April 12, 2021

Lessons Learned from a Year of Remote Work

Lessons Learned from a Year of Remote Work

5 strategies to try for more seamless remote/hybrid working

Although employer interest in moving to hybrid or in-office work seems to be warming up, the reality remains that many will be working from home at least part-time for the foreseeable future.

So after more than a year of working from home, we're taking stock of the tips and tricks we picked up along the way to see which ones actually made a difference. We highlight practices and approaches that have proven to improve our workflows and ability to work with distributed teams. We hope you find some of them useful!

Have a great remote working tip of your own? Drop us a note at podcast@digitalworkspace.works.

Top 5 Tips for Working in a Distributed Team:

  1. Communicate
  2. Be patient
  3. Reevaluate meetings
  4. Take breaks
  5. Find tools that fit your workflow

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Ryan Purvis  0:00  
Hello, and welcome to the digital workspace works podcast. I'm Ryan Purvis, your host supported by producer Heather Bicknell. In this series, you'll hear stories and opinions from experts in the field story from the frontlines, the problems they face and how they solve them. The years they're focused on from technology, people and processes to the approaches they took, they will help you to get to grips with the digital workspace inner workings.

Heather Bicknell  0:32  
So I know you wanted to chat about distributed teams.

Ryan Purvis  0:38  
Yeah, your thoughts? Um, you know, since since most of the world is still in some form of a lockdown, or, you know, coming in and out, or whatever the story is, is probably some some lessons we've all learned that might be worth discussing. You know, a couple that I've thought about, you know, having done it now, South Africa is officially one year into level one. Well, it's since the lockdown started, I think was yesterday. But obviously, the UK is in a lockdown that's coming out. Slowly but surely. But generally, what I'm hearing for most people is they're expecting just to work from home for a while. So

Heather Bicknell  1:21  
yeah, it seems it seems like it although I, I've started to see more research into what people I think there's a difference between what employees want and what employers want when it comes to the back to Office plan. So I started to see that obviously, employees are really hooked on flexibility. Now. There was a gardener webinar I attended the other day, and they showed that there's a 4060 split between those who say, so the 40% say, it doesn't matter where my next job is where they, you know, make me work. That's not a factor. And then the 60% say, you know, no, having the ability to determine where I work is important to me. So there's definitely, I think, in all of this switch in mindset, and a greater value placed on that flexible working, which prior to that was more of a was seen it was more just a park, I think.

Ryan Purvis  2:32  
Yeah, well, I think I think that's the interesting thing to at all is that if you look at the, let's say the banks, for example, they they have a huge real estate commitments and rental commitments, so they are obviously going to push people to go back to, to work to an extent in an office. And I'm not just saying banks, I mean, you look at any organization, that's that's put money into the real estate, they obviously will toe the line to keep people going back to these offices, without them having to spend a fortune refriger, fitting them to become more collaborative workspaces, which is what we all think they're going to be anyway. But if you look at sort of, on the other side of the scale, people that don't have those commitments, you know, startups, small businesses, businesses that are traditional non knowledge worker businesses, they've all realized that you don't need to have this office all the time. And you can work remotely. And also, that they only need space to meet for specific things. So brainstorming sessions, or workshops, or whatever it is, which which should help, you know, like the sort of travel industries bounce back a bit, because people will now travel with with a different purpose. So yeah, so that's I think we get to see some interesting changes in the future when we all can't go back to a normal, inverted commas life.

Heather Bicknell  3:57  
Definitely. I mean, there's also the discussion around just the office layouts. Was it a BBC article we chatted about, however, many months ago that showed the, like a possible future for the office and it had, you know, desks were farther apart. And there were like plant barriers between to like, you know, capture to be dividers between spaces and, you know, the use of copper handles on drawers to cut down on,

Unknown Speaker  4:38  
you know,

Heather Bicknell  4:40  
stuff that can live on that surface to try to be healthier as an office, plus all the air filtration systems and stuff like that. So I'm curious to see how much of that, you know, materializes. how quickly people realize, and how many companies have started that now, because I'm sure there are lots of really large offices that have already started reworking themselves. And then how many will like that will be a delay again before potentially bringing people back?

