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Working Without Borders: Tips And Tools For Building Effective Distributed Teams

If you’re in the process of implementing remote work for yourself or for your team, you have come to the right place. In the last article, we focused on demystifying what makes work efficient and the conditions for quality relationships in the workplace. Here, we’ll provide tools and practical advice to leverage the new context that distributed teams offer. Instead of trying to replicate the traditional office, let’s look at how to use new conditions to improve the overall work experience for both businesses and individuals.

1. Working around the clock

One of the first questions that people think about when setting up distributed teams is a time schedule for work – who is available and when depending on their time zones and preferred working hours. Having people join the team from different locations can be approached in two different ways. One is expecting that everyone will adjust to the prevailing majority or to the boss’ working hours. Another one is to discuss everyone’s working hours and preferences during the hiring process. Instead of expecting that the hired team simply adjusts to the project owners’ preferences, it is fairer and more useful in the long-term to discuss everyone’s working preferences and style of work during the hiring process.

Here are some factors to consider during this process:

The advantage of having people in different timezones is being able to implement relay style of working. One can continue working on the project from where the previous person ended. Some project management styles e.g. Kanban use this kind of working system to improve efficiency.

Trust and mutual accountability enhance the process with everyone taking ownership of their tasks and helps others achieve their tasks.

Team members can agree on alternating shifts to make sure that a particular person isn’t continuously disadvantaged due to their timezone. This builds the sense of collective gain through collective pain, instead of concentrating the difficulty on either of them.

Most of the communication in the team can be done through calling and instant messaging. Modern communication tools have been designed to be fast and flexible, which often makes them replace email or physical meetings.

You might have come across work messaging services such as Slack, HipChat or Discord. In a physical office, these often prevent people from having to get up from their chair to discuss issues in person. But for distributed teams, it’s a different story. Creators of messaging tools realise that today’s workforce is moving away from company headquarters and that people are moving closer to wherever life’s happening. Hence we have communication tools that support precisely this shift.

Tips for handy apps for distributed teams

Wherever you are on your journey to effectiveness through collaboration, an unlimited set of tools and technology designed to improve remote work have been trending recently. We would like to share a few of our favourites with a hope that you might find them useful:

Project management: Trello, Asana, Jira, Basecamp

Communication: Slack, Zoom, Hangouts, HipChat, Discord

Design: InVision, Mural, RedPen

Software development: Atlassian tools, Github, Gitscrum

Virtual whiteboards: Real-time Board

Copywriting: Penflip, Google Docs

Time recording: Toggl, Hours

2. How can milestones help everyone?

As a business owner, imagine that you only pay people when they deliver the agreed outcome. As a contractor, imagine knowing exactly what you’re being paid for and focusing on just that. Days of pointless sitting in the office just to clock some hours are long gone.

Paying per project encourages people to be highly motivated, with less procrastination. This helps people to get work done effectively and then they can move on to other things.

The milestone approach has the potential to increase the quality of work delivered and save precious resources. Working on the basis of project/milestone fees allows workers to become better acquainted with the velocity of their work. It helps them to better estimate the cost of their time. A set sum of money paid at the end of the accomplished task, or in several installments paid upon delivery of sub-tasks, gives them a sense of security, which may not be common in freelance work. Yet in some relationships, parties prefer to engage on an hourly basis or they use a combination of milestones and hours. This makes sense particularly with tasks and roles that cannot be precisely measured in chunks of output, e.g. advisory and management roles.

3. Establish your team’s purpose

It is important for any team to clarify purpose and everyone’s roles. In the previous article, we discussed the need for clear communication. In distributed teams, it is imperative that everyone knows their role and isn’t left hanging, on their own. That could cause alienation and hinder progress. Defining team purpose and the individual’s role in the team is actually a brilliant opportunity for everyone to know that their contribution is vital. Working on purposeful tasks helps to increase productivity and engagement within the team. Having a clearly defined role will come handy when tracking and evaluating performance and helping people grow and optimise team composition and processes.

