What’s the digital version of “management by walking around”? Management by working out loud!
Building a good rapport with our colleagues is an essential aspect of working together. But when teams are distributed around the world, it’s not as easy to cultivate a high level of trust, and collaboration takes more effort. Working in a physical office together allows us to see and hear each other and helps us stay up-to-date by proximity. When we don’t have those everyday encounters, we have to actively inform our team members of the work we’ve done. The best way to do this is by “working out loud”.
Simply put, working out loud is a way of making our work visible to others in order to keep team members abreast of our progress. As Phil Montero states:
“I could be working hard all day–but you won’t know that unless I share it with you….”
Working out loud on virtual teams helps to:
- build trust
- foster camaraderie
- engage in continuous communication
- boost morale
- work more effectively and efficiently
In his book The five elements of Working Out Loud, John Stepper says:
“Working out loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that — when you work in a more open, connected way — you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”
There are different ways of working out loud on remote teams:
- daily stand-ups
- email updates
- keeping your messaging status updated
- recording meetings for people who can’t attend
Whatever method your team chooses, the purpose behind it is the same — to replicate the benefit of on-site proximity
People Enabler Luis Suarez adds:
“We need to adopt the mentality of “the more I share, the more powerful I become”. The interesting thing about working out loud through social networks is that you become a little more open, a little more transparent, and you give people better opportunities to figure out how they can trust you. This is not just for the sake of being social, it’s being social for the sake of getting the job done within your networks. We become more transparent and more clear in terms of what we do at work. It reduces the friction. That’s what most managers don’t understand: social networks are not just another broadcast communication channel. They are an engaging conversation channel. And conversation is a two-way street. Always! No excuses. That’s why it’s called CONversation.”
There are 4 components to working out loud on a remote team:
- CREATE A TEAM AGREEMENT. Getting everyone aligned on how to work together will help avoid basic miscommunications. The best way to get your team on the same page is to create a team agreement — a basic set of expectations for how to work together. This will outline what kind of information you share, how you communicate with each other, and how you know what each other is doing.
- MAKE COMMUNICATING EASY. Creating a high bandwidth environment will help to simulate the office online. In an office, we pick up on what’s happening by overhearing conversations or running into people. Virtual teams can replicate this kind of interaction with group instant messaging systems such as slack Slack.
- SET UP REGULAR FEEDBACK LOOPS. Understanding how people operate and feel can be challenging on any team and can be particularly difficult on remote teams where behavior is virtually invisible. Because of this, it is essential that remote teams have awareness systems put in place to mitigate various sources of process loss. Regular feedback loops are a powerful tool for measuring team effort and making necessary improvements.
- Try the 360-degree feedback process called merit money. Happy Melly uses a “peer-to-peer bonus system” called Merit Money. Each month team members are given a hundred points. Over the course of the month, they distribute points amongst the team – including the managers – along with reasons why. The amount people give and their reasons for giving are transparent to everyone.
- Take your virtual team temperature. There are numerous online tools for doing this, from sophisticated evaluations to simple clicks on smiley or frowny faces. The digital music service Spotify uses what they call a Squad Health Check Model. Every quarter or so they host regular workshops where teams (“squads”) evaluate themselves in eleven categories, such as product quality, teamwork, support, and fun. They then create a visual overview that summarizes all the teams’ data so they can prioritize the next steps. Visualizing data helps turn ciphers into stories.
- Host regular retrospectives. Regularly scheduled, facilitated feedback sessions for sharing progress, raising issues, and discussing solutions. At the outsourcing company Bridge Global IT Staffing both clients and employees are asked every week how satisfied they were on a scale of 0 to 10. Some companies use WE THINQ, which is a tool that allows anyone to give feedback, post a comment, or ask a question.
- Schedule one-on-one meetings. Checking in with each other one-on-one (as a manager and as a peer) helps build trust, and will often allow for the discussion of smaller, more informal, and/or more difficult topics.
- SHOW APPRECIATION. People want to feel appreciated for a job well done. Showing appreciation will boost company morale, while not showing it can actually lower morale. So when we don’t acknowledge contributions and accomplishments, there is a negative effect. There are plenty of online tools these days that we can use to say thanks to our teammates.
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Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Welcome back, everybody. Thanks for being here for another episode. This is episode number 125. Back in December, Lennie Noiles referred somebody to me on Twitter. And it was an interesting question and got me thinking. And the question was: “What’s the jargon for distributed teams’ digital version of management by walking around?” And I thought, “Hmm, what would that look like?” So I thought about it and I thought about it. And what I came up with was management by working out loud because of course in the digital world, we can’t exactly go walking around. But if we are working out loud, then a manager can dip in at any time, check on what’s going on, and have a chat with a remote worker. Now what this person on Twitter was looking for was a way to have a continual pattern of communication, water cooler chats, and ways of fostering comradery, all the things, of course, we want to do on a remote team, but maybe more from a management perspective.
