Work habits numbers & nudges from Network Perspective blended with best practices shared by Remote-First Institute and tech teams from all over the world that bravely experiment with the intentional approach to work habits.
This ebook is a one-of-a-kind resource for today’s remote and hybrid organizations, offering a deep dive into the top collaboration and connectivity challenges. The empirical data you’ll find in this resource is complemented by a list of best practices from 20+ tech organizations and over 50 agile coaches working in tech.
Global research statistics clearly show how teams’ workload & well-being have changed drastically after transitioning from offices to remote & hybrid work. The majority of companies are still trying to figure out how to work in a hybrid or fully remote model in an optimal way. As a result, teams’ workload has increased, while their sense of well-being has decreased. This has motivated us to dive deeper into the subject of burnout and work overload to uncover their root causes and find solutions for tackling them, especially knowing that our clients also experience the same issues.www.linkedin.com/in/anita-zbieg
In 2022, almost 50% of 20,000 employees from 11 countries admitted to experiencing burnout, work-related stress, and physical, emotional, and mental fatigue. On the flip side, employee workload reached an all-time high. One of the reasons behind this is that many organizations have moved to remote and hybrid work models, but not implemented yet all the adjustments to collaboration principles and ways of working.www.linkedin.com/in/iwoszapar
Business world has changed irreversibly in recent years – and with it, so have the conditions for employees. Undoubtedly, the massive (and sudden) shift to remote or hybrid work has taken a toll on team workload and employee well-being.
To understand how vastly the reality has changed for organizations and employees alike, it’s worth comparing a few pre- and post-pandemic statistics. Studies show that the shift to remote work due to COVID-19 has resulted in the following:
the time spent on meetings has soared to over 250%
employees have 30% less time to engage in deep work
we experience at work 45% more chats per week, which impacts a context switching throughout the workday
there is a 25% decrease in intra-team bonding connections
it is observed 30% drop in cross-team learning opportunities
the length of working hours has increased by an average of 10%
Does your organization experience high workload or low well-being? This is the question that we’ve posed to over 50 agile coaches from the tech space. Unsurprisingly, they said that both problems are equally important, and mentioned active listening insights such as surveys, stay-in interviews, focus/consultation groups - and observations as key knowledge sources for learning about both issues. This is exactly how most businesses identify these problems – through conversations and observance.
At Network Perspective, we encourage companies to identify the problem of high workload and its flip side, low well-being by looking at active listening insights cross-analyzed with the passive listening data i.e. collaboration data from company systems.
Passive employee listening is the data you can derive from your company’s communication and collaboration ecosystem, which describes the team’s work habits and patterns. Some of the sources for these insights may include email, chat, calendar, project management systems, and code repositories. As you engage in this type of analysis, however, it’s important that you ensure strong individual privacy protection. This means that you should only use metadata (no content), data hashing, and calculate team metrics only for teams of five people or more.
Data from surveys, interviews and other forms of dialogue that describes employee experiences, perceptions, opinions and feelings.
Data from a company’s communication and collaboration ecosystem (e.g. e-mail, calendar, chat, code repository, system for project management) that describes work habits and patterns.
We strongly believe that this type of more objective data can provide insights, which cannot be drawn through observations or active listening insights like surveys, stay-in-interviews, or focus groups/consultations. Let’s now take a closer look at what impacts workload and well-being.
the more time we spend in meetings, the higher our workload. According to Gallup, a high workload increases the chances of burnout 2.2 times.
it is the time we spend on uninterrupted work, i.e., two hours daily minimum with no meetings, emails, or IMs’. Based on the research by Uber, this is the single most important factor impacting employee productivity (HBR, 2021).
it is the number of work hours during which we get interrupted by IMs and emails sent. According to Weinberg, handling 5 tasks simultaneously can reduce employee productivity by as much as 80%. Nowadays, IT professionals report being interrupted every 2 to 11 minutes according to Nora Madjar.
involves the connections between the leader and the team. Gallup has discovered that employees who feel a leader’s support are 70% less likely to experience burnout and 3 times more likely to be engaged at work.
relates to connections with other teams (the so called ‘bridging’ relations), and exposure to peer-to-peer learning from people with different expertise, and connections with people up in the hierarchy. SHRM mentions learning new skills, in particular with and from others, as the 3rd most important perk for Millennials.
the balance between the time spent at work and at home. According to Gartner, it is the 2nd most important job factor, right after salary for IT professionals.
We’ve taken our evidence-based insights at Network Perspective including 1,000 observations on how real teams work based on 100 metrics describing workload, well-being, and team work habits during the work week. We’ve cross-referenced them with best practices from both tech organizations and agile coaches studying teamwork patterns. This has allowed us to pin down three challenges that have particularly impacted tech companies worldwide.
This challenge can be brought down to two areas – meetings and asynchronous work conditions. In the first case, it’s about the overwhelming number of meetings and their low quality. In the latter, the main adversary is the lack of time for deep work, constant context switching, and frequent work interruptions.
Let’s take a closer look at all of these below.