Ryan Purvis  5:20  
Well, I think yeah, I think the biggest problem with all that is, is all these changes not only cost money, but but in order to bring someone in to do it, that it also creates a risky environment because they got people in doing different things, removing desks to make more space, having to put in shields and all that all the sanitization stuff that you need. So yeah, I could, I could see it happening. But I can also see scenarios where businesses become a little bit more. What's the word almost shift based, where people come in based on or be allocated time to come in. To to sort of rotate the desks and the space and all that kind of stuff, because because I think you will have people that don't have a good work environment at home, they'd want to be in the office every day, because that's better than where they are at home. Or people that have got you know, spouses, or partners, whatever it is, that need the space to work at home all day. So they need to go the office, all those sorts of scenarios. So they'll need a pic, they'll need a way or place to go, which may open up. avenues for the likes of we were courageous when you have those sorts of shared working spaces to provide flexible working there. And also company that will pay for that, as opposed to paying for a big building full of or a big floor for, you know, hundreds of people when only need for 25 people or something like that.

Heather Bicknell  6:55  
Yeah. Yeah. I think part of this, too, is something that I think comes up again and again, on this podcast, which is that, again, there's been another shift in management mentality between, you know, being able to look at people in the office say they're working, that's productivity, just like the visual confirmation that people are at their desks. Very versus a shift to what are the outcomes that people are providing and measuring that as productivity? But I think they're still, you know, obviously, it's it differs from organization organization, but that productivity soul searching, is kind of the crux of what will determine what the business decides to do when it comes to the hybrid work model.

Ryan Purvis  7:50  
Hmm. Yeah. So, I mean, in that sort of context, I mean, I think the tips that I had in mind for this, were based on my own experiences of doing this, you know, not only during the pandemic, but previously, abroad, in that the first tip was around communication, you almost have to over communicate now, because you're not seeing people at their desks or walking past them. And you got to do it in a in a multi channel way where you could use, you know, the phone, a team's call, or WhatsApp and email, a text message, or whatever it is. And almost at the time, you need to communicate, but bearing in mind that the person you communicate may not be available to talk to you. So there's a level of patience, which is probably number two, not everyone can make every call Not everyone can be available on his messenger all the time. And some people are, you know, you gotta you gotta go down to this results orientated way of working, which is worried about the outcome not whether they in this in their seats nine to five or wait to six, whatever the the expectation is.

Heather Bicknell  9:06  
Yeah, I am. I think you're right, that that the ability to maintain that communication and you know, make people still feel like they're part of a team that they're not being left out of things or just still getting that collaboration and not having multiple people work on this, you know, do the same thing without knowing or there's a lot of talking that needs to happen, right. So key but um, yeah, I think I was already primed to do that as well, even though so when I used to work at the office, most of my team was in a different city, just how are like r&d versus sort of sales and marketing split wise I was in the r&d office. So of course, I could talk to a lot of engineers and different people like you know, on the daily but a lot of my team was added branch anyway. So I was already using, you know, teams and email primarily to speak with them anyway. So that wasn't a huge shift. I did have kind of a light bulb, Well, not really a light bulb moment. But I had a moment yesterday where I messaged someone who I don't talk to frequently in the company, but there was just a piece of information that I came across that I thought they'd want to know. And of course, you know, my team stopped was read, his team start was read. That's not that unusual to me. You know, I was just like, in a meeting, you know, I shot him this message, and he's like, Oh, I'm in a meeting. And I'm like, Yeah, I can see you can see her and Amina, it was just, I was like, Oh, yeah, I mean, I guess some people aren't? Oh, do I need to, you know, for people you don't communicate with as frequently who may not be, you know, as accustomed to, like asynchronous communication, or you just haven't established that like, what the expectation is, when you send a message like, How soon do you expect a reply? A lot of the times I get into the habit now of if it's someone I don't talk to as much kind of qualifying it before I even write what it is, I meant to say, just to say, like, hey, there's no rush to this, or, Hey, no need to, you know, respond right away, just thought you would want to know this or, like, put something out front to make it clear that. Yeah, I see that you're not, you know, available right now, in terms of a team status. But I'm going to send you this now. Because if I wait until later, it might not happen.

