How to Work with Remote Team Challenges Successfully

How to Work with Remote Team Challenges Successfully

Businesses are waking up to numerous remote team challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless you have had some remote work experience or are a fully remote team, running your operations smoothly is a nightmare.

But nothing to worry. Unusual times lead to unusual solutions.

One has to look for solutions that are

  • very common & known
  • driven by situations (case on case basis)
  • result of improvising existing processes

Remote team and project management are at the heart of all remote work management strategy at the moment.

“Think remote, think virtual” is the driving force at the moment. A single silver bullet looked upon by business leaders, entrepreneurs, project managers and team members.

Implementing a remote team strategy is hugely dependent on technology as well as business policies and processes.

The interception of these two is where all the mix-ups happen.

Use Case 1 – most companies did not think of remote work as a fall back plan & hence have no relevant processes in place. They may have some of the required tech though.

Use Case 2 – companies neither have the technology to back their operations nor a stable policy.

In this article we will discuss few scenarios from both the use cases.

Just to set the context straight, Andolasoft Inc, the parent company of Orangescrum project management & Wakeupsales CRM tools had a mix of both these use cases.

And we share our story, challenges and learnings from the first 30 days of absolute remote team management.

Challenge 1 – Waking up to the concept of remote work completely

Our team members had remote work experience, quite a few of them. Majorly the key team players.

But companies have multiple departments and all need to be functional to run the operations successfully.

Though a little late, we had started putting processes in place for a complete remote team structure, but things happened faster than we anticipated. And this is where our challenges grew and we had to fast track everything, almost simultaneously.

So our first step was to ensure all our guys had the required tech in place to be battle ready.

Since we had already taken some of the first steps, we weren’t a total mess so to speak, but still weren’t at a very desirable state.

IT teams were on to getting the required systems and infra in place along with the right accesses for code development & deployment.

There was a fair amount of security questions to be answered and addressed too. Thanks to our robust AWS, GIT and other tech best practices that kept us in good stead.

Are all of our team members fully functional and can perform at optimum levels?

Day157% of our team was at full steam. Mainly all customer facing roles & imminent delivery project members

Day270% (all tech roles – UX, Designer, QA)

Day377% (New joiners & interns)

Day5100% (Admin, HR & Finance)

So yes, we did get to full steam quicker than expected. But it wasn’t easy. Looking back at that 3rd week of March, 2020 does feel exciting. I can visualize the long telephone conversations for hours with each other, planning & tracking all employees & tech movements. Hell of a week, that was!

Challenge #2 – How to Collaborate Remotely?

Before we could even feel good about our achievements of the past week, reality hit us hard.

  • Not all of our team members were exposed to remote collaboration!
  • Many needed multiple touch points throughout the day.
  • Some required the usual tender loving care (TLC).
  • Some activities required significant face times.

In simple words, our entire modus operandi needed an overhaul.

Remote teams need to accept the fact, there is no more walking over to the next desk or a conference room.

What that meant for us is?

  • Find ways to get as many answers as possible on your own.
  • Use the face time wisely.
  • Restructure our conversations.
  • Become a continuous time-keeper.
  • Maintain work etiquette even when remote.
  • Learn to work without constant fall back support.

Did all of the above happen instantly? No! Absolutely not.

During the first week of being totally operational, overall team productivity was almost 30-40% less.

But this was about to change. Pretty fast too J

Challenge #3 – Providing Customer Support & a seamless Customer Experience

Disclaimer: You are also responsible for your customers not being remote ready J

Our customer success team members were a bit shaken by the rude shock of our customers’ lack of readiness to deal with remote team collaboration.

They wanted everything to run the same way as before COVID-19. Fair, and we were ready for our end of the bargain.

Imagine the fix we were in and given our customer success fanatics, we did not have the option to think or say

  • We didn’t sign up for this!
  • This is your mess.
  • We cannot help you with your end of the problems.

We had a few unusual requests where the customers lagged with relevant infrastructure to run their business as usual.

Not only they were having issues using our services but also work successfully among their teams.

We did step up to our customer’s challenges and helped them where we could. It felt great!

Our IT and infra teams heed them get their remote infra ready, fine tune where needed and even suggested the use of relevant tools.

What did we learn?

  • Always try to be a support system for your peers, customers, team members and even competitors too under unusual and unnatural circumstances like these.
  • Practice empathy.
  • Try to understand where your customer is coming from.
  • Being emotional is not an option when dealing with unfortunate customer issues.
  • Collaborate, share & help implement the knowledge and skills you have to help other fight the same battles as your own.

Remember to be sensitive in your approach, communication and inabilities if things come to that during a war-torn time like COVID-19.

After all, we are humans, dealing with humans!