4. A small team is a good team

The effectiveness and efficiency of smaller teams need to be cultivated. As teams get larger, the focus on each individual gets divided. Some may think that more people working on a project is better for collaboration. But the opposite is true for teamwork. Decision making, collaboration, and communication are at the centre of an effective work environment, and smaller teams are the best to promote this.

Here are some important factors to consider when forming teams:

The two pizza rule for teams is brilliant for maximizing the effectiveness of teams. The idea is to limit the size of the team to a size where you can feed them with just two pizzas; limiting the size to within eight members or less.

When teams get too large, you face the danger of groupthink and other factors that act as an impediment to effectiveness and freedom for individual contribution.

In remote work, we have no room for further alienation from our team members because we’re already far apart from each other. That’s why we need to work in a way that brings us closer, not further. Therefore, having a small team is the way to go.

Numerous studies that date all the way back to 1931 (The Ringleman Effect) up to recent times (The LEGO Study) show that smaller teams make for more efficiency than larger ones.

Working from home, working from the comfort

Many speak about the work-life balance. But to create a balance means to compromise between two seemingly competing sides of a spectrum. How can we do so with work and life literally merging in our homes? We may spend our free time replying to work emails and our time in the office browsing social media. This trend has been growing during the last two decades as technology has taken such a leap. This has brought us to the place where we must rethink how the two can coexist seamlessly, feeding off each other, rather than competing against each other.

It’s not natural nor healthy to divide ourselves into work and life. Years ago, when the industrial age came into full bloom, we drew a line between work and personal life and we associated work with lots of negatives like the regime, obedience, control, and mistrust. As we isolated working hours and the workplace from the comforts of our home and our personal time, we moved into cities, and even closer to artificially built industrial zones. That’s how it remained until today.

Studies cited by Harvard Business Review and Forbes prove the benefits of working in a place that we enjoy and where we can also pursue other activities that are fulfilling to our lives – such as socialising with family and friends, exercising, and spending time outdoors. The benefits are mainly in the domains of efficiency, productivity, mental and physical health, and wellbeing.

There isn’t however much proof of daily commute being beneficial to our lives, or the four corners of an office being particularly stimulating or inspiring. In fact, these are certainly negative factors that keep us from productivity in our work.

Many of those who have adjusted their way of living, including reimagining why, how and what they work on, benefit from working on things they enjoy in places where they feel comfortable. They are able to both produce valuable work and live their lives. It’s not a surprise that often these are closely intertwined.

Find more inspiration about leadership, management, and wellbeing in the creative age visit BizTreat’s Youtube channel and our website biztreat.com.

Working Without Borders: 3 Key Rules For Working Effectively In Distributed Teams

It was just a while ago that we switched our weekly meeting to a group video call. On that call, we had two people meet with us from other countries. We also collaborated on three different documents shared over the internet. Since that call and the first couple of documents shared virtually, we have grown into a fully distributed team, having colleagues in Australia, Philippines, Singapore, London, Prague, New York, and Columbia. We use a number of software that helps us get things done and collaborate effectively. 

 What started with that confusing first call between a group of people who wanted to gain more freedom at work, was, in fact, the first building block of a strong team. A team that’s working together seamlessly, feeling connected, yet far away.

Distributed teams redefine everything that dominates traditional workplaces. In doing this, they pave the way to reimagine what we consider to be efficient work. This concept rethinks the very basics of work including working hours and pay. It spills deep into the motivation and purpose of the team.

Fears and opportunities

The number one fear that some point to is that this experience won’t sufficiently replicate the physical office experience. But that’s actually not even the question here. Why replicate the old when we can approach the same space from a completely new perspective?

Many still think of remote work as secondary, limited or supplementary. Companies are struggling with the needs of their employees wanting more family time and seeing it as an obstacle. Employees prefer to work from the more comfortable environment of their homes rather than the four corners of an office. Many are starting to realise that working in open spaces isn’t as beneficial as they expected. Furthermore, the mass migration to cities for work, which we experience in the Industrial era is starting to lose its appeal in today’s age.

