Top five learnings from long-term remote work

Around 10 months ago, the HEAL team transitioned from traditional office set-up to complete remote work overnight as the national COVID-19 situation started getting worse. Despite strict physical meeting restrictions, our team was able to keep connected with daily online meetings, team retrospectives, demos and more. After nearly a year of working from home, testing, evaluating and fine-tuning, we gathered our key learnings for productive remote work.

The HEAL journey with total remote work started by learning how to run effective online workshops. Check out the tips here.

After nearly a year of working from home, testing, evaluating and fine-tuning, we gathered our key learnings for productive remote work.

1. Compensate for reduced encounters with daily online meetings

Since face-to-face discussions and daily chit chat is no longer plausible, it is beyond important to have regular meetings to know what each team member is working on. Finding a good rhythm for meetings allows people to change ideas often enough but also to have quiet concentration time to carry out their primary tasks. At HEAL, we defined two main types of regular online meetings: Brief, 15-minute daily calls keep the whole team connected whereas longer retrospectives held every two weeks allow everyone to discuss any issues they have had during the remote working, and to brainstorm ways to better work remotely.


2. Choose the tools based on your team’s needs

Choosing the right online tools from the start becomes far easier if the team members’ needs are specified before beginning to browse the limitless tool options out there. Also, spending some time to pre-plan ways of working and drafting simple, intuitive structures before creating folders helps mitigate the chaos of sudden changes and creates consistent workflows. At HEAL, we succeeded with two solutions: Microsoft Teams and Miro. MS Teams provides basic remote work essentials such as video calls, meeting recording and file storing. It also suits project-based work as it allows creating project-specific structures and communication flows. For creative work, we chose Miro, a whiteboard platform that offers a set of tools perfect for inspiration, concept creation, visualisation, wire-framing and others.


3. Split the projects into smaller daily tasks to remain focus

The HEAL team was lucky enough to have had the habit of working remotely on a weekly basis so people were familiar with remote ways of working and most online tool features. Of course, being 100% remote typically requires a more specific alignment of common rules and structures. Splitting the workload into short-term daily goals makes it considerably easier to prioritise and schedule own work.


4. Define common terminology

In a multicultural and interdisciplinary work community, it is also good to define the terminology right from the start. Among the HEAL team, some things were initially talked about with different words which caused some confusion in the beginning – at the office, this is easier to avoid as people discuss and hear others’ discussions on the daily basis. Fortunately, we quickly learned that clearly defined terminology leads to less confusion, fewer mistakes and misunderstandings!


5. Face-to-face meetings boost inspiration

Developing remote ways of working evidently calls for a different discipline than working from the office. At home, people can typically work longer periods without interruptions, so often performing pre-defined, straightforward tasks seems to be more efficient than in an open office space. When it comes to creative work such as brainstorming and problem-solving, face-to-face interaction encourages discussion and inspiration. Although it is never possible to fully replace human contact with a screen, using video makes a big difference to a traditional call and also creates the feeling of togetherness. Additionally, whether you chose or were forced to go remote, it is invaluable to try to arrange some time together as a team in person if the situation allows. 

At the office, it is natural to celebrate the team’s successes and praise people for their achievements. When physical meetings are not allowed, those kinds of celebrations are easily forgotten. Hence, it is important for remote work communities to actively plan festive events and think of new ways to praise people for their efforts and celebrate successes, even the smaller ones, together. 

In summary, the pandemic has changed how we work for good. The current ways will keep evolving as the teams and work change in the future as well. It will be important to keep one key point in mind: always remember to reflect and see how you can improve your organisation. 

Photos: Unsplash and HEAL