Challenge #4 – Remote Team Productivity, Motivation & Results

As our remote project management efforts evolved we were increasingly focused on

  • Keeping our team members motivated
  • Delivering the same quality outputs as when co-located
  • Performing at optimum levels in terms of efficiency and productivity
  • Minimizing over dependence on team members
  • Reducing reworks
  • Not losing sight of the end goal

A lot of mess had to be cleared before we were in our happy spot as a team.

Delays in getting the expected results to our customers put immense pressure on our developers, QA, designers and customer success teams.

Communication got impacted as while customer success teams are with customers, the backend teams are waiting for further inputs. Why?

They are used to shoulder tap each other immediately to give the customers the best experience possible and things are usually faster over office internet J

Slow and intermittent internet issues were a major pain in the neck and did obstruct our speed.

Critical pieces of the puzzles used to get delayed or lost due to network outages, site speeds.

Note: The tools you rely to run your business are also important and must be supportive of your efforts.

So all in all here is a glimpse of our first few day:

  • Morning calls – who will do what
  • Call after call – to make sure we understood each other
  • More calls – to see if we all were clear of the timelines
  • Call again as information wasn’t well received, clear and or delayed
  • Where is the progress? What is the current status? SO? Call, chat, face time – AGAIN!
  • OHH it’s end of day I still do not have a deliverable or update ready for my customer.
  • Nothing doing – you are at home, nowhere to go – STRETCH.

Result – Dissatisfied employees, anxious customers, too much stress, no more fun!

It’s not like the team members were averse to going beyond during these times. But the overall process and way of doing things took its toll.

Teams kind of lost a bit of their winning streak, forgot how empowered they were when in office ad weren’t accustomed to the new ways of doing things.

Challenge#5 Work from Home Distractions

Experienced Remote teams were well posed to handle the current scenario.

But for the rest, they weren’t used to

  • distractions by home chore requests
  • frequent quick step-ins by family members into the work zone
  • unusual personal situations which loved ones in some cases
  • additional medical responsibility for some
  • no semblance of their usual work schedule
  • no cut-off time or segregation of work time and family time
  • customers not respecting your work schedule anymore

The list was just nerve-wracking. It was like every other team member had a problem of his own.

Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be our business, BUT now, every issue is everyone’s business.

So, how to deal with work from home distractions?

We tried to keep it simple, did do a few iterations. With everyone sharing in their experience and attempts at maintaining some sort of work-life balance.

It was interesting indeed.

Case in point

One of our team member, started making his worklist for tomorrow, TONIGHT!

He would get his list ready, identify dependencies, notify the other team member in advance of what is coming their way and when is the resolution expected. And go to sleep happily J

And start the day smoothly, minimized his phone calls, phase times by almost 50%.

All it needed was 30 minutes of “cool me time” for him to assess his today and set tomorrow perfectly!

Well, what was the driver or key motivator for him to improvise his day?

His daughter is used to him returning at a set hour in the evening and she just couldn’t understand why she is being deprived of her “papa time”.

Excellent motivator isn’t it!

Well, we have quite a bunch of such improvisations we implemented to stay strong as ever for our customers and as a remote team.

Cut to the chase!

How did we really turn into a complete & almost a successful remote team?

Square and fair, Orangescrum was at the heart of our remote team strategy more than ever.

We believe in eating our own dough. This time we went on an overdose

We were fairly complemented by Zoom, Slack, GSuite, Skype, Webex, Anydesk and Ultraviewer too!

Here is how it went!

  • Each one of us started putting his tomorrow’s task today.
  • Cut-off time was set to get to the closure of the day with proper task status updates.
  • Calls & discussions were streamlined with “required only” personnel basis.
  • Better task categorization, types, labels, status flows improvised for more clarity without the need of asking someone else.
  • Proper task dependencies were defined and relevant action owners notified.
  • Ad-hoc reporting requests were re prioritized
  • Cross functional meetings were setup between customer success, dev and product teams to get to the issues & dev list for the upcoming week. No more impromptu requests and issues.
  • More focus on self-serve mode and also evangelized this with our customers to make things easier for them and further reduce the turn-around times.
  • A strict no-stretch policy was enforced to add the much needed discipline on timely completion of assigned tasks
  • Each one of us was asked to pick-up the skills they wanted to learn and devote time for it and host learn and share sessions.

We are still adjusting to things falling through the cracks once in a while. But, yes, we are in a far stronger state today than the 3rd week of March, 2020!

The feeling is just awesome and for the most simplest of reasons:

  • Our team is more motivated than ever.
  • We realized we can do a very many things with minimum help.
  • It seemed more like a gentle push than a shove for us to get going when things were less than optimal.
  • Our customers surprised us with their insights, wisdom and encouragement as we continued to share our story with them during our interactions.
  • Lastly, though there were tough questions being asked of us, we did remain resilient in the interest of our customers, teams, our community and our company!

What’s your remote team challenges story?

I am sure insightful than ours. Can’t wait to hear!

Join us to get past your remote project management challenges!

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