Ryan Purvis  11:38  
Yeah, and that's and that's important thing is that we've all got to be in so I like to if the sort of the term integrated workers, where you've got a, you get a 24 hour period where you get to sleep, you need to do work in that period, you do other things, like run your errands, and whatever it is. And so other people, so there's going to be overlaps throughout the day. What I'm finding very difficult for myself at the moment is my diary is just filling up with meetings and meetings and meetings. And if I don't put stuff into block to break up the monotony, I can be on the phone from nine in the morning till five. And actually have done no work the whole day, except for talk. And I don't think that's the healthy thing either. So I'm finding that that's definitely something that's easiest to have consolidated, consistent breaks throughout the day. And also to walk away from a screen at that that object. As I mentioned, I went for a walk, whilst I'm listening to podcasts and stuff about looking at a screen that entire time. Because you need that break for your brain and your your assets. Ideally, you would actually not be listening to anything, you just have total breaks, but there were too many podcasts catch up on, I can't afford to not be listening. But yeah, I can see where you're coming from.

Heather Bicknell  12:58  
Yeah, I think there's sort of two tips of what you said, one is around, sort of reevaluating your meetings, and trying to create a culture of not just to booking people straight through all day. And I mean, I it's hard I, I definitely spend more than, you know, half my work hours in meetings now, which I can feel in the well, which pushes me to then work longer and longer days, right, because I still need to get the same amount of things done. But you know, or, you know, I do things like I'm in a meeting, but I'm not giving my you know, always give your full attention to the meeting, right? If you're more, you know, in the background, or if it's a topic that just doesn't need your input as much, you know, you're doing other things, which I suppose was also true pre pandemic, but I'm pre work from home. But yeah, I think going on a meetings diet or reevaluating those meetings. And then the other thing that you were speaking to, which is so critical is just kind of making sure that you're taking care of that for yourself, I think and adding those breaks in blocking that time, you know, not being afraid to sort of control your own calendar in that way instead of letting other people book all over for you. Because at the end of the day, you still need to preserve your sanity and get your work.

Ryan Purvis  14:31  
Yeah, I mean, I can control your own diary is one of those things that I laugh at for myself because I, I use calendly to book my timeouts if people want to have a meeting with me, I'll say here's my calendly link, just go and find a slot that suits you. Now that that that's sometimes a bit lazy, but it also industry moves to the whole backwards and forwards around. You know when you're available, give you some times blah, blah, blah. The challenge with that, however, is if you don't control the parameters around what's the value in your diary using that link, now you can set you know, availability slots. And you can set up a sort of buffer period between meetings. So they call it book. So if I gave him a 15 minute link, and I've got a meeting on the hour and a half an hour, and there's only half an hour gap, they can't book in a half an hour, there needs to be a 45 minute gap to get the 15 minute gap, which gives me a buffer in between, which can can work but if you don't put in the buffers, you end up with that's where you end up with these these things back to back to back, because the person that's booking your diary, using that link has no idea that you've actually got a whole bunch of things together and when words were uttered me a few times basically being here. And so there's I've gone to the shops or something. And someone's booked something in my diary, and I haven't obviously put it in my diary, I go to the shops, and I see this music pop up, but I'm going, there's no way I can be back for that what you know of that book that then I realized, oh, they've used the link. And that's where the problems come from, is actually not controlling. So I've got it, that's what I've had to be, you know, not my own worst enemy. But the other thing is looking at the attendees, every time you see a meeting, and someone's invited you to something, and you sort of go, well, what's the topic? Why are we doing this? who's involved to needle these people? Because that's one of the problems is this list this? You know, and it's a common problem. I think we we feel like we need to include everyone. But actually, you don't need to include everyone. And if you think that's the case, then maybe you need to rethink why you need the meeting. And maybe it's more of a an instant messenger conversation or on a chat on a channel with a chat. And then if there's still, you know, no clarity, then you have the meeting because not everyone's had the chance to weigh in, you can see who's actually got an opinion on this thing. And then you have the meeting with the people with opinions. And you don't have people sitting, you know, five people in a meeting room for them talking, what are them doing something else? Because they actually have no value, they see no value in the meeting.

