How to avoid confusion on remote teams by creating transparency
I still remember the first time I played the game Telephone as a kid. You know, the game in which you line up with your classmates and quietly pass a “secret” along, hoping your team’s sentence will be more true to the original than the others’.
I was near the front of the line, and I heard whispered “Mr. Brown’s brown cow has white spots on his brown bottom.” I dutifully repeated the silly sentence to the little boy behind me, and he turned and did the same. Predictably, what was shouted from the end of the line was some garbled nonsense about a cow named Mr. Brown.
While this children’s game is meant to be a tangible lesson on the dangers of gossip, it also illustrates what happens when there’s no transparency in a team. Messages get mangled, important elements get lost, and sometimes the original intent is lost altogether. Even with the best of intentions, we fail to help our team meet its goal. No one wins.
Remote work and the transparency challenge
Millions of people around the world transitioned suddenly to remote work last year and were faced with transparency challenges that co-located teams don’t typically have to deal with. It was no longer possible to stop by a coworker’s desk to clarify a doubt. You couldn’t leave a sticky note reminder while a colleague was out at lunch. Most importantly, in-person conversations were eliminated overnight, cutting off a vital means of information sharing and relationship building.
In an effort to compensate, some teams have added multiple channels of communication, and employees may be overwhelmed by text, email, and messaging app notifications, while trying to focus on the tasks at hand. When these notifications pop up on employees’ phones or personal computers, the line between work hours and the rest of life can be blurred, leading to burnout, but workers are afraid of missing some vital communication if they silence notifications.
The upside is that more employers have come to recognize the difficulties faced by remote workers. More than ever, team leaders and managers are seeking to understand the specific challenges to transparency on remote teams, and they are looking for solutions.
Reduced “passive” information sharing
Co-located teams have the benefit of learning things almost accidentally in the course of casual conversations in the break room. Remote workers often miss out not only on the friendships built through casual conversations but also valuable information about projects, clients, industry developments and more.
Surveyors asked employees if they ever avoided sharing a document with team mates because it was too difficult to find or locating the document would take too long. In just two years, the number of employees who answered yes rose from 31% to 51%, suggesting that document sharing is becoming more challenging and that less information is being shared among team members.
Verbal information sharing
Encouragingly, the number of remote employees who said that they missed out on important information because it was shared person-to-person fell from 57% to 44%, suggesting that teams are getting better at communicating with remote workers but still have much room for improvement. It’s still early to draw conclusions about the massive shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we feel it’s safe to say that teams lost some transparency when face-to-face conversations became impossible.
4 Steps increase transparency on remote teams
1. Build a transparent culture
The culture of an organization and the teams within it affect far more than just whether your employees enjoy their jobs. Some of the same cultural elements that makes workers happy also result in better project outcomes.
- Agile with remote teams: Agile recognizes the importance of transparency for creating trust, cutting down on team politics, and providing true measures of the team’s capacity. Because Agile works by fostering continuous iteration, transparency is crucial to giving everyone on the team the information they need to improve in the next iteration.
- Flat hierarchies: A flat hierarchy is an organizational structure in which there are few or no managers in between executives and the workforce. This approach may not work for every business, but flat hierarchies are great for creating transparency since they reduce the number of people information passes through before reaching those who will put it into action. (Remember that game of telephone?)
- Open communication channels: It’s hard to overstate the importance of having open channels of communication. Employees need to know they’ll be heard when and that their input is welcome. Teams that operate this way are able to innovate and iterate more quickly, and employees are more willing to voice bold suggestions.
2. Streamline communication
It’s not enough for the team to know they’re welcome to communicate with management. You should also have a remote communication plan to do that communicating easily. As technology and situations have evolved, many teams have layered on communication channels, creating a complex web of apps, software, and analog media to share information. It’s time to re-think team communications.
- Eliminate linear communication. Linear communication happens when information is sent in just one direction. There’s no feedback from the recipient or the feedback is very delayed. The circular or interactive model is better. Team leaders should start conversations (interactive) instead of giving orders (linear).
- Understand synchronous and asynchronous communication. Synchronous communication happens in real time, with all parties participating simultaneously, as in a verbal or chat conversation. Asynchronous communication happens with some delay, like when getting a voicemail or email that you respond to some time after it was sent. In Synchronous communication, a reply is expected immediately and waited for. Both types are useful in different scenarios. On remote teams, it’s crucial that everyone understand the differences and have reasonable expectations about reply times, especially when a team is located across time zones.
- Communicate regularly. One barrier to transparency is not knowing when information can be expected. By establishing a regular communication schedule (weekly meetings and mid-morning updates for example), a team leader can alleviate some anxiety and create freedom for team members to reach out if a meeting is missed or some information missing. It’s also important to have consistent one-on-one check-ins, and these should be more frequent on remote teams.
3. Create accountability
Healthy transparency includes accountability. Individuals and teams need to have measurable standards to meet and the ability to assess whether they are meeting those standards.
- Automated Reports: With the right tools, automated reports can save everyone time and give customized insights into how the team, team members, and project are doing.
- Weekly Stats: Regular updates should be an encouragement to a healthy, transparent team. Everyone gets to celebrate the successes and work together to problem-solve when metrics aren’t showing the desired results.
- Edit History: Make use of edit history and applaud improvements rather than shaming the original version. You have to start somewhere in order to iterate successfully, so there’s no need to hide any part of the process.
4. Use the right tools
Digital technology has given teams the ability to create transparency like never before and has made close collaboration possible even for remote workers. That said, it’s important to use the best remote tools, or the technology itself can hinder transparency and slow down productivity.
Cloud-based solutions are ideal for remote and hybrid teams because they can be accessed from anywhere and don’t require constant installation and updates of new software. Adopting a unified platform manage all the work further reduces unnecessary complexity and enhances transparency.
Enter the Digital Workplace
Digital Workplace is a cloud-based platform created to help teams work effectively by unifying all the elements of digital work into a single online workspace. The Digital Workplace creates transparency by:
- Providing a framework for Agile project management
- Consolidating communication channels into one platform
- Providing channels for both synchronous and asynchronous communication
- Allowing full visibility to all team members
- Automatically generating reports
- Sending automated notifications
- Encouraging collaboration with intuitive tools for communication and information sharing
- Integrating third-party applications to make sure all the information and access your team needs is at their fingertips.
Kissflow’s Digital Workplace makes it easy for employees to access all of their projects, tasks, workflows, and applications through a unified platform, which improves transparency and increases productivity.