The IT sector is used to working remotely. Most of our work happens online anyway. We use our computers, talk every day to multinational teams, distributed all over the world. We use online tools that support our work. We share documents, keep everything in the cloud and present online. We watch webinars, listen to podcasts and read e-books. But it’s a bit different now: we don’t have any alternative.

In our team at Cognifide we were wondering how to make the current unusual situation more bearable for everyone. We now miss a lot of spontaneous interactions that leads to great discussions and sharing opinions. It’s not easy to benefit from tribal knowledge now – we don’t simply ask a question to our colleagues at the open space. To overcome that challenges, we’ve moved a lot of our activities online. We schedule morning coffee calls with our teams. We organize company-wide colleagues' presentations about various things: some of them are work-related, like our weekly lightning talks, where we share knowledge with the company in the form of a short, 10-30-minute presentation. Some of them are just for nurturing our culture of wellbeing and increase the sense of belonging like “7 continents” cycle where we present places worth visiting (when the pandemic is over of course). Each week we prepare a calendar with online events worth attending – inside and outside the company. There’s also one thing that we are especially proud of, and we called that Cogference.

The idea of Cogference is simple. An internal conference, hosted online, where a group of experienced experts present a set of 4 30-minute lectures. The main theme of first ever global Cogference was “Remote work” and we focused on several aspects of working effectively with teams when you don’t have an opportunity to meet in person. The Cogference was an internal event, but below you can find some of the highlights and findings that will help you to manage your remote work as well.

Etiquette of remote meetings

Gavin Kirk, Senior DXA, advises us to follow some basic ground rules to make remote meetings effective, full of respect and understanding at the same time. We are dealing with a lot outside of work, it’s worth being mindful about the circumstances but also find the best ways of working in the new situation. Simplifying communication, giving and getting feedback to adjust and using keywords in your e-mails might help us to avoid overcommunication and misinterpretation.

When it comes to online meetings, remember to be on time and communicate if that’s not possible. Having an agenda and sticking to it will make your meeting efficient and smooth. Also focus and stay present on the meeting, avoiding other distractions for example your telephone. Take care of the people attending the meeting – give them a chance for a friendly conversation and be sure that everyone on the call knows each other and has a chance to share his or her opinion. It’s also important to show yourself on the camera – preferably in a way that allows people to read your body language. This can be helpful especially in a situation were there is potential for disagreement and will help you to clarify things and understanding each other. Treat others like you want them to treat you. Simple as that!

Feel good working remotely, start with yourself

It’s important to take care of ourselves, because – as leaders – we influence (and somehow – limit!) the development of our teams. Adam Makarowicz, Clan Head, Digital Platforms, suggests starting with some personal organisation. While working from home we should assess our regular office work at first to know the situation and mirror it where possible. Starting with physiological aspects such as sleep, routine, breakfast and commuting, to work situations: meeting, breaks, workstyle. Another tip is to do a daily mini-retrospective with yourself, after a workday it’s good to recognise the general mood. Also, pay attention to your working environment, amount of fresh air, Internet connection even the quality of coffee. All those things can affect our approach and mood during worktime.

You can take care of your wellbeing in a several ways. Start with setting a comfortable temperature in the room and open windows every now and then to breathe some fresh air. Take care of the light and the desk or table. Have short walks after calls just to relax your muscles. And maybe a plant will be a good addition to your home office just to give you a feeling that you are not alone in the room? Set up proper equipment – display, keyboard, webcam, comfortable chair etc... (you can always ask about borrowing equipment from the office). One thing we miss from the office environment is the 'water cooler' conversation, scheduling a remote coffee break with your team can be really helpful to replace these off-topic conversations and can help with general communication within the team.

Remote teambuilding

Tomasz Wagner, Development Head, Software Products, reminded us that teambuilding’s goal is to improve team performance by aligning around goals, building relationships and addressing challenges. Because of the pandemic situation people might feel isolated and frustrated with everything what’s going on and it can affect the work as a team. But it doesn’t mean that the team cannot be as productive as it was before, when working together in the office. There are several methods and tools that will help you to build meaningful relationships, find solutions to team problems and set goals and expectations properly.

First, cherish all the positive moments and maintain relations even using such channels and methods as an office informal chat with memes and other fun stuff. Secondly, do some research and suggest tools, that will allow you to work in a system of distributed work. Limit the number of outgoing communication, pay more attention to its effectiveness. Feel free to organize remote WoW meeting where you will discuss various aspects of your work with the team. Set the proper expectation to the team, being honest about the situation and priorities and make sure that team goals are clear. Maybe having a monthly “demo” meeting on progress and reaching goals will be helpful for you? Or it’s even worth to set a quarterly workshop for the team to review what’s going on?

Empathy is key

The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives. Our social contacts look different now, the rhythm of the day has changed, and we need more clarity and understanding in our lives and in our communication. Empathy – explained as the respectful understanding of people’s experiences and point of view is a foundation that supports meaningful contact and communication full of positivity, honesty and openness. First step into empathy is presence and being mindful about the other person that you are talking to. The second is to ask open questions (and not making assumptions regarding others based on your personal opinions and view) and just be a mirror to someone’s thoughts and concerns, without giving advice and judging. Behind every story, every conflict or emotion there is very particular need of a person, and often the only thing that we need to do is to listen, that’s it. It’s easier for us to be empathic to our team members or people that report to us, but it’s worth remembering that our boss also needs empathy while there are different challenges to struggle with on every level of seniority. Everything depends on the perspective.

We are more likely to obey the sign saying “Please, walk on the pathways” than “Keep off the grass”. The cognitive communication style, based on positive language and precision, is now more important than ever. Our brains better understand “dos” than “don’ts” and it’s easier to start doing things than to stop doing them. Every “no” can be said in a way that it is positive and absorbed by your mind in a better way. Be conscious about the words that you use and very precise in your requests. To be sure that people understand you, you can always ask for paraphrasing the sentence. You will be surprised with the way how sometimes facts are different from opinions. Use remote work for inventing new ways of doing things and new opportunities that will encourage your team to find their own win in this difficult situation.

Support the motivation of the team is one of the main purposes of the leader. You can never go wrong with being honest and being just fair; with empowering people to implement their own ideas and solutions. People need different kinds of support and different motivators. Realize that by getting to know the team and being mindful about what they share during your collaboration. That was also the idea behind the Cogference. It was born because of the need of being and doing something together using all the available ways. And it probably wouldn’t exist if we were working as usual in the office.