Updated: Mar 22, 2020
The first casualty of work-from-home is team-work.
In the ancient times, when soldiering was a part-time work - generals feared dispersing their troops. Once they went home - other priorities would overtake and the general would have a hard time putting together a force cohesive enough to achieve anything.
There is no popular software tool out there that can fix this issue for us. We had to build our own. The primary reason is that every team is different. It is a cliche, but let me give the idea a new spin. For WFH, the two dimensions of a team's work come to fore - clarity of individual objective vs. velocity of communication required.
Clarity of individual objective refers to how sure each is about what she is supposed to achieve and how "well-known" that is. For example, a salesperson knows that her objective is to meet a particular sales target. She also knows that if she achieves her aim, the whole organization would understand and even appreciate her work.
Velocity of communication required refers to how frequently different team-members must engage with each other - verbally, electronically, face-to-face, etc. For example, a salesperson needs to be in front of customers often enough to meet her target.
Right? Wrong. Let us take a counterexample. First, let us consider someone selling very high-value deals such as powerplants. The final shape of the agreement is not there till it is, as it is an interplay of monetary, political, social, and other considerations. Both the clarity of individual objectives and the velocity of communication is low even though it is a sales job.
In WFH, we are making people more responsible for their objectives as well as the velocity of communication that their habit enables them. In-office, there is the presence of Boss, the environment, etc. These ensure that people maintain minimum performance levels in both the key areas. In the absence of concrete steps to fix these issues during WFH, things break down real fast.
Here are a few things that worked for us:
Everyone starts work at the same time, irrespective of when they end. Consequently, everyone is around to talk to each other out when they set the tone for the day. It ensures a minimum level of collaboration.
Everyone writes down their day's objective in a shared document. Everyone can see what everyone else is planning to do. This document provides a common purpose and ensures collective work. In case you think if it works for large teams - yes, it does. In the end, everyone works with a small set of people - a manager of managers would work with managers, and managers would work with a few team-leaders and so on.
Every day, for about 30 minutes, contributors to that shared document get together and discuss the progress and refine the document. These discussions also ensure that there is a public appreciation for work well done. Initially, such calls took about 1-2 hours, but over time, the duration came down to 10-15 minutes.
The view provided is very simplistic. The document could be a task-list. Furthermore, we built a lot of tools to facilitate the three ideas, and it worked for us. We run a 100% work-from-home company and yet can develop software - and do CXO hiring.
To understand the underlying factors of work breakdown fully, please refer to our previous post- Corporate life in the age of Coronavirus. Workforce @ Home - Key issues?
To know more about why I am qualified to talk about work from home, please refer to this post.