Before diving in to our tips that allow us to excel at working virtually at Genuitec, we thrive as a global, virtual organization. With over 16,000 companies using our software all over the world, we have optimized over the years how on to work together. Some of our policies may seem ‘obvious’ but clarity when virtual is the first lesson.
Collaboration (Virtually) is Key
One of the fallacies of full-time telecommuting is that you can’t have a strong team dynamic. While it is certainly possible to fall into that mode, successful organizations including our own build collaboration into their DNA. When communication or collaboration breaks down, it needs to be addressed quickly. Unlike at an office, you need to be aware that glaring down the hallway will have little effect! (Not that glaring is really ever an effective form of communication – unless you are sending a message to your cat/dog)
Known Schedules and Team Etiquette
Whether hiring a new team member, or adjusting schedules when the kids go back to school, everyone working together on a team should have a good sense of each other’s schedules. By coordinating on working schedules, you know when to schedule meetings at convenient times, and when something comes up, you know whether someone will be around. That said, exceptions happen — and that’s when Skype status is key.
Skype for Work and Water-Cooler
To break out of your personal silo, Skype can be a great way to start the day with a bit of informal salutations on a group chat. Just like an office, it is important to foster the non-work side of the conversations. Throughout the day, Skype then becomes the go-to for key coordination just like informally walking into another’s cube. The pitfall is letting Skype be the ONLY communication mechanism. More on that later.
Skype Status Usage is MANDATORY
As your team becomes dependent on Skype for coordination, in many ways, the Skype Status box works like your office door. If you are out at lunch, someone can look in your office and see you are out. With Skype, if you are eating, but left your Skype green, then your peers will assume you are around – and then the dreaded, “I sent a message 15 minutes ago and got no response, so how much longer do I wait…” scenario starts. This is your downfall. If you are productive, but you don’t respect the Skype Status, suddenly your peers can stop relying on you and even wondering if you are working hard.
We try to follow simple rules to Skype statuses:
- When ONLINE, you should respond to Skypes within a few minutes, ideally no longer than 5 or at most 10 minutes
- When you step away, set your status AWAY immediately (don’t wait for the timeout)
- If just popping out for a moment, set a message such as ‘brb’ or ‘quick errand’
- If for a longer period of time, give more details, such as ‘errand, back ~4:30pm’ or ‘dentist; back later’
- Setting expectations on return time greatly helps coordination when outside of your normal work schedule
- And the fun one… When you want to be left alone to think, don’t ignore Skype, simply go DND with a message like ‘deep thinking’, ‘hacking code’ or ‘recording video’ – and if planning to be DND for many hours, say that!
- Make sure to go INVISIBLE at the end of the day – Skype is now nice enough to queue messages so if you just shut your laptop, you’ll be online for the world – and now people are back to wondering where you are when they ping you
Avoid the Skype-Everything Pitfall
So now you’ve mastered Skype status and it becomes your new best friend, but hold on. Just because you CAN ping someone on Skype doesn’t mean you should. Just like your neighbor in a cube whom keeps shouting over the wall – people also need time to focus on their tasks at hand. Some of our teams try to have quiet times when its heads down for involved tasks that require attention, others that need to be interrupted, such as being told about a critical customer issue keep interruptions for the most impactful issues and defer to email for less urgent matters. Oh, and if you ask a question over email, you might just get a more thought out response!
Use Skype Groups Fastidiously
One nice feature of Skype is that you can have group chats and favorite those groups. By favoriting groups, you can have your common chats with those you collaborate with frequently. You might have a group with someone from sales, engineering and support to discuss a customer issue, or a group with your team members to work on design discussions. Using a limited number of well-thought-out groups helps avoid the spam-everyone approach of hitting people up and keeps history in places you are more likely to find – Skype search is far from perfect.
Google Hangouts and Docs
The final collection of tools we use for collaboration come from Google. With a cloud-first approach to document writing, putting content in Google Docs (Drive) is a great way to consolidate information when working virtually. Not only should documents go in the cloud, but organizing them in shared folders helps make sure that someone new joining can really get going fast.
For collaboration, we used to be fans of GoToMeeting but have found for the last year that HangOut provides a far superior experience. Allowing multiple people to share at once (or just share a single app on Mac) allow for a much smoother collaborative experience. The adhoc HangOut is a great way to break down those virtual barriers. With Google Calendar for scheduling, just click to add a hangout to each meeting and you’re up and gong without pain.
In Closing… Have a Plan when Working Virtually
At Genuitec, we follow the plan above, with some other less public tactics, to help ensure we are always productive. No matter whether you are looking at joining our team, or working virtually yourself, over communicate. The biggest breakdown? Not having any guidelines to work by!