At a minimum, team routines in technology teams take five to six hours per week. This synchronous communication time is dedicated to planning & reviewing the job, work synchronizing, problem-solving, and knowledge sharing. Regardless of whether teams use a specific work framework, such as Scrum, or organize their work differently, they often need more time to work through problems or design solutions in pairs or a larger group. This raises the question – how many hours can you spend on meetings without sacrificing your employees’ well-being?
To avoid cognitive overload, we recommend teams refrain from planning out more than 15 hours of meetings a week, per employee. This would mean about three hours a day. Ideally no more than six meetings that are 30-minutes-long each to minimize context switching, or three, hour-long ones. Ideally, the meetings should take 25 or 50 minutes to have time for a break between meetings. If you need a longer common session (eg. for Sprint Planning), divide it into two parts and make a 10 - 15 minutes break between them to give a breath to your team.
The chart shows real data from 1,000 observations of teams, studied throughout the course of 12 months. Notice how a quarter of them experience meetings overload, with more than 21 hours’ worth of meetings weekly per employee.
In this cohort, employees who spend 27 hours per week on meetings not only sacrifice their deep work time and efficiency. They also may suffer from physical and cognitive overload, which is linked to excessive screen time and notorious context switching.
Professor Jeremy Bailenson, director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), has identified four consequences of prolonged video calls that are extremely tiring for us and contribute to a feeling known as “Zoom fatigue”. These are intense, unnaturally long, and excessively close eye contact, seeing yourself during video calls, cognitive overload - much more effort when communicating because of extra work when receiving (interpreting) and sending signals, and reduced mobility.
What is important, as Bailenson says, “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively”. When you break these 27 hours from our chart down evenly in the workweek, then each of these workers spends an average of 5.4 hours on meetings per day. This means that their cognitive presence at these meetings may be suboptimal, even if their engagement is limited by overload.
The numbers from the previous section raise another question – how can you fix your team’s overload? Also, how can you tell if you’re at risk of overwhelming them with work and meetings?
For answers, let’s see how the data from 1,000 observations of how real teams work based on 100 metrics describing workload, well-being, and team work habits during the work week could guide us toward the improvements:
of tech teams can fix their approach by creating guidelines on when to accept, reject, or delegate meetings
of teams can refine their approach towards time for deep work. These improvements could come down to increasing the duration of deep work time. Bear in mind that it’s not always about the total hours spent on individual, uninterrupted work. Often, it’s about re-organizing them into longer slots.
of the teams could shorten meetings by a simple fix of inviting fewer people to each event
of the teams could review their approach towards organizing long (>60 minutes long) and large (>8 participants) events. Currently, they spend at least five hours a week on such meetings, per employee.
of the teams could refine their recurring meetings’ routines. Currently, they see 20 recurring meetings a week, per employee. These include a variety of events, such as daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and quarterly routines, as well as intra-team, cross-team, and client/partner meetings.
Another commonly undervalued habit with great embedded well-being impact is ensuring > 10-minute long breaks between the meetings, i.e., a commitment on a team – or, better still – company-wide level, that meetings always take only 20 or 50 minutes.
There are two core elements of successful remote-first collaboration. The first one is all about proper documentation and the second one is transparent communication.
Documenting processes and workflows allows teams to automate their work and collaborate asynchronously. Remote-first teams should create a single source of information where team members can find all crucial information that they need to be successful in their role as well as in their daily performance. Instead of having to meet and ask numerous questions on Slack channels, they’ll easily find all necessary information, progress updates and next steps in dedicated apps or digital documents.
Communication is also a crucial factor in boosting productivity. It’s not about sharing numerous messages wherever possible. All team members should be committed to avoiding chaos as well as a random and meaningless message exchange. Our communication has to be intentional - addressed to the proper target audience and prepared based on the message type. This can be about sharing team-wide information or one-on-one communication. Acknowledging messages is crucial as well. A simple response or just a reaction will make sure that everything has been received, rather than having to reach out to various team members for additional reassurance.
In other words, clear rules and expectations, one source of information and transparent communication are the first and most crucial steps to reduce unnecessary workload and boost team-wide productivity.
we try to only accept meetings when there is a clear goal defined and you are needed. We’re also turning off notifications from email and phone, the world keeps on turning without you responding to an email for 2 hours. And finally, we block time in the calendar to focus on a task. Do not do anything else during that time. This helps us freeing up time to get work done, instead of running from useless meeting to useless meeting.
here are 4 simple things you can do to ensure your teams manage their worke ffectively:
1. Be clear to employees about what is essential and what is not. Too many meetings are not focused on your organizational strategy. If people are clear about the strategy, they don't waste time on other things.
2. Empower people to manage their time. Ask them to set DND status when in the deep work zone. Don't bug them with micromanagement when they are focused. Empower them to say no to meetings they don't need to attend.
3. Introduce meeting etiquette. This means no meetings without a plan and the use of technologies to get things done offline.
