You just received the all-company announcement; everyone is to work from home (WFH) for the foreseeable future.
You may have previously worked from home on the odd occasion. You have the desk, the WiFi and the company collaboration software. You managed to get by, but you always wondered if you had missed out a little, compared with your colleagues who were working from the office.
This time it’s different. Everyone is WFH. Before we always expected the “in office” team members would ensure all team activities were appropriately co-ordinated. Now everyone has a little dose of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured there is no shortage of advice on how to successfully WFH. Largely, the advice targets individuals, and how they might best set themselves up to remain productive. What’s missing is a focus on the ‘team’ and how a wholly remote team can remain productive.
We recently analysed more than 5,300 digital teams across 15 organisations to produce the world’s first benchmarking of Microsoft Teams. While these may not all be WFH teams, the most active were definitely ‘fully digital teams’; just like you will be. As a fully remote team, you will be relying on digital teaming software platforms to operate. From the highest performing digital teams we were able to identify what a “good” team looks like. In our benchmarking analysis we asked six Microsoft Teams implementation partners to identify the best and worst practices they had observed with digital teaming.
What will you notice when your whole team is WFH?
With all team members now working remotely you will notice some significant differences:
- Your team interactions will now become majorly asynchronous, more so than synchronous. While video meetings will always be possible, you will find it will never substitute for ‘in office’ synchronous interactions.
- Your manager/team leader will not be able to ‘manage’ the remote team to the same extent as the ‘in office’ team.
- If you are a ‘line manager’ you will find your responsibilities as a ‘communications hub’ will increase and your time for hands-on team management will reduce.
- Given the above, you will find your team will need to rely less on a single leader and more on self-direction.
- You will spend a lot more time in front of your keyboard. You will find yourself doing more online chatting and discussing, and less meeting and emailing.
- While the majority of your remote interactions will be with your local team, you and your team will need to participate in other company online forums and communities, to ensure your work remains aligned in a more dynamically changing business environment.
What can teams learn from SWOOP’s Microsoft Teams benchmarking?
One of the identified ‘best practices’ in SWOOP’s analysis of Teams was for the team to agree on its digital communication protocols up front. Which tools will they use? For example, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Outlook, SharePoint etc.? Within these tools when should email, chat, channel discussions, video calls, all-team video meetings be used? Where is shared content to be kept etc.?
Establishing your Digital Workplace
We identified that active digital teams take 4 forms online:
- Self-directed team – no obvious team lead
- Single leader team – interactions tend to be directed by a single member
- Community – a larger team that has a core of connected members
- Forum – a larger team directed by line management leaders
We recommend you establish your WFH team to be a “Self-directed” or a “Single leader” team. Below we provide some suggestions based on what we have found from the highest performing “Self-directed” or “Single leader” teams:
- Commit to a team type of Self-directed or Single leader. If you opt for Single leader, the leader must be highly ‘digitally present’ for the rest of the team.
- If your team does not have a formal “team space”, create one. For example, a team on Teams. This team space is where you will hold team discussions, share content and even schedule and hold team video meetings. This space is the team’s virtual home.
- Our benchmarking found a majority of team spaces had on average 50% of their members not participating. Typically, this was because digital teams were being extended beyond the local active team to include other stakeholders. Don’t do this. Only invite people who you would typically interact with on a daily basis. We found the most engaged teams had less than 10 members.
- If you opt for a Self-directed team, be prepared for higher levels of interactions involving ALL team members in two-way interactions. Our benchmarked best performing Self-directed team had each of its 25 members sharing, on average, 14 messages each day. We suggest in any day each team member should have made at least 1-2 shared messages. Our benchmarking also showed teams made heavy use of ‘chat’ for one-on-one interactions. Expect each member to make 10-15 chat messages each day.
- Let’s be clear about chat. Our benchmarking indicated chat was starting to replace email as the preferred mode of one-to-one communication. Unlike email, chat is not a system of record. If you come to look for that chat message you had a few months ago, there is a good chance you will not be able to find it. The new teaming system of record is your team space. Make sure important interactions are recorded here. As a contextual shared record, a team space can be better than email as a system of record.
- Our benchmarking found staff, on average, are members of three teams but are mostly active in one. Invariably one of the teams they are less active in will be a Forum or Community. Decide on what company Communities and/or Forums are of importance to your team and have your colleagues share membership of these shared spaces and report back in your local team space.
- Digital team spaces typically provide “channels” where particular work tasks for a subset of team members can be managed. How a team decides to “chunk” its work tasks can be somewhat of an art. Our benchmarking identified the full range from everyone working in one channel (no chunking), to more than 10 channels. On average, in the absence of a particular contextual need, four channels seems a happy medium.
- Teaming platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack are positioned to be a “collaboration hub” through which more specialised applications are accessed. Our benchmarking found effective teams were indeed accessing other applications through their teaming platform hub e.g. Excel, SharePoint, Planner etc..
Once you have established your digital team space it’s time to start using it.
Monitoring your team’s performance
Now you have established your digital team space and agreed to your collaboration protocols, it’s time to start getting active. Becoming a fully digital team is a challenge. Expect to go backwards before you start moving forward again, when your team first settles into its WFH life. Even though you may have been a well-established “in office” team, going fully digital will require you progress through the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing phases as a new digital team. We have written previously about this journey.
For those with access to SWOOP, you will find the following monitoring functions available under the ‘Team’ tab:
- Start to monitor your Team activity and channel activity as you start to build your digital profile.
- The User Activity widget will provide a quick overview of your shared team space activity. The Team Channel Activity widget provides a more in-depth view of how the team’s work tasks are being progressed inside the channels.
- Your Team interaction map provides a holistic picture of team member to team member interactions. Ideally you would like to see all members interacting in two-way (red lines) interactions.
Look out for members who appear to be disengaging and make an effort to digitally reconnect with them. If it’s you that looks to be disengaging, then look to build your interaction levels beyond chat i.e. shared messages.
- The Key Player Dependency widget provides a quantitative assessment of how well the load is being shared amongst team members. A Single Leader team would appropriately see a dominant most active leader at the top. An effective Self-directed team would see the scores more evenly spread amongst the team members.
For a self-directed team, look at members who may be over-connected (thick red lines connected to everyone). This is an indicator of collaborative overload. If it is you, look to see if other team members can reduce your workload.
As much as we value a highly cohesive team, there can be too much of a “good thing” when teams become “silos”; something that not only individuals, but whole teams, can be susceptible to in the WFH environment.
- The Diversity Index widget is designed to identify the degree to which your team members might be active in other team spaces e.g. communities or forums. A low diversity score indicates a tendency toward siloed behaviours. Too high a score might indicate a diminished focus on the local team activity. A score of around 50-60 is a good target.
We are in challenging times and no doubt you will experience times when you become frustrated by an inability to meet more face to face. You are not alone. We have identified many teams who have been in fully digital working mode by necessity; and therefore their practices and experiences are available to learn from.
To find out more about how high performing digital teams connect interact and perform, download our free Microsoft Teams Benchmarking report.