Virtual work actually offers huge advantages in the following ways: it helps us to access talent regardless of geography, it allows people to work where they feel most comfortable and as we’re going to argue in this article, it gives the opportunity for new, more mature kind of work relationships built on communication, efficiency, and trust rather than control.

Principles of collaboration

 Let’s explore how to open the door to new opportunities through remote work and explore ideas on how to save time, money and to achieve effectiveness and productivity in teams.

1.    High trust

The foundation for success in any type of teamwork is trust. When people are not meeting in person, they might encounter the impressions of a “black box”. This gives us the feeling that we lack the knowledge of how others are handling their tasks. In an office, we tend to get the impression that having everyone under one roof ensures that they are all being productive.

Being physically present doesn’t ensure complete focus and engagement. In both cubicles and shared offices, people may be completely disconnected from their work. How many times have you find yourself mind-travelling outside the office and need a breather while having to keep sitting in that chair?

Mutual trust in the fact that everyone is able to manage their time, energy and abilities is the beginning of success. When there is mutual trust, here is what happens: Individuals work with autonomy, people take responsibility for their tasks, and results are achieved. At this point, everyone matures and cooperates in a professional manner. 

When trust is low, control is high. This makes leaders micromanage and patrol the halls. But when trust is high, leaders give the people space to do the work they need to do. This alleviates the micromanaging and controlling nature of leaders and allows the employees to work with a greater sense of freedom, which also allows more creativity. This requires team members to realise that their time and abilities are assets they transfer to the employer and that they are responsible for their most efficient use.

2.    Communication and asking for feedback

When employees fail to clearly understand what is expected of them, it will cause delays in the whole project. In situations where everyone works alone, it is impossible to satisfactorily complete a job without understanding the assignment. Nothing can be hidden or swept under the carpet. On the contrary, there is a need to define, agree and share work in the virtual space with transparency. Most of all, the owners of the project must explicitly express what they are after. 

In this case, there’s never enough communication and it should come in many forms. Already in the early stages of our work, it’s beneficial to share our work in progress to get feedback and to make sure that we are on the right track. 

Effective communication should take place verbally, both in written form and through visual demonstration. 

3.    Less time working brings more results

 Efficiency is indirectly correlated with time. The less time we spend doing our work, the more effective we become. Of course, we may not optimise everything towards efficiency, but it is important to point to the stereotype of fixed working hours and the waste of energy and time due to the expectation to be always available and always ready.

In shared offices, we are more likely to be a subject to micromanagement and distractions. We deal with meetings and colleagues, who are entering our space during the course of the tasks on which we need to focus. Because of this, the time we spend executing a task extends radically and we’re more susceptible to making mistakes.

Certainly, it is possible to mitigate some of these problems by working remotely. When trust and communication are optimized, we have the conditions to work when we are most productive and where we work best. Why not empower our teams with such efficiency? If we want to achieve efficiency apart from these factors, it is necessary to re-evaluate how we manage our own energy in relation to the work we perform.

When we need a break, we can be stimulated by taking a walk, playing a sport, having time alone or with family. It is important to have the opportunity for such diversions. After such a transition, we usually return to work with renewed enthusiasm – we are better attuned, more involved, empowered with new ideas and energy which fuels our creativity.

If you are considering remote work or you are partly working this way, you will definitely deal with questions about timezone, pay for work that is not done in the conventional 8-hour intervals, team management, or the specific instruments and tools that allow you to fully leverage the newly-discovered freedom and to make this freedom available for your team as well. 

In the next post: We look at various factors and tools that help us to be efficient when working and collaborating remotely. 

Design thinking on the beach

How we solved a real world challenge at a company offsite

Company offsite. The idea of a week spent working from a beach house sounds more than appealing. But before you swap your boardroom for an ocean view in a hope that your team will produce magic over pitchers of sangria, you might want to consider the following. Company offsite is a very real investment opportunity. It’s capable of generating more value and impact than the whole year of working around the clock, when done right. The trick is to turn the distraction-free, focused time of your team into the best innovating, creating and learning exercise of your life – while having fun. All you need is to equip yourself with the right set of tools and a few how to’s. There is a getaway. And then, there is a getaway with a purpose.