Heather Bicknell  16:59  
Very true. Do you have any tips for time differences? Or does this not affect you all that much? Cuz I know you're working on a slight time difference with your UK team, right?

Ryan Purvis  17:14  
Yeah, so So what I've done is, because I'm two hours ahead at the moment, and that'll change in a week's time, I'll move to one hour head, I've tried to Ford load all my personal stuff into the mornings. So when I get up, obviously, when I get home, I got kids to get to school, and you know, in order to sort out my wife, which I get to the gym first, then we try and do our walk with her just to get all that, you know, family time and all that done. So by the time I get in front of my machine, at 11 o'clock or so, South African time, and it's a little bit early, depending once we booked my diary, I'm then flat out from 11 till five, you know, with everything, so it's a really compressed day. But then, you know, I don't take breaks during really, really breaks during that day. And then five o'clock comes along, and it's my you know, pick my son up and you know, sort them out for two hours till bedtime. And then I'll catch up at work at night, depending on my energy levels. So that's kind of work because that's, that's meant, from a time standpoint, I've benefited from the gap. Now most of my team is in India, or in South Africa, depending on who I'm talking to. So that kind of works. Because when I get up, because I'm getting up two hours earlier than UK, I can do some stuff. You know, during the course of the morning before we're in between getting the kids to school and going to gym and all that kind of stuff. Math might not be phone calls, but it could be teams chats or emails or something quick. And then leaving the course for later in the day. When I want somebody to get out that I'm getting up early, anyway, sort of four or five or four or five in the morning to work before the kids get up. And then I can also stop because the guys in India can still work with them. So I'm finding that the two hours ahead of the UK actually were quite beneficial when we move back to the UK, which is hopefully sometime soon. Some of that's going to have to change so some of the stuff that I'll be doing in the morning will have to come become part of the day. And then I feel like I'm going to lose that time. which is which is silly because you still got the time you haven't lost it but it has moved around. So yeah, I mean, I think it's it comes back to the integrated working, being able to blend in your your day to day activities, your errands and stuff with your working day. And knowing who's available when helps as well.

Heather Bicknell  19:41  
Definitely, especially when it comes to managing the teams and different gios you use any project management software for work or for to keep your teams together.

Ryan Purvis  19:57  
What do you mean like

Heather Bicknell  20:01  
Something like Monday, comm or Trello, or Microsoft planner or any of those sort of kandam boards,

Ryan Purvis  20:10  
we've tried a whole bunch. We start off with Marshall planner got rid of that. We tried Trello for a long time got rid of that. We are now using a combination of notion. And DevOps Marsh of DevOps as your DevOps. Obviously, as your DevOps makes sense from a coding point of view. So all the stories go in there, all the epics, etc. That works, what I've used notion for is kind of the bridging the gap between a piece of functionality that's been defined, and a piece of functionality, it's just an idea. Because what was what's happened, what what was happening for us is that we were getting, you know, 100 ideas from the business, one liners, you know, make me coffee, when I get in the morning, whatever, here are things that were really like, I saw, what does this actually mean? Like when you see the one liner, so we put those into notion, and then that gives us a long list. And then once we go through that long list, and the nice thing about notion is it's quite flexible in putting in columns and properties, and then filters and sorting and stuff like that. So that gives us a way too short netlist without polluting our Azure DevOps board. And then what happens is, we'll do refinement sessions, or even discovery sessions to these requirements, and validate the requirements. And once we validated those requirements, we then move them into the DevOps environment. Now, we still keep all the stories in notion, because notion gives us quite a nice view on the roadmap and timeline, which is something that we struggle to get out of DevOps. Now there's whole lots of plugins and less stuff. And I find that a really poor experience overall to do anything beyond the standard stuff. So notion gives me that flexibility. And also in the sense, I can just drag and drop things, and change the order and all that kind of stuff. It's not the best tool. But it seems to be at this moment in time, the best tool all around for us to use. And also, when people make updates, I see the updates. And I can go and check them. And I can check it on my mobile phone, particularly my tablet. So that experience is consistent. Whereas I find with some of those tools, it's not consistent, and certain functionality doesn't work. So we've kind of settled on notion at the moment as our main sort of management tool. With over the DevOps been for the project team, the product team to work with. The rest of the business is using combinations of Microsoft planner, to excel still, that sort of thing. We even use mitre project for a while, but that becomes too rigid. So what the guys really like is a sort of can band board view where they can get that which is why they like planner that seems to be working, that works for them all. So what we'll probably do over time, is move everyone over to notion because you can do comment boards and notion, at least then we can start aligning things with this concept called okrs. objectives and key key results. Because that's the thing that we need to get right as a business is trying to get that everyone working on the same things, or the same priorities generally, in a quarter.