4. Keep the meetings short and introduce speedy meetings (25 minutes instead of30) -- help them switch gears faster and take a bio break.
we believe that one company (especially if it's quite big and global) policy cannot be one-size-fits-all. We see that giving autonomy to our local teams to find their own way of schedules, asynchronous communication, and KPIs reflections works the best. Investing in a strong microculture (team-level) stands before investing in the macroculture (company-wise policies), whether it's teambuilding or monthly/ weekly meeting.
we believe that a healthy and happy workforce is productive. To achieve this, we follow a three-pronged strategy. Firstly, we try to reduce communication overhead and technical debt. We limit Teams/Zoom time to a few hours a day so the employees can get focus hours for their work. Further, we encourage employees to set up meetings during the first half of the day, to alleviate context-switching stress due to meetings scattered throughout the day. Secondly, we allow workday flexibility by not following a strict 9-to-5 work schedule. In our experience, allowing employees to choose their schedule, allows them to structure their workday around their needs, thus reducing stress. Lastly, we engage with employees through the company chat bot, to identify signs of burnout and prescribe remedial action such as offering virtual meditation sessions and paid time off. For employees in crisis, we partner with healthcare providers to organize virtual therapy sessions. Collectively, these measures have led us to a healthier and happier workforce.
be intentional about synchronous and asynchronous work. Start by rethinking meetings to avoid (Zoom) fatigue: Make meetings a last resort. Start by asking “do we need this meeting? If yes; how can you optimize meetings: who needs to be invited? Design meetings with a purpose and an agenda, preparations and clarify roles. Keep meetings short; try 15 – 25 minutes. Optimize async work by documenting processes, information and decisions to have a single source of truth and to protect people’s focus time.
It is also crucial that the individual takes time to rewire. The key here is mico steps to build resilience over time: block time for focus – we encourage people to use get insight in their work patterns, agree on response time so you can turn off notifications – remove the sense that everything is urgent, do walk & talks to get fresh air preferably in nature or a park, grant paid people time off – even a few hours, set up short stretching or yoga sessions. We even start meetings with a box breathing session to calm down.
most of the time simple approach works best. Book focus time in your calendar in a reasonable amount and try to be as protective as possible about that time. But, if you manage to get hold of precious focus time, don't waste it and use it to do some deep work. Don't procrastinate.
goodbye whatsapp, it’s important to promote meetings to connect - It is common to live in meetings, today we are seeking to make the teams more aware of this, so we are going to implement 1 day a week without meetings to take advantage of the space for self-learning and advance in our work. In current actions we have worked on respecting teammates schedules, we avoid the use of whatsapp for work issues and we exhaust all channels before setting up a meeting.
we can agree that we all have too much to do and to little time to do it. In this era the meetings are the pain for each employee. And yet, you need them to share information, solicit ideas, and make decisions. What we try to do is to make sure that we have a clearly defined purpose for each meeting, we send meeting materials beforehand, because this way it takes the reading part out of the meeting and puts the collaboration part in.
The way we work is often an afterthought; instead, it should be built directly into business and culture strategy. Some simple but effective practices are worth considering:
- Internal and external factors change businesses every three months (especially in high-growth areas), but people tend to accumulate meetings over time. Organisations can help empower employees to have more control over their time by creating formalised meeting review periods where the organisation (or department) takes a moment to review how their time is being used, the amount of time allocated to meetings versus deep work, if the meetings still have the desired outcome, if there are at the right time (especially in global organisations), and if they are the best use of the individuals time.
- When people get promoted or take on a new job, we often think about the additional tasks or activities individuals will do or be responsible for. Rarely do we plan for what needs to be removed to allow space for these new tasks or activities- these needs equally as much thought put in.
- Help create common (living) guidelines or playbooks on how communication and work tools should be used, including expected response times and core working hours (especially across different time zones) to help establish familiar team working practices.
This struggle can be countered by prioritizing work-life harmony, as well as ensuring adequate leader support and intra-team bonding initiatives.
No good can come out of long working hours; these may result in a major cognitive overload, and a lack of time to recoup one’s strength after work. The case is even more complex when it comes to meetings that are organized outside the standard operating hours. Not only are they less productive; but they also disrupt recovery time.
Only a quarter of tech teams refrain from organizing meetings after scheduled working hours. At 25% of the organizations we’ve studied, these types of events take about three hours a week per employee. This translates to three, hour-long meetings or six, 30-minute long ones.
Leaders can improve their teams’ work-life harmony if they themselves act as role models. The typical team leader experiences five hours of after-hours meetings per week, and their working days last longer than nine hours. The higher the leader in the hierarchy, the higher these numbers get. Employees look up to their managers – if they see that their direct superior treats after-hour events as a norm, they’ll be more likely to mimic their behavior. Which, in the long run, will hurt employees and company results.
But late-night meetings or those happening at dawn aren’t the only problem. We believe that 25% of tech teams also may improve how they engage in collaborative work during operating hours. Our numbers show that teams currently spend fewer than 40% of hours on deep-focus work, i.e., a minimum of one hour of uninterrupted work. This means no meetings, chats, or emails read during this streak.
At Network Perspective, we believe that these types of businesses should introduce a more asynchronous-first collaboration model, and dedicate the newly-found time to deep work.
The common practice for improving employee well-being is organizing happy hours or giving away free yoga classes to employees. But if an organization wants to maintain sustainable well-being levels, actions need to be taken to decrease the number of hours spent in meetings and also during off hours.
Having a no meeting day gives employees a full day to concentrate on their own work and also lets them go into deep work. It also eliminates the FOMO effect- our team members do not work either after all.