So today’s episode is dedicated to management by working out loud. In essence, I think that there are four components to working out loud on a remote team, and the first one is creating a team agreement together. You’ve heard me talk about this over and over if you’ve listened to past episodes of the podcast. I go into a lot of detail in episode number 42. But creating a team agreement is just a way of creating a set of guidelines for how your team wants to work together. Now how it relates to management by working out loud is when you have a team agreement, everybody knows when everybody else is available. So you’ve either set core hours for your team or you just know each other’s rhythms and patterns because you’ve explicitly stated what they are to each other. This would, for example, make it really easy if a colleague of mine wanted to just check in. She knows that I’m gone on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to the personal trainer. But in the afternoons, I’m online, and she can come by any time to come and talk to me. When we’ve got a team agreement in place, the basic misunderstandings get out of the way, and it makes communicating easier.
This brings me to my second point of management by working out loud, which is make communicating easy. And it sounds like a very simple thing to say, but it is very complex on remote teams. How do we make a high-bandwidth environment where it’s just as easy to lean over and say, “Hey, Bob, how’s that marketing report?” As it would be if you were sitting next to somebody in an office. There are a number of different ways to do that. I cover it pretty extensively in both episodes number 36 and episodes number 73. So 36 is how to simulate the office online and 73 is how to create a thriving virtual office. Think of things like push to talk where you can just push a button and be talking to your teammate. That does exist. Also, think about group instant messaging systems, things like Slack and HipChat, a place where remote teams can come together and have group conversations asynchronously. Think about things like visualizing your work. How can we make what’s going on and what we’re working on visual to our teammates? Maybe it is some sort of online, sticky note tool. Maybe it’s something a little bit more complex like JIRA or pivotal tracker. It’s not really the tool that matters. What does matter is that you somehow, as a team, have a visual representation of your work that you can look at together. And of course a fantastic way of doing all of this… And if you want to make your life as a manager a lot easier, try Sococo. It’s a virtual office where you can actually see where your colleagues are and who’s talking to who. And you can virtually knock on somebody’s door and go in and talk to them as if you were working in an office together. If you’re a team that is working a lot of the same core hours or you have a lot of overlap with each other, a virtual office like Sococo is totally the way to go. Give it a try. Sococo.com, and tell them Lisette sent you. I get bonus points, and I love those.
Okay, so after we’ve created a team agreement and we’ve made communicating easy, we need to think about how we’re going to give each other feedback on a virtual team. So part of working out loud, of course, is feedback. And how do we set up those feedback cycles? Many of us that have worked in corporate jobs think of feedback as being sort of a top-down from managers to the employees. But on remote teams, we’re a much more flattened organization by nature, so we need to think about more 360-degree feedback because everybody is involved in the work and you need to think of it like what Pilar says. She thinks of it as a full body with muscles and organs and blood flow. Everything has to work with each other in order to continually optimize the system, so we’re going to do that with remote teams as well. The Happy Melly team uses the Merit Money system. You can just Google Jurgen Appelo merit money to find out all kinds of information about that. It’s a fantastic way of doing 360-degree feedback. But there are many, many, many ways out there. So whatever tool you use, whatever system you use, just make sure that you’re integrating the entire team in that feedback loop.
The other thing that’s important to do, of course, is to have retrospectives as a team. So getting together at least six weeks or so, Agile teams do it every two weeks or so, but at least every six weeks, for getting together and talking about what’s going well as a team, what’s not going well, what are the things that you’re learning, and what are the questions that you still have. These are just the very basic retrospectives. There are many different kinds of retrospectives out there. But again, the key is just putting this feedback loop in place. Along with feedback is the very important and fourth element of management by working out loud, and that is showing appreciation. Man, if there’s one thing that I see that can be improved in almost every company and that is super easy to do and nobody is doing it, that is showing appreciation. On remote teams, it’s a little bit harder because we can’t see the people. So it’s a little bit out of sight, out of mind. But you can use simple apps like kudobox.co to send a Kudo card via Twitter. So that’s a nice, public acknowledgment and an easy way to say thank you. And in episode number 53, I go into a whole, long list of perks and gifts for remote employees. You can make appreciation part of your retrospectives. I found that appreciation sometimes comes out during the unstructured times that we’ve scheduled for each other on the Happy Melly team. So what I mean by that is every week, we have 15 to 30 minutes of just unstructured time where we just hang out together as a virtual team. We don’t talk about work.
And sometimes those conversations are just a really great way of expressing thanks for certain things. Okay, so those are my four tips for management by working out loud, which is create a team agreement, make communicating easy, set up feedback loops, and don’t forget to say thank you.
If you’d like to learn more and dive deeply into any one of these areas, then I highly suggest that you check out collaborationsuperpowers.com and get yourself enrolled in one of the Work Together Anywhere workshops. You will come out with an entire roadmap for how your team can work online as if it were in an office together or if you’re transitioning from a co-located to a remote team. One of these workshops will make your transition so much easier.
If you found this podcast useful, if you’ve enjoyed listening, then please leave us a review on either iTunes or Stitcher. It does so much, and it’s a way of practicing your appreciation for a remote colleague, right? Hint, hint? Speaking of appreciation, a huge thanks to the awesome Nick, the podcast monster. He’s the one that makes this podcast sound so pro. You can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com. And another huge thanks for the dazzling Alfred Boland. He’s the guy that makes the Collaboration Superpowers brand shine so bright. You can hire him to make you look cool at bolanden.nl. All right, everybody. Until next week, let’s manage by working out loud and be powerful.