We’d like to share a case study about supercharging a business opportunity for our client – combining powerful techniques, facilitation and inspiring environment – and tell you how you can do it too, in only 5 steps. 

Defining the challenge

Only a few months ago, we run our pilot retreat program inviting a handful of businesses to join for free. On top of building BizTreat’s proof of concept we had the privilege of hosting a variety of global companies. Having been thrilled about running the pilot in our home location Siargao island, we decided to tackle one of the local business challenges – a fundraiser for Filipino surfers to help them compete in international surfing competitions.

company offsite

Surfing is a huge deal in the tiny island of Siargao. In fact, only thanks to surfing the island has roads, beach resorts and direct flights from Manila today. Despite all recent developments and increased popularity of the tropical paradise, local islanders still suffer from the tag “developing society” and rightly so. No matter how talented and motivated to surf the local kids are, majority can’t afford more than sharing one surfboard amongst 10 of them. Despite this hardship, few local surfers were lucky to attract sponsors from resort owners in the island and train daily. First opportunities to attend surfing competitions opened up and humble Siargaonons made it to world surfing league rankings.

There is nothing more encouraging for a closely knit community than success of its members. The local surfers became legends. They would serve as a point of respect and they gained authority as ambassadors for issues from environment protection to healthcare to well-being to sustainable tourism. Their voice would be heard on the island and beyond. That opened up entirely new world of possibilities for many. We were curious to learn how this magic could be reinforced.

Getting everyone on the same page

First step was helping everyone align towards the goal and ensure collective understanding of the challenge. We achieved this by drafting a project charter. After outlining context of the case study, Ian Sermonia, owner of Harana Surf Resort defined our goal: “We need to raise 320k pesos by May 12th, so that our four surfers can be sent to competitions in Sumbawa, Roti and Taiwan.” Certain activities to achieve this goal were already under way. Ian and few other key sponsors managed to get a handful of local businesses and individuals on board and they planned out a series of fundraising events in Siargao. Yet, as it often is with operations running at the speed of light and daily tasks pouring in, Ian and the stakeholders kept wondering. Were the right opportunities being leveraged? Was there anything else that could help hit the target?

design thinking

As soon as we began talking about the audience of this project, an apparent gap emerged. It became clear that there was an underserved opportunity in terms of people who had interest in supporting this type of good cause in Siargao, but who were not physically present on the island at the time of the locally organised events. Having brought together a combination of experts in business analysis, social media, community management and nonprofit management really helped connect the dots and open up the opportunity space. Our main mission became a better definition and understanding of who the potential contributors were and how to attract them. Opting for a user-centred design research was a no brainer.

User-centred design on the beach

We devised a quick battle plan made of drawing customer journey mapdefining personas and running customer interviews. This helped us get away from linear thinking and begin thinking in mind maps and connections as often promoted by IDEO, the home of design-thinking approach. The initial activities helped us to understand who the audience was, where it was coming from, how these people were thinking, what media they were using, what their interests they had and so on. Lots of useful pieces of information and inspiration for coming up with ideas how to best attract this crowd. Right after a fresh, locally sourced fruit salad we sank into a rapid ideation exercise. In a 20 minute session we managed to produce over forty ideas for accelerating the campaign. It was time for everyone to decompress in a yoga practice.

After the yoga, we gathered the whole group again and synthesised the results of everyone’s work, which immediately emerged as newly defined opportunity areas for Ian and his team to take away. The focus, which people put into the workshop transitioned into excitement as we were wrapping up and talking about implementation of the new ideas. People were committing on the spot to help with individual pieces of the campaign, that’s how thrilled they got about the ideas they achieved to produce themselves and with their peers. General sense of impression around the ‘looking at things from a different perspective’ and the actionable results it produced was felt among the attendees.