The most important factor that makes these practices sustainable is the leaders’ attitude in the company. If they walk the talk and set an example by role modeling all of these actions, then everyone will follow them. Otherwise, team members won’t have the confidence to implement them into their own work habits.
a good work/life balance is the key of this “new world”. With flextime & work from home, team members are more efficient and flourished in their daily work. With that in mind, I also forbid early and late meeting in order to not stress people, especially those who have kids to deal with. Moreover, I try to encourage for team sharing session, Monday stand-up meeting, and I insist to have a weekly 1 to 1 with each member of my team. Objective is to go through job tasks, but also discuss about co-worker concerns, doubts or personnal success, even if it’s a 5 minutes talk. Since I set this routine, everything is going swimmingly.
we offer a flexitime contract with a core working time between 10 am and 3 pm. All remaining working hours can be organized in a way that best accommodates our employees’ personal needs and professional responsibilities. We understand that a vital part of keeping employees healthy and happy is to ensure that they have the opportunity to focus on these aspects of their lives. Providing them with the ability to create a work schedule around their own needs gives them this. Besides this, we encourage our colleagues to use their fully-paid time off for holidays to relax and recharge. Additionally, we support employees in their current life phase with maternity, paternity, educational leave, and part-time possibilities to ensure the right work-life balance for everyone. The possibility of working from home or the office also plays a big part in the well-being of our employees.
active breaks for health & wellness - we have set aside half an hour a week for our teams to learn how to be aware of their postures with the support of 1 physiotherapist who gives us techniques to have better postures and remember that it is important to take active breaks such as getting up and walking.
wellbeing in the hybrid era, post COVID has revealed itself to be a lynchpin to individual, team and organisational success. Models such as Martin Seligman's P.E.R.M.A have been adopted by many in the tech space to support psychological safety, engagement and collaboration, reduce burn-out, increase belonging and purpose in the workplace. By embedding such a framework in hybrid strategies or using as a blueprint for hybrid guidelines and principles you take a people first, adult to adult approach resulting in a happy and ultimately more productive workforce.
Another challenge facing tech and wider industries has been hybrid collaboration and what this looks like as we evolve to the next stage, asynchronous work. Removing as much friction as possible with applications and software to support the workflow has been and will continue to be a necessity to make this possible. Create space for people to pool knowledge and to develop solutions together.
for us in Telia reducing burnout starts with building our people into strong self leaders in their own life. We need to build their self-awareness, self-esteem and -confidence and self-reliance.
We also believe that we are stronger together. So through the worlds first digital game based team development app, we give all our teams the possibility to embark on a journey to become high performing. Last but not least we work preventively with health and wellbeing by providing flexibility, creating a culture based on psychological safety where everyone dares to speak up and a wide range of benefits like free mental and physical healthcare, weekly meditations, yearly health checks and tailored health plans. Most importantly is all our meetings everyday where we tend to start all our meetings with openly sharing how we are feeling today, so we can be there an support each other in all the ups and downs of life.
we spend ~100,000 hours at work, in today’s hyper connected world it’s difficult to maintain work-life boundaries. Employee’s work life cannot compete with their personal life. Each employees’ personal circumstances and working styles are unique so one cannot follow a one-size-fits-all approach. For some it's work-life balance, where employees maintain rigid boundaries between work and personal life and for some it’s work-life integration, where employees complete their responsibilities at hours that work best for them. The main thing is flexibility. Organizations need to understand their employees, it's about creating an environment that impacts and improves engagement. It’s about developing a place where employees feel passionate, energetic, and committed to their work and find work meaningful.
we offer “as much flexibility as possible” in terms where and when you work. We continuously involve people in designing the hybrid workplace. Flexibility gives people more autonomy and more self-determination in how to organize their 24 hours, and it reduces time spent in commute. We train leaders in trust-based leadership to focus more on the why (providing purpose and direction) and the what (outcome of work and learning) than how to do it.
many companies claim on paper that they are saving the world, but they miss the point that they must provide emotional and physical security for their people. Leaders are the role model on how work-life balance should or should not be taken as a word but as an action. They are the ones giving the lead for overtime and overburn; therefore, an email or an after-hours call can only be expected when a significant event occurs. Not supporting burnout and being flexible on full-time work is a mutual decision across every team. Whether it's a manager or a developer. No red lines crossing is an unwritten policy around Nortal.
Tackling this challenge comes down to two aspects: improving team and company belonging as well as creating more peer-to-peer interactions. Let’s now take a closer look at both.
Lifting interactions, i.e.the ability to interact with more tenured and/or senior employees, gives their less experienced colleagues a significant motivation boost. This is especially important for Generation Z members who are now entering the workforce, and they’re an ambitious bunch keen on a steep growth trajectory. If they fail to feel they’re continuously growing, vertically and/or horizontally, they’ll start looking for other opportunities. You should keep this in mind, as Millennials and Gen Z employees will make up 75% of the talent pool by the end of this decade.
Unfortunately, the reality looks a little grim. Employees experience on average only two lifting interactions per month at 25% of tech teams. This involves a meeting, a two-way email exchange, or a two-way chat with a more senior colleague. These types of interactions occurring so rarely may not be enough to promote peer-to-peer learning and dissemination of best practices.
