechRepublic Premium)

For a business, working remote means you can hire incredible people while actually reducing cost. Here’s an example: At Socialtext, we hired Dan Bricklin, the man who invented the spreadsheet, to build a web-based spreadsheet. This was pre-Google Docst. When asked to work for Socialtext, Dan said the same thing I said: “Only if I can work from home.” This possibility enables businesses to hire the right people, regardless of where they live.

While working remotely may not work so well for some business domains, like car dealerships, it is better for nearly everyone else. 

So how do we keep doing it after Covid-19 ends?

Manage perceptions for telecommuting

When there’s no chance your private meeting can be overheard, gossip can run rampant. To manage perceptions, you’ll need to command the narrative. First, make video chat meetings effective. Then, find virtual ways to visualize the flow of the work. Online Kanban boards and other project tracking tools show visually who is responsible for what when.

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Image: Matt Heusser

A few years ago, I created the above chart in Excel. Every week I updated the chart with my progress and put it on my desk. The red is completed work; light purple is work under development. Updated every Monday, it showed a bottleneck, but it wasn’t in software development. If the programmers worked faster, the work would simply pile up in customer acceptance.

Before the chart, we were asked to work harder, faster, and more hours. After the chart, the conversation changed to how to help the business analysts. Conversations about unpaid overtime—those simply went away.

There’s a good way to manage perceptions: Support the users  who aren’t already well-versed in skype for business, or zoom, or the VPN, or remote desktop, or how to measure their work.

Here’s how.

SEE: Managing remote workers: A business leader’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)   

Show your value

It’s a challenge to measure “productivity”, or more importantly, the value contributed by each knowledge worker.  A common customer service metric is “calls resolved per day.” That punishes the senior service rep that takes the tough transfer and works to resolve the complex issue. What about calls marked as “resolved” because the customer hung up? As Edward Blackman, the psychologist and consultant, once put it so well, “Any fool can measure productivity. It’s having a good measure that drives the right behavior that is the trick.”

And yet.

Since measuring feels difficult, perception often becomes a popularity contest, 

Sales has volume, recruiters have new hires, payroll is either done or it is not. In IT, things are more … squiffy.

Where can you find some tangible measurables? Ways to measure performance that are relevant, and, even when “gamed,” still can lead to improved performance. Here are three.

Cycle Time. The typical amount of time from starting work on a software change to when it is in front of customers

Touch Time. For a given piece of work, what percentage of time did it have active work, as compared to being blocked or waiting on something else.

Velocity. This is the thing you do. Servers set up, work-tickets completed, customers assisted. If units of work such as stories roughly average-out to an average size, we can say they are valid.

SEE: Coronavirus having major effect on tech industry beyond supply chain delays (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Measure improvement

The measures above make the damage of multi-tasking and blocked issues evident. Once you know who is blocking you and why, work to overcome them, and the measures will improve.

Once you can show your value, you no longer need to be measured by butt-in-seat time. Once management sees the improvement, they would be fools to send you back to the office.

When this emergency ends, if you play your cards right, you might come home with a more humane work-from-home policy, that allows a better personal life and creates more free time. 

Everybody wins.

Sounds a bit like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

 Also see

Video Call Chatting Communication ConceptVideo Call Chatting Communication Concept

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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