by Vladimir K. Dudchenko
Remote or hybrid work is a form of work organization that is at the same time both popular and enforced by eternal circumstances.
In this article, I will use my own practical experience to show how it can be organized.
At SoftBCom, we have been using this approach for quite some time. Even though we started long before the pandemic, it certainly accelerated the movement towards remote work — and removed any doubts about whether it is actually the right way to go.
In what follows, we will look at remote work and its characteristics on several levels.
1. The team
Good experts are rare and valuable; in a sense, they are like gold nuggets that could be anywhere — perhaps in another city or country. Their value is in no way diminished by their remoteness.
A truly high level of qualification can only be found in people who are highly self-motivated (as is the case with our team). But with such a team, there is no need for a constant monitoring of their efforts.
Just who is self-motivated? People who are interested in life, who want to create something or simply do something completely original. Such people don’t care where they work — in an office or from home. The only problem is that in addition to such top experts, there are also less motivated employees whose daily activities need to be effectively monitored and controlled. There are tools for such control, and we are currently in the process of implementing such systems for our customers.
2. Task allocation
The next challenge is organizing teamwork effectively: creating large-scale projects that require a joint team effort. And in this respect, remote or hybrid work does not seem to bring anything new at first sight: You have to break down the task into fragments in a balanced way so that the experts solve those subtasks they are familiar with and understand. However, this is not enough. Certain cognitive challenges must already be taken into account when defining new tasks. These may involve project peculiarities that require additional effort in execution; or it may be necessary to expand the knowledge and skills of the team or individual colleagues.
The allocation as well as the associated coordination should be handled by a special manager — let’s call him the team leader. Team leaders have a broader role than other managers, because you have to keep the assigned tasks in mind (or in front of your eyes) when working remotely — you can’t see the employees, after all. This requires a certain amount of concentration, and even spatial thinking.
So we are already tackling the organization of remote work, specifically the allocation and coordination of individual employees’ tasks. In doing so, we have found that remote work in itself does not bring any new problems. What, then, is the challenge?
Above all, remote work might lead to a lack of communication and personal interaction. In IT in particular, you also have to take into account the mentality of the employees. Many of them are introverts; they often don’t like small talk and are not always open to direct communication with colleagues, even in the office. But this horizontal communication plays a crucial role in the effective implementation of projects.
It is important to exchange opinions, give tips, generate hypotheses and share ideas at work. Managers need to recognize obstacles and understand when a task needs to be delegated — or perhaps when a different expert should be brought in for implementation.
As a result, remote work requires a more intensive communication process that involves both analyzing the tasks that need to be done and optimizing the processes. And this intensification has a positive effect on the overall result — even compared to conventional office work.
How, then, can we intensify communication? To find out, let’s take a look at different types of communication and their efficiency. Of course, the interaction between the team leader and the person performing the task is fundamental. The experts also interact with each other (often on the suggestion of the team leader); these meetings are also fundamental, though less important.
There are also several types of group meetings:
- News and status updates (as well as technical presentations). A necessary and effective type of communication. There are meetings involving several presentations; they are a multidirectional exchange, usually between two or more teams which are not particularly familiar with each other’s activities. Such meetings are unavoidable, but if they are frequent and prolonged, they indicate the lack of defined agendas, clear plans and normal channels of low-level communication between the teams.
- Individual reports to management at a group meeting, like a presentation at a conference call. A completely unnecessary form of communication, a bureaucratic exercise that should be avoided at all costs. Many years ago, I worked for a large company whose chief engineer liked to bring together about 50 middle and lower managers and have them report, one by one, on the achievement of their product plans. I always fell asleep at such meetings; the challenge was to wake up when my turn came.
- Brainstorming is a collaborative discussion about a problem, aimed at finding a solution. It shouldn’t be overused — but when employed purposefully, it’s a great way to communicate, stimulate creativity, and make progress on difficult tasks.
In larger meetings, which these days usually take the form of conference calls, many participants are busy with other things at the same time and only listen to the speaker very selectively. They are simultaneously writing emails, reading documentation and often googling for materials on the subject at hand. And this is actually a great feature of teleconferencing! In the past era, when people in suits sat around an oval table, this was unimaginable.
Nowadays, a meeting can also be accompanied by messaging between individual participants, making the interaction even more intensive. This is also possible in the office, but to a lesser extent.
Remote work has changed our lives dramatically — and I think it will bring us many more surprises. Leading a small, highly motivated team is one thing; managing hundreds of employees in a large contact center working from home is something else. Most importantly, however, distance is no longer an issue. You can hire just the right people for your business, no matter where they live — while getting the most out of their creativity and ensuring a pleasant working environment. And don’t forget that you’ll save on rent, because large, expensive offices in central locations are no longer a necessity.
With smartly organized workflows (and the use of appropriate software and hardware tools where necessary), remote work can now be more effective than traditional office-based work in many areas of business.