In order to create more lifting interactions and boost learning you may:
Here are a few tips from the Remote-First Institute that will help you create more learning opportunities and increase the sense of belonging within your team.
Regular 1o1s with team leads should be a given in any remote organization, weekly or every other week, for 30-60 minutes. These check-ins allow the team leads to assess how every individual person is doing (not only work-related, but all-around) so they can support them whenever needed.
For new hires, or even for people who are changing roles within the organization a buddy system allows for more horizontal connection. Assign a team buddy for work-related answers and insights, and a buddy from a different team to encourage cross-departmental knowledge sharing. You may want to suggest talking points for the first couple of sessions as to not disadvantage the less social people on your team, focussing on personal connections over role-based relationships.
in your daily stand ups, start the convo with a non-work topic. A simple "How are you doing" & "I am good" doesn't work. Get to know your team on personal level. Their new flat, new pet, what's going on with their parents? What's new? What's excites them? This way one don't only get to help the team personally & professionally but one also get to learn new things (found my new interest in Formula 1 racing with this approach). Avoid strict working hours. Working from home gives us the flexibility on providing value. Doesn't matter if that value comes at 4am or 10pm. As long as individuals are getting their tasks done and focused on deliverables, no need to emphasise on 9 to 5.
for teamwork, we are changing our way of working. From starting with large cells to promoting small team cells in order to share knowledge and experiences closer and collaborate better as a team. We are generating Squads/Teams of 2 to a maximum of 6 people. This has been a change in the face of burn-out since the teams are better organized in micro cells. We have noticed that small teams communicate, support and work better.
on-the-Job learning is a delicate mix of technical and organization-specific skills. Last decade was a disruption in the L&D space, the advent of MOOC has ensured decentralization of learning technical skills, however, hybrid working has resulted in low intra-team engagement. Most organizations are still focusing on skilling the workforce while the real challenge is to improve #EmployeeExperience that can foster many-to-many connectivity in the team. Leaders must embed an inclusive culture in the workplace that ensures every member shares their experience. Today high attrition and the resulting backfill measures have made it necessary to distribute information in an efficient and timely manner to prevent any hindrance to faster onboarding.
as the team grows, over 95% in the last year, with increasing and demanding workloads hired individuals from varying backgrounds and experience all working remotely, we encourage interaction outside immediate project teams. Coffee roulette is about random pairings where meet weekly for 30mins where you can talk about topic. Valuable for getting to know people and their world with no project deadlines with no set agenda. The success and positive feedback has meant this has now been rollout to the whole organisation. In addition the buddy programme as part of on-boarding where a buddy gets assigned to a new joiner to support for the first 2 months provided an opportunity to build their network. Recognition of this is really important alongside coffee roulette to develop individuals to grow and be successful.
sense of belonging starts with awareness and pulse checking - it's not all about data and time logging but emotional and personal connection during every conversation between the team and the leader. Providing company recourses (whether time, money, or support) for personal learning, in the event of unexpected crises, mentorship, or internal friendships cultivation is a must for a nowadays company.
with collaboration, diversity, and innovation in its DNA, Cognite keeps the spirit of a learning organization alive and kicking by taking care of several main areas: systematic problem solving, experimentation with new approaches, learning from our experience and best practices, and transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. We think it is vital to maintain the spirit of curiosity and a sense of purpose in everything we do. In such a way, we ensure that our shared vision is here to inspire people to take an active role in their growth as well as participate in the development of others. By giving them autonomy in choosing the tools and methods that suit them best, regardless of whether they work from the office or home, we want to ensure that everybody is in. We organize many activities to make ""on-the-job learning"" operational and maintain team connectivity. Some of them are regular knowledge-sharing sessions, training events, digital learning, gamification, all-hands, participation in internal hackathons, open discussions, regular updates on leadership decisions, etc. By welcoming our diversity, we face challenges in a fun and engaging way so that everyone has the autonomy to choose their learning path, achieve mastery, and innovate together with peers.
given that the work is majority done online and it enables the employees to use many digital resources, it’s a great opportunity to let people to shine by showing up for calls presenting their content in a more creative way by using the most suitable tool for each one! It can make the personality and creativity still live, turning everything funnier and the diverse human component as a warming up for working relationships.
neuroscience experiments show that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves. Those that have high trust levels in the workplace have more meaningful relationships and feel both, secure in and loyal to the company. We encourage our colleagues to openly share their expertise, both at work and even out of work on the daily meetings. We express gratitude at work. Also, we encourage cross- functional collaboration inside the company. Of course, teams that get along well together have fun and celebration outside work together. We celebrate the success but also the failure.
collaboration creates bonds, facilitates self-development, increases motivation and leads to better results. That's why in addition to team meetings, knowledge sharing sessions and communities are two great ways to develop a collaborative culture. By initiating discussions, making presentations and sharing content on technical and non-technical topics, people have the possibility to improve their communication skills, to meet colleagues from other teams that share the same interests and to contribute to their development. This is perceived by everyone as particularly rewarding.
great leaders genuinely care about people – not only their performance at work, but also how their life is. Initiate meaningful conversations by asking questions to understand and listen. We use a tool to facilitate deep conversations and build relationships to foster psychological safety.
well-connected teams can be the key to success, but fostering team connectivity can mean different things. First, supporting employee connections should be an ongoing and never-ending process that must be highly personalized. Even though a bulletproof way to improve connection in the workplace doesn't exist, good practice examples do — i.e.:
- establishing an inclusive company culture,
- encouraging informal meetings,
- giving employees a voice,
- responding to employees' feedback,
- organizing informal gatherings, team-building activities, etc.
