How to Organize a Team of Remote Knowledge Workers (Article 2 of 2)

Written by PortMA

How to Organize a Team of Remote Knowledge Workers (Article 2 of 2)

Cloud-based tools don’t make the collaborative team, how the team engages those tools does.  Here are some thoughts on how to make sure your team stays on the same page, regardless of where they station their station.
It’s one thing to adopt the right cloud-based tools to a team of remote knowledge workers.  It’s a whole other thing to have everyone engaging the tools in a way that fosters collaboration.

The Potential Risk

I’ve always felt the biggest risk with a scattered team is that people would end up working in silos.  It would be the individual against the world, buckling down the hatches from nine to five trying to survive one more day.  At PortMA, we found the best way to avoid this was to mandate different aspects of the work be done by different people.  This way you had to cooperate and be a part of the team.
For example, we launch a project with all team members on board using Google video chat.  We talk about what was promised, what needs to be done, the risks, and what we’re excited about.  We discuss that while the project director is on point, Field Services will handle data collection. Project managers will be responsible for quality assurance, and all report back to the project director with scheduled updates.
We have very detailed project plan templates that we use to define who does what, and when.  This not only assures we have multiple people checking each other’s logic and decisions but that we also have this constant sense of collaboration and team participation. Regardless of where you’re working from, you’re never alone at PortMA.

Another Tool of the Trade

We use LiquidPlanner as our primary project management tool.  LP has our templates and project plans.  It tells everyone what everyone else is doing and when it’s your turn to jump in and get the next action done.  It also keeps us accountable to budgets.  If we’re under a fixed fee it helps us stay inside the parameters and if every hour is billable it helps us know where time is going and how to account for it when it’s time to invoice.
Another important rule has been that all internal communications that require more than a one sentence reply happen via video chat.  Google Hangouts has our back there.  All of our weekly staff meetings, status calls, check-ins, collaboration sessions are done via video chat.  This keeps us connected. There is a lot of non-verbal communication that is lost when you can’t see the other person.  This can lead to misunderstanding, bad feelings, and generally exacerbate an already fast-paced and stressful work environment.