Heather Bicknell  23:37  
Well, it sounds like you have you have some of that down for the product man or the project management feel like I still, that's something I've always like looking for someone who has a team or they're using one of these tools and they feel like yes, this is you know, this has everything we need because I feel like it always is like you're either swapping platforms every once in a while or it's kind of like a bit of a hodgepodge. So I mean right now I have this too many things between Excel Trello Asana Monday comm I evolved that much, you know.

Ryan Purvis  24:16  
And that's, that's funny enough, I've ended up on notion of because I was using Evernote for storing notes that I was using Apple notes store notes, now I've got these two notes places and and you know, notion sort of started coming around. So I imposable makes my Evernote stuff into notion. So now I am using I was using notions for reference materials. And then I started realizing what other functionalities that was similar to these other tools. And the problem that I've always had with these other tools is it feels like a such a learning curve to using them. And also I found out what it is but I always feel like it's such a big step to use them. It's like a half an open Asana to go and check these tasks. though, because I'm in notion all the time, it's more case of Oh, you're just click over there and just check that thing quickly, then I'll go back to what I was doing. So, so that friction is not the end. And I'll be honest, I mean, notion is not the most performance tool, you know, still takes a couple seconds to load at that. But because I've started putting other stuff in there, it's become, you know, it's all it's always open. In fact, I've just noticed that it's not not open. But you know, use it for the podcast we use, I use it for work, he's a former personal stuff. You know, we're looking at renting a house now. So I had, I had a table in notion for that, with all my rules in that setup, so you'd help me to help you make the decision thing. So, you know, it's those things that I think where we notion is strong, I think there's other tools like a table that's quite strong. Where these tools are going as the API with the API's that they're developing, is that are becoming your brain on a, an application. So it's a mate of mine use a table where they trigger all sorts of automations from, from the a table records to go and do other things, you know, post a tweet, turn the lights on when they get home, you know, all these sorts of weird things. Because it's such surfaces become so part of the working pattern.

Heather Bicknell  26:20  
Yeah, I think only having, you know, use notion, mostly for the podcast, I feel like it's a very, there's a lot of flexibility in it. And you can kind of build the views that you want to see. Whereas a lot of these platforms are much more like there's more one way to use it. It feels like, um, I don't know, I need to tie up here for today. But for the you mentioned that OKR discussion, is that something you want to follow up on? Or how's that experiment going?

Ryan Purvis  26:56  
We haven't started totally restarting that at the moment. I'm happy to discuss it as I learn about it. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Cold. Super already. Day. So talk to you soon. Thanks.

Unknown Speaker  27:12  
All right. Cheers.

Ryan Purvis  27:18  
Thank you for listening. Today's episode. Hey, the big news app producer, editor. Thank you, Heather. for your hard work for this episode. Please subscribe to the series and rate us on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Follow us on Twitter at the DW w podcast. The show notes and transcripts will be available on our website, www dot digital workspace that works. Please also visit our website www dot digital workspace that works and subscribe to our newsletter. And lastly, if you found this episode useful, please share with your friends or colleagues.

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