For sync-up, we have standup calls for all the recruiters to discuss their challenges. After it, we do meditation and manifestation, which helps everyone perform better.For learning, we kept Friday one hour as a Learning Friday, where we learn new skills or certifications. I motivated each of them to present this Friday's learning session, which helped us for better learning and growth of each one of the team members.
Innovations, creativity, and effective collaboration are possible remotely, provided we unlearn old habits or modify them according to new circumstances. And give space for new ones. "Copy and paste" proven solutions are our winning tactics. Sometimes, however, we use well-known tools or methods in the same way even when conditions have changed (e.g. offline >> online). We expect equally good results and are disappointed when they don't happen. The bias is called functional fixedness. For example, real-time brainstorming is effective in a room with post-its where people can quickly move, look around, and feel the energy. Online brainstorming is much more effective when it's asynchronously run in stages. So the key is not the tool itself (e.g. virtual board with post-its) but how we use it. More here.
While working with teams worldwide we, as Network Perspective, have identified three factors that could make a positive impact on remote and hybrid teams. These are:
The first thing which can have a significant impact on reducing workload and improving well-being is the introduction of the right micro-habits. These are small, everyday habits that when implemented at work can have a massive cumulative impact. When it comes to remote or hybrid work, these habits change. It’s key not to implement too many at once, just pick one or two at a time and see how it goes. Your employees must be given time to adjust and realize that these mico-habits actually bring results.
Here are a few micro-habits, which you can consider implementing:
Micro-habits are the small, incremental changes you start implementing. These actions seem so incredibly easy that you might just continue to build upon them. A micro-habit is a small step towards starting something new. These simple, daily actions can help you achieve big results in the long run.
On average, it takes over 2 months for a new behavior to become automatic. Picture this as 66 consecutive days you repeat an action intentionally to turn it into a habit.
This means that in order to build a micro-habit with your team, you’ll have to discuss it regularly, hold each other accountable during reviews/retros, and remind yourselves to stick to it. It’s a long process, simply mentioning it once won’t suffice.
Greg McKeown, author of the excellent book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, on designing our lives to achieve our goals and not waste time on things that don't matter or get in the way, says that routine: protects what is important and valuable to us, and makes difficult things easier.
Good to remember about it while choosing micro-habits/ routines for our teams and ourselves.
So, what types of micro-habits are there? Below, we discuss four key dimensions and share our findings from the Network Perspective platform.
Below is a chart that shows the results of a survey run within the Agile coach community (more than 50 Agile coaches working with tech teams). When asked about the habits they’ve seen the biggest impact from, the respondents have named:
Two hours long deep work slots, short meetings time rules, and the culture of confirming & declining meetings, as well as regular 1-on-1s were also deemed important.
As micro-habits extend to multiple areas of the business, there are plenty of benefits for both the organization and the team members alike. Not only do they reduce employees’ physical, emotional, cognitive & mental overload and improve their problem-solving and decision-making capabilities. If implemented in a consultative, team and individual tailored and iterative way, they also mitigate the more and more widespread phenomenon of the so-called “quiet quitting” and improve various correlated business outcomes such as employee engagement and retention, change adoption curve, innovation scores, speed and quality of cross-functional decision-making processes or employee and organization effectiveness (e.g. OKR completion and quality scores).
Sync time happens when two or more people communicate with each other simultaneously and expect an immediate response.
Async time circles around the work we execute individually. Some examples include coding, running data analysis, writing content, or designing. During async work, you can communicate with others, but not in a real-time manner. For instance, a team member leaves a comment on your work, and you reply to it when you start working on it. Essentially, async time is a clear concept – you work on a tangible deliverable (like a document or code), collect feedback, and transfer it to other team members once your work is finished, so she/he can take over this task.
To understand how you can balance out synchronous and asynchronous communication, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with four types of work experiences. These include:
Synchro times are the interactions essential for your team to orchestrate their work. Goals and priorities’ planning, daily catch-ups, retrospectives, reviews, and refinements – these all make up this group.
These types of meetings should not take up more than 15 hours a week per employee.
Gitlab’s sync is a great example. It’s organized into weekly synchro slots. Above these there are various team interactions: pairs working together, 1-on-1 meetings with other domain experts, stage-specific syncs, meetings between product managers and team members, or meetings between employees who work on the same project but come from multiple subject domains.
Deep work time circles around each of your team members’ constructive work. The goal is to deliver, so reach their objectives and execute their tasks. It is also a time necessary for more complex tactical and strategic thinking. While deep work time most commonly comes in the form of individual work, it can also take on the form of joint work like pair programming.
