Top Tips for Technical Teams to Collaborate Remotely and Maximize Productivity
With 13 offices across the country (not to mention a handful of remote employees...), a large part of the Isos Technology workforce is geographically distributed, so many of our employees work remotely on a regular basis. As a result, we get to hire the best people for the job at hand, regardless of location. And our employees gain flexibility that--they tell us-- makes their lives more manageable and even more importantly, more fulfilling.
Over the course of the past several weeks, companies across the globe with more traditional workforces have necessarily found themselves managing remote teams, and that may be the case for the foreseeable future. In fact, looking ahead, I anticipate that many companies and their employees, having experienced the benefits of remote work, will continue to operate this way. I predict that remote work is here to stay. That said, there is a learning curve to it, particularly for technical teams where collaboration is essential to productivity, and accuracy is essential to positive outcomes.
Since Isos Technology has so much experience with remote collaboration, both internally and with our customers, I wanted to share some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way. I reached out—virtually, of course—to three of our technical team leads to find out what their top tips are to help technical teams successfully collaborate. The goal: Help our customers pump up productivity while practicing social distancing. What they told me is twofold: First, collaboration has a lot to do with communication. It must be elevated, intentional and consistent. (I explain more about that below.) Second, the underlying tools that power that communication--and here at Isos Technology that means Atlassian software like Jira Service Desk and Confluence--are every bit as important as the communication itself.
Here’s what our technical team leaders had to say.
Successful Remote Collaboration Requires Elevated Communication
To elevate communication, Jay Louvis, Director of Managed Services, relies on Jira Service Desk as a single source of truth.
In his role as Isos Technology’s Director of Managed Services, Jay Louvis is responsible for the strategy and processes that power the managed services team. As Jay sees it, “When technical teams work remotely, the level of communication needed to collaborate effectively has to be elevated.” But not all communication is created equal. Jay stresses the importance of not only clearly defining where communication happens, but also what type of information gets communicated. Without guidelines, communication quickly becomes noise and productivity plummets.
When it comes to elevating communication to support remote collaboration, Jay says that a single source of truth is what matters most, and that’s where Atlassian tools like Jira Service Desk and Confluence can really have an impact. Too often, remote collaboration is hampered when people use different methodologies and tools, and information and documentation exist in different places. Jira Service Desk it a robust, configurable IT ticket management system that allows users to track workflows and manage tasks in a single place, in a highly visual way. Importantly, it provides stakeholders across an organization with critical visibility to the most up-to-date information, when and where they need it. Being able to track progress in this way also supports one of the most significant drivers behind remote work—schedule flexibility.
For organizations already using Jira, Jay finds Jira boards one the greatest value adds. There are a few different kinds of boards: Next-Gen boards for teams getting started in Agile, Scrum boards, and Kanban boards. All three allow for viewing, managing and reporting on work-in-progress. He recommends using boards to filter and color-code information so it’s highly visual, easy-to-read, and can be shared with the team as a quick point of reference. As Jay explains, even though Jira is a single source of truth, there are so many ways to configure the boards, that they can be customized to meet the needs of each user. Organizations already using Jira boards can also take things a step further, as Jay and team do, by using Confluence, Atlassian’s collaborative workspace for technical teams, to visualize Jira tickets.
Email, Zoom, Slack—they all have their place, too. Jay’s team has long relied on Zoom when they can’t be physically present, finding that the ability to see peoples’ faces and read their body language personalizes interaction and improves accountability. These days, Jay finds his team turning to Zoom to compensate for casual, everyday interactions that bring a team together. Virtual happy hours are officially a thing now, one Jay hopes will last much longer than sheltering-in-place.
Successful Remote Collaboration Requires Intentional Communication
To support intentional communication, Andrew Yarrow, Director of Engineering, relies on Confluence to create detailed project plans.
