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How to keep productivity up when working remotely

by Michael Seipp, 17 April 2020

With a fundamental shift away from co-located working in recent months, one of the questions I have been asked more frequently is: “How do I keep the delivery pipeline going?” The greatest fear is that once everyone is working remotely, productivity will drop and nothing will get to ‘done’.

There are two factors at play here, so I find it helpful to separate these out into the practical aspects of productivity –  things like standups, meeting mechanics and ‘show and tells’ and the psychological aspect such as trust in teams, which is harder but by ensuring the former are in place, it can build and grow. 

The overriding factor in keeping productivity levels up during lockdown is trust. Many people are not used to this way of working and trusting that it will be effective in delivering digital products may take a little while – especially where the teams and/or organisations are relatively new. 

Simply telling leaders to ‘just trust’ in their teams is easier said than done. So let’s go through a few of the practical things that will hopefully help the teams to be productive and in so doing, build up that trust, and at the same time, forge a stronger bond between senior managers and their teams.

  • Daily Check-ins (Standups)

This is one of the shortest feedback loops a team can implement when remote working. When we aren’t co-located, there can be several days between team interactions. By having a daily check-in/standup using virtual conferencing software like Hangouts or Zoom, team members can update each other not only on what they are presently working on, but anything that may have changed in the last 24 hours. Which as we all know in digital products can be significant! But as we all know, life can get in the way sometimes, and where a team member isn’t able to attend the check-in, adding their update via a chat channel like Slack or IM will provide the same information – either immediately before or after the event. The key is the sharing of information with the team in a timely manner.

Standups and check-ins also allow leadership to utilise the ‘pull mechanism’, where they can listen to and observe a team’s progress and help unpick any blockers. For them, hearing about work-in-progress will give them the confidence that things are still moving.

  • Meeting Mechanics

There is a great deal of preparatory effort that goes into getting work ready for teams to execute. These meetings often require team members’ attendance, and if poorly run will be seen as a waste of time and will degrade cohesion over time. 

Meetings therefore, need an agenda, with a clear set of outcomes and a list of actions at the end (preferably with an owner and timings/deadlines). Ensure meetings are effective by following up with a note summarising the decisions, actions and owners – this will help drive progress.

That being said, remember to leave space for a general chat because that’s also an important part of day-to-day happenings when in an office. Having allocated time for socialising at the beginning or end of a meeting will help keep people on track, motivated and productive. Meetings may be the only social interactions some individuals will be having during this period – so delineating social versus work-related stuff is important. 

  • Show and Tell

We call them ‘show and tell’, some call them a ‘demo’; the simple act of showing working software is a key part of any team’s demonstration of value – and gives the team a healthy hit of serotonin by showing off what they have produced. It is an effective information radiator to other team members, adjoining teams, other business functions and leadership. In our experience, it is also one of the greatest forums for two-way feedback, allowing the teams to both ask and answer questions of the wider business.

While we believe these three things are important in a ‘normal’ working environment where teams are based in an office and interact in person on a daily basis, they are absolutely essential in the current climate. 

A key ingredient with all, is having a facilitator (watch out for a full article on this later by our Chief of Staff, Emma Hopkinson-Spark) – someone who acts as a ‘host’ and ensures there is relevant content, that the right people are invited and are attending and the meeting/check-in doesn’t fall off track

So, if you want to start or increase trust-building, your organisation should move towards doing daily check-ins, holding effective meetings and seeing working software at the Show and Tells. When this is happening regularly and consistently, productivity will reign. 

Trust me. 

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If you want to have a no-strings chat about delivery in more depth or any other worries you may have while your workforce is operating remotely then don’t hesitate to reach out and get in touch with Michael. We’re all in this together

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