It’s essential that each of your employees can dedicate a minimum of 10 hours per week to these types of activities.
Uber decided to improve team calendars by blocking a minimum of two consecutive hours for deep work, for each employee. The results? They’ve observed a 20% boost in focus time. Uber isn’t the only brand that’s taken on this approach – Humu, Evalueserve, Asana, and Prezi have followed in their footsteps. Meanwhile, the previously-mentioned GitLab has introduced Focus Fridays – a day without meetings.
Agilisys is another example worth drawing inspiration from. They organize a so-called coffee roulette, which is a random pairing. Two employees meet up once a week for 30 minutes and discuss any topic. The goal here is to boost team belonging and cross-team learning opportunities.
In essence, these are the activities that require ad hoc, synchronized work. It’s hard to schedule them out, as they happen organically, as part of operating as a team. Among others, context switching involves company emails and tasks, as well as on-the-spot requests from other teams.
As these types of experiences disrupt focus, they should not require more than eight hours a week from each employee.
Dropbox calculates that the average team uses 28 tools just to get their basic work done. This means a lot of back-and-forths and potential loss of focus. For this reason, they’ve created a tool rules worksheet, which helps teams decide if introducing a new software will genuinely increase focus and boost productivity. The document helps everyone get on the same page and decide which tools need to be used by which teams, and under which circumstances. They now share the tool rules template publicly to help other companies minimize disruption and increase focus.
As the name indicates, these are the events that help your team grow professionally and create a sense of belonging. The most important types include 1-on-1s with the leader, social calls, training, knowledge-sharing activities, as well as advisory, mentoring, and onboarding.
It’s important to guarantee each employee at least 2.5 hours a week for these experiences.
GitLab encourages their team members to engage in social calls for at least a few hours each week. These don’t have to happen with their direct team members – they can virtually meet up with any employee. Some of their departments even block the time for informal catch ups. Some of the more notable social & learning events include: onboarding coffee chats: any new GitLaber meets for coffee with at least five other people during their onboarding; group conversations, which take place four times a week and during these meetings, the company gets together to discuss an area of the business; community impact outings; social hours for the team; gaming time, and plenty of others.
A team contract is a clear set of rules, standards and methods that the entire team commits to follow. It is better when it is written down and available to everyone because it is easier to refer to it and update if necessary. The content of such an agreement is determined by team members - it is not imposed on them. These are principles that everyone has committed to and everyone is aware of.
It can outline when the team engages in sync work, when everyone has their own deep work time, or even which time slots during a day are best for answering chat messages and emails, or quick, ad hoc calls. Once the team creates the rules, it’s their responsibility to respect and follow them.
Below is an example of a team calendar, which you can turn into a contract. Depending on the team’s needs, you can completely change it or edit it slightly, whatever works for you. The most important thing is to not limit your weekly work time to team synchronization – use a wider context. Naturally, you don’t have to keep all the blocks. You can modify your contract based on your current needs. We included this example just to give you an idea for structuring your team’s remote or hybrid experiences.
Now you’re probably thinking – what about synchronizing two teams? This is where matters get a bit complicated. You can try to reduce the number of blocks for synchronization and deep work. When it comes to company synchro, try to limit the blocks even further, and focus mainly on deep work synchronization.
Clear (re) contracting of intra- and cross-team collaboration principles and routines is a foundation of healthy, high performing, autonomous and accountable remote & hybrid teams. Recurring and short (rather than ad hoc and ‘who-knows-how-long’), synchronous intra- and cross- team events with clear agenda and actionable outcomes, combined with quality asynchronous (including deep work) collaboration culture and tools, translate to predictable routines, and subsequently to more effective short term goal execution and improved alignment around the otherwise often ‘messy’ mid term strategy.
Interactions in an office happen naturally. Employees can meet for a chat over coffee. Unfortunately, these changes in a remote or hybrid setting, and the same interactions, which took place naturally in an office now have to be planned to make them intentional. This means you have to find and book a slot in your calendar for knowledge-sharing, playing games, and showcasing talent. Is your team internationally building interactions with new employees, for example, via 30-minute 1-on-1 meetings with the entire team or meeting shadowing?
Building connectivity in hybrid and remote is possible, provided it's well-planned. In the pre-pandemic reality, many of us used frameworks and methods of work to balance effective synchronizing (e.g. Scrum events) and our focus time (deep work). Building connectivity happened in between, and socializing and learning from others went smoothly in the offices. However, it's good to remember that things do NOT 'JUST happen in the offices'.
We've been learning social skills for ages, and the office as a system has been designed by experts for years to enable smooth collaboration, learning and socializing.
In remote & hybrid reality, not the office but the calendar is the heart of the new system. If you don't schedule time for things that matter, they won't happen. That is why it is so important to be aware of whom/what teams and stakeholders we need to cooperate with and build relationships with. On the other hand, it is also worth considering how to provide an opportunity for a more spontaneous exchange of knowledge, and experience and building relationships, e.g. through cross-organizational projects solving pressing problems (e.g. meeting overloading, thematic hackathons) or building organizational cohesion (e.g. town halls) and many others.
There are multiple ways in which you can build connections intentionally. Working remotely doesn’t have to mean you’ll be sacrificing this critical aspect of team operations.
