Workload and collaboration challenges in remote tech companies
People Leader | Director

Workload and collaboration challenges in remote tech companies

How can we improve talent engagement & business impact with the right data, benchmarks and tools?  

We held an intimate gathering of decision makers in remote-first, or remote only tech companies.

The key questions we started with:

  • How can we improve talent engagement & business impact with the right data, benchmarks and tools, especially in remote or hybrid settings?   
  • Why & how should we start analyzing collaboration habits to improve employee wellbeing, engagement and efficiency in a well informed intentional, individualized way? 
  • How can workplace data help to reduce workload & burnout in remote tech teams? 

Three gaps tech orgs face now that came up in the discussion

#1 Gap: Different needs of teams in terms of remote and hybrid & usually one-size-fits-all solutions 

The main challenge is to build a personalized team experience that accommodates the diversity associated with remote working and team/role specifics. The choice of hybrid/remote first model is not seen in the same way even by a rather homogenous group of professionals working for tech companies. When designing new working models, one needs to take into account both the eagerness to continue with remote working (from which there is no turning back), and on the second end of the equation, the unique value resulting from teamwork:creativity & energy created best in the   face to face, office environment. On top of that, we need to acknowledge that even  some tech jobs still need to be done in the office due to the logistics of things, e.g. for gamedev ICs working on 3D models that need to be filmed with actors playing in the studio, the presence in the office is obligatory. Hence, one-size-fits-all solutions do not fit all the teams the same way. At the same time, when creating fair (and fair is not equal), individualized solutions we need to intentionally design for mitigation of some unintended discriminatory practices such as  potential proximity bias/favouritism to those working from the same office.

What can tech teams do better with the right data, benchmarks & actions? 

Usually tech orgs start by using the so called active listening measures such as surveys distributed equally & regularly to all the team members, so their opinions can be heard and acted upon, focus or consultation groups.

There are also more novel approaches to collecting employee sentiment in an active way. An interesting active listening initiative was shared by one of the guests as a new successful way of engaging team members: an advisory/sounding board body consisting of trusted team members was created, whose main purpose is an ongoing dialogue between the leadership and  the representatives of employees.They are additionally supported by agile coaches and HRBPs working very close to the teams, and serving as barometers of moods. 

We, as Network Perspective have shared our knowledge on how to use a complementary listening method, the so called passive listening i.e. collecting and analyzing meta-data from company comms & collaboration systems (e.g. G-suite, Slack, Jira) ethically and through that enriching the feedback for teams with the objective metrics that give insights on the key dimensions (as illustrated in the slide below):

When we think about collaboration analytics, it’s of course critically important to protect the privacy of individuals and run team-level analytics (averages for the team or % of people from the team) only.

#2 Gap: Fewer people entering the tech market, while the demand for talent is growing

Tech orgs focus on how to retain the best employees and keep the so-called ‘talent density’ high, as the gap between the increasing demand for employees in tech and the number of people entering the market is growing. At the same time, today's newbies are largely a generation of digital natives, for whom autonomy, a sense of influence and flexibility at work are key.

What can tech teams do better with the right data, benchmarks & actions? 

Listening to people (in a proactive way via surveys, or during individual 1on1s, or town halls) and responding to their needs are and will remain key employee experience practices. Still, using only employee feedback means that we tailor the actions toto the symptoms people are feeling and talking about, and not always to their real root causes. Very often, employees are not able to name the specific root causes of their workload, burnout, low engagement or suboptimal development.,

By using meta-data from company comms & collaboration systems (e.g. G-suite, Slack, Jira), this view can be uncovered by giving the answers to  the questions like:  

  • Are we, as a team overloaded with (low quality) collaboration & work interruptions? What types of meetings are unproductive? How many interruptions based on Slack or emails do we experience? How can we deal with it? 
  • Do we have time for quality deep work? What can we do to improve it and to increase quality asynchronous communication? 
  • Do we have high quality team syncs? Do we synchronize/align with other teams we should work with & learn from? 
  • Do we integrate newbies the way they can feel connected to the team and the company? 
  • Do we have enough exposure to more experienced/tenured peers that help us learn on the job and grow? 
  • How can we experiment and learn to have quality deep work?

One of the ideas, mentioned here in the context of improving the quality of  and promoting the value of deep work, is virtual coworking popularized by Remote How, and already used by some companies. The idea is to organize online spaces that bring individuals to work virtually ‘side by side’with the primary aim of improving real commitment to non distracted deep work and individual efficiency. 

#3 Gap: Maintaining remote cross-team connectivity is much more critical while knowledge becomes obsolete much faster 

Research shows that hybridization boosted productivity, but innovation has deteriorated significantly. Remote and hybrid teams tend to silo more, as the cross-team ‘bridging’ interactions need to be much more intentional. Tech companies are observing that trend, and it is extremely hard & important for them to help continue to build social capital and innovation via cross team collaboration. 

What can tech teams do better with the right data, benchmarks & actions? 

Cross-team collaboration and building bridging connections between teams  is not an easy topic to be measured and understood through surveys or individual interviews. Leveraging meta-data from company comms & collaboration systems (e.g. G-suite, Slack, Jira)can give a team a new lense on those challenges through an instant feedback on: 

  • What are the teams we work with most often? Are those the teams we should be  working most often with? 
  • Are we unknowingly syloing from some parts of the company? 
  • Do we have enough exposure to cross-team interactions? How much time do we invest weekly in working cross-team? Is it not too much?
  • Is the network of all the teams in a company well connected? Who are the key hubs? Are some parts siloyed? 

What may change when you improve collaboration patterns?  

The second part of our discussion was focused on the operational, tactical and strategic impact you can observe once tech teams’ evolve their work patterns based on passive listening insights on their current work habits. Here are some examples.

Once putting the data about work & collaboration patterns in the hands of people leaders & teams, they get a full, more objective and continuous overview of the work habits and experience rooted by them.

We strongly believe that leveraging and better understanding of data is the key to improving the future workplace in an impactful way and effectively selecting initiatives not for symptoms, but for root causes.

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The session was led by world class experts who have successfully built/led/advised/trained distributed teams before 2020 for companies such as GitLab, Hubspot, Netguru, Walmart, ING Bank, and many more.

June 8, 2022

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