How to manage virtual teams – best practices for remote-working during the coronavirus outbreak

Covid-19 | Covid-19 Advice | Employment & Skills | How To | National
Aly Blenkin and Ellie Ereira, co-founders of Pivotal Act.
Aly Blenkin and Ellie Ereira, co-founders of Pivotal Act.

Covid-19 can spread from person-to-person contact (P2P), making ‘social distancing’ an effective tool in combating the outbreak. This will involve more businesses having staff work remotely wherever possible, but what impact will a mass move to remote working have on UK businesses?

Ellie Ereira & Aly Blenkin, co-founders of Pivotal Act, which using technology to tackle social, humanitarian and environmental issues, offer their tips on home-working best practice for Business Leader. 

A YouGov survey found that only 45% of employees in the UK report working to the same standard when working from home, while only 15% believe working from home helps them to produce a higher standard of work.

For the many businesses across the UK that may be unaccustomed to remote working, we’ve written up a list of best practices which we use at Pivotal Act, part of VMware, to remain productive.

Refine your online conference abilities

Modern working practices largely rely on collaboration and pairing up in order to be productive. If team members are remote, webcams and headphones are a must for ensuring people remain engaged and establish a sense of togetherness.

However, people can be uncomfortable on webcam, and if working in locations with bad connectivity, it might not even be possible.

This may result in team members becoming averse to video streaming while on conference calls, but it’s crucial to do so where possible to ensure a sense of trust and connection is maintained within the team.

Clearly, being able to see and hear team members is a far more engaging method of communication than e-mails and IMs, but it’s also crucial for ensuring staff can work openly and transparently together as well.

On the other hand, constant remote pairing all day can be tiring, so it’s important to take breaks, and also identify tasks that team members can work on their own.

It’s helpful for team members to let others know if they’re planning on ‘deep work’ for a period of time and reset their available status to ‘do not disturb’.

Tools to bring collaboration online

Having the right set of tools can allow teams to work well collaboratively and simultaneously.

Miro, for example, is a fantastic virtual whiteboard tool that allows users to collaborate on activities they would usually use a whiteboard and post-it notes for, such as synthesising research, deciding on team priorities, outcomes-based roadmaps and team goals.

Other tools, such as Slack, are perfect for managing teams and/or individual projects. Slack is user-friendly, easy to set up and, most importantly, is available across a wide variety of devices and operating systems, helping to ensure everyone on every device has equal access.

Essentially, application-based collaborative tools need to effectively virtualise the typical environment found within the office.

While in-person collaboration has huge benefits for building trust and collaboration, software tools can go a long way to replicating this, whether it’s brainstorming in front of a whiteboard, catching-up in the breakout area or pairing up on a single document.

Moving forward remotely

Social distancing will be key to protecting staff from Covid-19 and helping to limit the spread of the outbreak overall.

Disruption to global supply chains and changes in consumer behaviour already poses a huge risk to UK (and global) businesses, so following the steps outlined above will be crucial in ensuring this impact isn’t exacerbated by issues of low worker productivity as well.

The right tools, methods and practices are at businesses’ disposal to virtualise the office environment today and provide a working alternative to regain some control until the situation has stabilised.

The Pivotal Act perspective

When designing and building software for the social impact and humanitarian sectors, it’s important to research as much as possible in context.

This can be hard when you have a remote team, but is something we strongly recommend.

We always aim to go where the users are, to really understand their challenges and the environment where they would use the solution you’re building.

We aim to research and get feedback from users regularly, usually every two weeks, so if traveling to them that frequently isn’t possible, we would recommend at least one to two in-person trips, and then using calls with webcams for interviews.

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