Here are some of the ways you can build connectivity and draw inspiration from: by spending a day together in an office; introducing team routines such as weekly; being placed on a project together; creating shared communication channels and tools, such as music making channels; celebrating successes together; or through gaming.Take time to socialize.
For example, teams at GitLab are encouraged to reserve a few hours per week for social calls. They schedule coffee chats during onboarding and organize group conversations four times a week to discuss business matters. Agilisys organizes coffee roulettes where random people talk about various topics for 30 minutes.
Being very intentional about intra- and cross- team connectivity that goes beyond mere status updates, is crucial for cross-pollination of ideas/best practices, organizational learning, co-creation and innovation. Making dedicated time for quality cross-team bonding, knowledge sharing and strategic rituals is a must have in order to keep those ‘bridging’ relations alive. Strong bridging connections ensure that org wide decisions are well aligned, business ideas are not cannibalized, the effect of reinventing the wheel is minimized or that the company leverages the social capital of as many team members as possible when pushing the envelope and creating the competitive edge for the business.
While historical information about your teams can serve as a source of inspiration, it’s real-time data that will help you improve internal processes. The ability to observe your team interactions and work as it happens lets you spot issues nearly instantaneously. As a result, you can address any employee struggles before they turn into physical and emotional overload and result in a drop in team productivity.
Data is a powerful source of information. It gives you new lenses to familiar challenges, answers and poses new questions, so needed on the path to workplace improvements. By referring to data, you’re able to objectivize certain observations, uncover hidden patterns, conduct respectful, relevant conversations, and open your team up to new perspectives. Let’s take team collaboration, for one. As a whole, it’s a complex system – particularly, as not all collaboration patterns can be seen with the naked eye. When you look at your team’s interaction data, you’ll often see that it’s far from your assumptions.
Building remote-first micro habits is a process, not a one-off effort. Think of it this way – sending an ebook once will not change your employees’ work habits. People are going to go back to their old ways unless the change is a well integrated, iterative process; one that’s informed and refined by feedback. Data will be your ally on the path to improvement, informing you about the current state of things.
Data will help your team navigate change and uncertainty with more confidence. For instance, when you’re facing the question of finding the right time for your team’s deep work, data will reveal the time slots you can use so you don’t have to significantly alter your employees’ current meeting schedules.
Last but not least, data will tell you how far you’ve gone in the change adoption process. You’ll know if the change has been successful or not, and – perhaps most importantly – whether your team was able to put an end to some of their suboptimal habits. Being aware of achieving milestones also brings another perk – you get tangible proof of success, which means a legitimate reason to celebrate your small or big wins.
Employee burnout and physical, cognitive, mental and emotional overload remain a real challenge. Despite the fact that we’re three years into the pandemic, the struggles of remote employees haven’t changed. Studies from 2021 reveal that up to 85% of employees’ time was spent on productivity-draining collaboration activities. The reality in 2022 doesn’t appear any brighter – managers report that their jobs became 10x harder. The main culprit remains the same, i.e. team workload & employee burnout.
We’ve created this ebook to help companies tackle the above issues and restore work experience harmony in this new, remote reality. At Network Perspective, we’ve been engaged in a series of analyses and experiments – our goal is to establish what solutions will work for remote or hybrid organizations. For this reason, we’ve also reached out to other organizations, willing to share their experiences. We’ve joined forces to work out guidelines that will work for companies from various backgrounds, facing the same adversary.
We give teams data & insights about collaboration habits to enable people-centric & high-performing hybrid organizations. Companies that use our application gain access to data that helps them improve work habits, syncs & connectivity. The Network Perspective platform encourages companies to experiment and acts as a motivator for change.
We analyze, provide insights, and speed up the process of experimentation and contracting work habits in teams across six dimensions: meetings, deep work, and context switching time, intra-team bonding, cross-team learning, and work-life harmony.
Our team at Network Perspective combines 10+ years of first-hand experience in Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) and 20+ years of business experience in agile organization development of our Advisory Board members. Our platform helps companies that don’t know how to use ONA tools, implement them in an ethical, impactful way, and make the most of their potential in the hybrid work reality.
This ebook is the largest resource of a kind for remote-first or hybrid companies and the tech community. It combines the lessons we’ve learned at Network Perspective, put together with the experiences from other experts and practitioners in the field.
Remote-First Institute is a not-for-profit organization, which strives to create a space for sharing knowledge and expertise related to remote work. We’ve helped thousands of companies make remote work, work. Our experts have shared their knowledge in Forbes, BBC, Business Insider, and INC.
I would like to wholeheartedly thank all the experts and organizations featured in this ebook. Your invaluable knowledge, experiences, and words of advice will undoubtedly help fellow organizations create a better work experience reality.
Ubisoft | Amber | Top Hat | Greentube | Multiplica | Orion Health | NielsenIQ | Nortal | Amesto | Delivery Hero | Telia | Multiplica | Agilisys | Positive Thinking Company | Evalueserve | Solitea | Simform
We’d also like to express our gratitude to John Kern, the co-author of Agile Manifesto for providing us with continuous feedback, and working with us to make this ebook as good as it could possibly be.