As Isos Technology’s Director of Engineering, Andrew Yarrow leads an almost entirely geographically distributed team, so he knows a thing or two about remote collaboration. One of the advantages of working remotely is that it allows for team members—some who may already be in different time zones—to work a flexible schedule. Inevitably, though, this leads to asynchronous communication: People working at different times need information at different times. As Andrew explains, “To be successful, a distributed workforce has to be intentional in its communication. This means planning ahead and making an effort,” so that team members have access to the information they need whenever they need it.
As they put the notion of intentional communication into practice, Andrew and team increasingly turn to Confluence, Atlassian’s collaborative workspace software that lets users create, organize, search and share documents, where they create and and store detailed project plans. The project plans can then be can be used to automatically create task lists in Jira Service Desk. Since everything the engineering team does is backed by a Jira Service Desk ticket, everyone has clear expectations of what is expected of them and when. Team members can then work independently as their flexible schedule allows while being responsible to the team as a whole and meeting deadlines.
Andrew also notes that intentional communication extends beyond the logistics of everyday work to the actual character of the team. Since distributed teams don’t have the benefit of building relationships through common experiences—casually connecting at the office, a shared favorite lunch place, etc., they have to make an effort to get to know each other. And, yes, Atlassian tools can help there, too. He cites team members who have used Confluence wikis or microblogging capabilities to share information, not just about projects, but about themselves or what is happening in their geographic region that might impact work.
Successful Remote Collaboration Requires Consistent Communication
Sean Parchmann, Director of Project Delivery relies on Jira Scrum boards and @mentions to support consistent communication.
For Sean Parchmann, Direct of Project Delivery, and his team, successful remote collaboration means consistent communication, continuous improvement of processes, and powerful underlying tools. Interestingly, the project management team makes the most of both synchronous and asynchronous communication. The team has a regularly scheduled, virtual daily Scrum meeting—using their Jira Scrum board of course—that all team members Zoom into from wherever they are. In this meeting, they provide status updates and collectively tackle anything that’s blocking progress. That synchronous connection is supplemented with asynchronous use of Jira Service Desk, where they track issues with specific tasks and use the @mention feature to generate an email that brings it to the attention of the right person.
How important is Jira to the success of their team? As Sean puts it, communication is essential, but the underlying tools used to communicate really matter. He goes on to explain: “Choose your tools wisely. Don’t let the tools dictate how you work. Instead, make sure that they support your organization’s unique processes.” Sean and team understand that processes are not set in stone. At their weekly sync meeting, one of the things the team discusses is how their processes are holding up. Can they improve processes, or are their ones that no longer serve that they need to retire? One of the things he appreciates most about Jira Service Desk is that they can reconfigure the tool as their needs change—or for customers, they can configure it to meet their unique needs.
As I said at the beginning of this blog post, it’s my belief that remote work is here to stay. While the impetus for this change may be necessity, once companies and their teams realize the benefits of working remotely, geographically-distributed technical teams will become more far more prevalent, perhaps even the norm. With that in mind, in the words of three of Isos’ Technology’s most experienced leaders, the key to successful remote collaboration is communication that is:
- Elevated: Clearly define what communication happens where, and make sure there is a single source of truth for all information being communicated.
- Intentional: Make an intentional effort in how and where you communicate, and plan ahead so other team members can manage their time well and work independently as needed.
- Consistent: Balance synchronous and asynchronous communication by holding regular team meetings where people come together and use tools that allow for independent work.
I think the biggest takeaway for me personally, though, is that communication has to be powered by the right underlying tools. In our case, Isos Technology uses the same Atlassian software that we implement for our clients. They are tools we believe in, that we know well, that are customizable to our processes and our customers, and that can evolve as we grow and they do, too.
Before I sign off, I want to take a moment to reflect on something that Sean said that really resonated with me...culture matters. Not everyone is in the same place...geographically, in terms of skillsets, or even point-of-view. To really exceed expectations, an organization with a geographically-distributed technical workforce has to have a culture of trust in which people are comfortable asking questions.
As a company, we do that very well internally, and it’s absolutely our goal for how we collaborate—remotely and otherwise—with our customers.