“The insights we got from the other people in the retreat were very diverse due to the fact that everyone came from different walks of life and had different expertise. The setting, being at a beach side, hearing the waves wash to shore and feeling the gentle sea breeze on your face helped in coming up with creative solutions. Definitely out of the box experience. Productive and fun at the same time!”

Ian Sermonia, Harana Surf Resort

As a final note, you’d be pleased to know that many of the ideas generated at our workshop were applied in the months that followed. The local surfers are now competing all around Asia and the wave of stoke is spreading throughout the island with every successfully ridden wave.

Our experience faciliating offsites on the beach has motivated us to consolidate useful tips for planning and organising offsites. Check them out in our next post 5 things to consider when planning a company offsite.

Before 5am

Richard Branson once said that waking up very early in the morning was key to success. When I first heard that, I was almost ready to give up on being successful. Then I experienced a sunrise surf for the very first time.  

I would look out the window, my eyes still half asleep, and the sound of morning birds singing through the air. I would then dart for the beach rain or shine, grab the vax and put a layer on my board to prevent from slipping. It was as easy as that!

Driving through Catangnan village early in the morning feels like travelling through a completely different place. The village is usually very vibrant in the evenings, full of chatter, the smell of charcoal-grilled fish and homemade spices filling the streets, kids running from one side to another, dogs barking at anything and everything. But early mornings in Catangnan are different, inhabited by only a few people here and there wearing humble smiles as they open their stores. The life and energy of Catagnan returns in full force when you get to The Boardwalk. The local surfers are never quiet. “Chana, chana!” Let’s go! It’s only 5am and yet they seize the day with not a minute to lose, their spirit and excitement nothing less than inspiring.

BizTreat

It’s happening. The sky begins to brighten . The late evening blues turn to a pinkish orange brushstroke on a nightly canvas. The sun peers through the clouds and its warm rays inject life into your veins. Feeling the morning sun on your skin when walking on the boardwalk is life-changing, it leaves you feeling rejuvenated and recharged.

Our steps lead to the tower first to check the waves. How’s the swell? How many seconds period? How are the waves breaking? Ready? Chana!

As I move through the water the coolness merges with the warmth of the pacific sun, my gaze fixed on the challenge ahead, a wave rising and curving on the horizon. I begin to strategize my first surf with a fresh perspective: plan, execute and prevail.

Before 5am

This might seem like any other morning workout in a beautiful environment. But it’s only 7:30am! And guess what? I’ve already managed to surf, have my bowl of fresh island fruits and go through today’s work plan. On top of it all, I feel energized, active, awake, alert and the soothing yet exhilarating sunrise surf has left me ready to take the day by storm. Organised and motivated, I’m ready to get started! And if that isn’t the perfect recipe for productivity, what is?

Your Guide to Working Life

The world of work is full of trials and tribulations. Everyday office challenges can be scary, unpredictable and both emotionally and mentally taxing. That’s why companies everywhere need to equip themselves with the knowledge, tools and confidence to overcome the daily grind, whatever it may be. BizTreat Blog is a space created to provide just that. 

BizTreat’s island-based philosophy is conceptualized entirely on what it means to survive in a difficult environment. Imagine living on a remote island. What kind of everyday challenges would you have to deal with? Navigating working life isn’t any different. The Future of Work promises us radical changes in jobs and in the way we’ll manage human capital. That’s why we combine intelligence from both the environments and immerse you in smaller, more remote places and their cultures while also offering you access to conversations with global experts on innovation in productivity, performance and creativity.

Why that combination in particular?

Our mission at BizTreat is to constantly enhance workplace dynamics, however we also love exploring areas and activities not commonly associated with work. Our passion for and our philosophy on productivity and creativity-based work life is just as inspired by travel, sports, entertainment and spending time with our close ones.

Whether you’re considering joining our retreats that unite these elements, if you’ve previously attended a retreat, or if you’re just looking for a little bit of inspiration, we’re thrilled to welcome you to the BizTreat Blog! A place for sharing waves, case studies and knowledge – essentials of a healthy work culture of the future.

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