Communication and Culture in the Remote Working Age

remote working tools and tips

Remote working is fast becoming the business model that’s here to stay and it could result in a permanent shift in the software development space. After all, remote working has many benefits that later adopters are only now realizing: lower office costs, no commuting time, less traffic, less pollution, the ability to live closer to family…

The longer this pandemic lingers, the more companies will adapt to remote working. If they make it work, and work well, they’ll be less likely to return to the old ways. This blog looks at best practices for remote workers to improve communication within teams and clients, along with the tools, data, and reports that will make it easier.

Distributed teams in software development were on the up before 2020. Demand for skilled software engineers surged, and remote engineers filled the talent scarcity. Many teams had one or more members that were 100% remote.

Then the plague hit, teams became fully distributed overnight, and co-located members, who previously met in person, shifted to a remote model. April 2020 saw more than 60% of the UK’s adult population become remote workers.

Employers have looked to gig economy workers and readily adopted project management software and workplace communication tools to provide flexibility, productivity, and accountability to aid working from home.

Companies that once lagged now find themselves forced to welcome new business strategies displaying critical alignment between communication and collaboration technology, in order to survive – whether at home, in the office, or a combination of both.

Contrary to expectations, research in the US has shown increases in productivity since this shift. Whether these gains are sustainable depends on a team’s success in overcoming the hurdles to making a distributed teams work as well as, or better than, a co-located one.

Adopting a Successful Remote Work Team Culture

First, What Tools?

If you haven’t already, the first step on the journey to remote work is to integrate your Jira with a chat platform.

Jira integrates with Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, and Slack.

Since the rollout of the Microsoft Teams update, the chat software competes on an equal playing field to Slack and Google Chat. They all exhibit a simple chat room-style interface, where users can access a simplified search bar to gain information. And that’s with each platform working with a host of different third-party apps.

Personally, I’d recommend reading this blog by Zapier to decide which team chat platforms would work best for your organization.

Next, Shift to a Remote Culture

Atlassian identifies that by establishing clear boundaries, team members are able to clearly state their availability and their priorities. They list over-communicating as a key driver in making the process work.

Content management systems such as Confluence are one way to keep communication and contact regular but non-intrusive. Here members can search for updates or use channel-based messaging platforms.

The need for close communication is especially important when working remotely, so make extra time for video meetings to share working experiences. This will replace the water cooler conversations you’re no longer able to have.

Establish clear expectations for contact and working hours.

Staying connected whilst working remotely is an important replacement for the office socials. Building a solid rapport and understanding will help when escalating challenging issues beyond the boards of blockers.

Trello’s blog lists five team-building activities designed to encourage effective screen mate interaction. Transformation isn’t easy, and most organizations don’t have time to gradually improve with a DIY approach. Support from a partner such as Polontech can really help with a successful digitalization for your teams.

Improve Remote Communication with Clients

Often overlooked (but crucial to product management) is the need to improve remote communication with clients.

Be aware that, whilst it may be useful for all nine team members to be present on a call, it can be a daunting prospect for a client to be involved in a ‘watch party’. Often, sharing a recording of the meeting would have been more than sufficient to get input from many of the team members.

There’s an opportunity to share compelling, concise, and visually engaging presentations, by using previous video/audio clips and charts, edited to show real product value and foster peer interaction.

Whilst these steps are by no means exhaustive, they present a great starting point in how to adapt to the disruption that has changed the way we work.

A Mutual Understanding of Status and Progress

Stand-up with Scrum: Conducting regular stand-ups should become a part of everyday plans, whereby team members are encouraged to share any progress or blockers that may be affecting deliverables. Now, whilst this may feel as though it should fall into the remit of communication, Jira has a plugin designed to do exactly this.

Scrum stand-up is essential to agile development as it it enables the workforce to share reports, linking in any issues. Atlassian cites this operation as reinforcing the ‘WE’, which is crucial to sharing success, encouraging team contribution, and strengthening morale.

By using Jira boards, users can filter through projects, raise queries, and assign issues, with written stand-up visible on:

  • Project screen – entire team stand-up for the project
  • Issue screen – stand-up reports linked with the issue
  • User profile – user’s stand-up reports

Notably, Jira plugins provide the essential flexibility for remote workers, with users able to share information as soon as team members appear online with emoji-enabled asynchronous stand-ups.

With co-located teams, information radiators are used. Also known as Big Visual Charts (BVCs), these displays of key team and project status information are up on the wall in the office, giving team members updates as they pass or wait for the kettle to boil. It’s this information that enables them to make trade-offs that often determine the success of a sprint.

In Jira, you can turn any dashboard into a wallboard, which is configured for display on a wall-mounted TV and acts as an information radiator for a co-located team. In a previous article, we talked about how a Jira Wallboard can benefit teams: keeping team members on task, encouraging communication and regular feedback, fostering transparency and accountability, etc. But as distributed teams lack a shared physical space to have a Jira Wallboard, are these benefits transferrable to the new remote working normal?

The issue is in making sure that a person working from home can see the information with very little effort. If they have to dig around multiple websites or emails or click through half a dozen projects to find the information, well, they won’t.

What companies need is a way of displaying the information in a place that everyone has access to and are spending a lot of their time using. For example, the front page of Jira or the company intranet, or better yet, in the collaboration hubs they’re using all day every day, such as Slack. The information needs to come to the team rather than them having to go look for it, just like a traditional BVC.

Replacing Jira Wallboards with a Jira Dashboard iFrame

We’ve been thinking about how to push the key messages displayed on Jira Dashboards to team members working remotely, and are currently developing a Jira Dashboard iFrame as an alternative to the Jira Wallboard.

iFrames allow you to embed documents, videos and, interactive media—like a Facebook widget—within a page, effectively displaying a secondary webpage on your main page. Our Jira Dashboard iFrame would embed an interactive dashboard that uses our Custom Charts for Jira app. You could embed it in a webpage such as your company intranet home screen, or in emails. In Slack, the iFrame would appear as an image with a link, since Slack doesn’t allow interactive iFrames in their chat windows. But this image would still ‘radiate’ the required information. In fact, the Custom Charts could be used to run a daily standup meeting directly from Slack, without needing to switch to Jira.

I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts…

Because of how valuable Jira Reports are, there is an increasing demand for access to them outside of Jira, so that their data is more readily available. A Jira Dashboard iFrame would accomplish this, continuously pushing key messages to team members in places where they will see them without having to go looking. Therefore, it could become an ideal information radiator for the remote working age.

What do you think? If you had a Jira Dashboard iFrame, would you use it as an information radiator? Where would you put it? In Slack, on your company’s intranet pages, or somewhere else?