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Delivery Leads Jackie Michl and Dee Doyle share insights on supporting effective teamwork and collaboration on remote software teams.

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About Labs Live

Labs Live is a stream hosted by Detroit Labs’ very own Dan Ward and Tobi Adebisi, where they bring on guests from the Labs team and our clients to talk about the latest in technology, software design and development, and whatever else comes to mind. Labs Live streams live on LinkedIn and YouTube each month.

Transcript:

Dan:

Two minutes in and I think we’re good giving enough people some time. So for those that have already joined, thank you very much for tuning in today to another one of our live broadcasts. This is going to be another one called Remote Spotlight. I think we just did one on design and then now we’re going to be focused on delivery leads. And I should give an idea of what delivery lead means at Detroit Labs. I don’t want to necessarily call it project management, but there is an aspect of that. So I would say project management meets Scrum Master with some account management in there too, because y’all are constantly talking to the client. It is a difficult position, like I said that’s a position where a lot of different responsibilities fold up and roll up to one role.

I think we’re in a somewhat unique situation now where, not only our entire team’s remote, but as a delivery lead, you are also remote and Dee you started going remote several months ago, so I think as far as this panel goes, you are the veteran. Jackie you’ve transitioned along with the rest of us going remote and we had a conversation early on trying to just talk through, ” Hey, what do we want to talk about during this dream?”. There’ve been a couple key themes that came up during that and I think one of the first ones was just communication because that all changed once you go remote. So you want to jump in first and just talk about what you’ve experienced so far, what has helped and maybe some intentional things that you’ve had to do.

Jackie:

Yeah, absolutely. So, regarding communication, the first thing that you need to do, is have a conversation with your team about communication and what is going to be expected of everyone for communication and you work as a team to establish those expectations. So as a delivery leader, servant leader, you’re not telling people how to communicate, but you’re all agreeing on how to communicate and if you are on a team that creates team agreements or has a set of team agreements, perhaps you have some temporary things related to communication that you add to those team agreements while your team is remote. For my team, what we did was now, we decided that we’re consistently going to post in our Slack channel and our team Slack channel when we’re online on the morning when we’re taking lunch, and I think a really big, important one, when we’re signing off. Which are things that team members who were remote for a day would already do. But now everyone is more consistently doing that because we as a team agreed to do that.

Dee:

Yeah and I’d like to add to that and say that there’s definitely more of a need for transparency and over-communicating when we’re all remote and making sure that the work that we’re all doing is visible to each other or working out loud as you would call it. Making sure people feel comfortable reaching out to the team when they have challenges or agreeing like Jackie said on the best ways of communicating within the team. So does Slack make sense for a particular situation or is it a situation where it helps to jump on a quick call? So deciding those of things I think have been helpful as I transitioned to being remote.

Jackie:

Yeah. I also think regarding jumping on a call, I think sometimes when folks are remote, there can be some hesitancy to bring contact back in and to have a call. What I’ve been trying to do, and I think my team has also been doing this, is as soon as we have that little inkling of maybe this should be a conversation, maybe this shouldn’t be us typing back and forth to one another. We just immediately grapple on to that instinct and say, ” Hey, can we have just a team Slack call right now?” So we’ve been having a lot more team Slack calls then we would when we were mostly in an office. Those have taken the place of any impromptu little huddles between two or three people. The key here is listening to your instinct that that needs to happen because it can be really tempting to just continue typing back and forth because there isn’t a person right next to you that you can turn to. Use like a Google hangout or just have impromptu meetings like you would if you were just at your desks.

Dan:

So you brought something up there in that conversation and I’m not sure if everyone knows what this means or maybe just not sure if everyone knows what this means but I ask because it was relatively new to me when it started to come up. This notion of team agreements, what are they?

Jackie:

Team agreements are a set of, I don’t know, guidelines or rules is the right way to say it, but at Labs, and this is common in Agile teams as well, where rather than having rules of how to work, dictated to a team, by say the team lead. The team comes together and agrees upon what their expectations are going to be from one another. So that can include like a core working hours, particularly if you’re in an office or a company that has a flexible working day. It can include things like headphone policy, which isn’t as relevant right now since we’re not in the office. If you were in the office, if someone has their headphones on, rather than walking up to them, ping them in Slack. It helps us hold each other accountable for having good team practices and healthy communication and a good team atmosphere. But the important thing is that the team comes together and creates these agreements together on how to work rather than them being handed to them.

Dan:

So that’s great and transitions to another thing Dee, that you had actually said earlier. During your transition, you learned that trust was a big piece of that. Is that something that you had to work hard on that piece? Does that come naturally? Where does that fall into this whole equation?

Dee:

Yeah so I think trust is an important factor of course, on any team working together but I think it gets magnified in importance when you’re working remotely because you have fewer data points. So you’re not sitting in the same space together, seeing what people are doing. Or if you’re in a meeting and somebody’s really quiet in person but they’re still contributing and able to have a good outcome, then you have a different perception of that when you’re co-located versus if you’re remote. You just don’t hear somebody’s voice at all, and they’re not speaking up for example, in a meeting. So I think it becomes more important as you work remotely. That’s what I found and I think it’s good to remember to focus on outcomes versus activity in general.

Dan:

All right. So one of the things I’m going to at least post out to anybody that’s viewing right now. If you do have a question for Dee or for Jackie. Not necessarily Dave and I, we can’t provide you with answers but Dee and Jackie, certainly you can. Ask either on YouTube or LinkedIn, we are paying attention to those. I’m sure everyone would love to answer live questions about any prep.

Jackie:

Absolutely.

Dan:

One of the things I think as we walked through this, we talked about communication team agreements, trust, kind of boiled into that is some of the one-on-one interactions I should say, that happened between and team member. Normally those happen in person, probably more frequently. But do you have to intentionally make time to check in with individuals?

Dee:

Yeah so when I first transitioned to being remote, I had a conversation with the team and said I would be trying to check in with every person on the team at least once a week for 15-20 minutes, just a casual conversation. That was really helpful for me in staying connected with everyone else on the team and I think it’s also important to deliberately facilitate those types of conversations between team members. So things that naturally and organically happen when you’re co-located. But now you have to think about it a little more deliberately or intentionally. So maybe it’s just five minutes at the start of a meeting or at the end of a meeting where you’re chatting with people and trying to figure out what’s going on in their lives, just taking some time to maintain and build those relationships.

Jackie:

I agree, I definitely noticed that one thing our team has been doing is at the end of a meeting that we have, particularly if it’s with the client and then the client hops off of the meeting. Invite the team, we’ll just hang out for an extra minute or two and just be adding a bit more than, even we probably would, when we’re in the office. That’s been really nice because it’s been good impromptu team bonding time, which is cool.

Jackie:

Another thing regarding check-ins, as a team leader I think it’s really important to keep a good gauge on team health and how individuals are feeling as well and particularly at a time right now, there are some individuals who are in even more stressful situations than you might be yourself. For example, if there’s super high priority work going on that someone is looking into. Intentionally reach out to them at a time like this, because if they’re really working very hard and perhaps they’re putting in long hours, they might feel more on an Island right now and less supported because they’re not right next to their peers. Being intentional about reaching out to those types of folks.

Jackie:

I just think of parents right now. Parents Who need to be working from home, with little kids running around now that school is out and some childcare it doesn’t exist anymore or it can’t be had. I’ve been trying to consciously reach out to those folks on my team as well, just to check in and say, “How are you doing?” And let them know that if they need to take some space and some time for themselves, that they absolutely can.

Dan:

That’s great, I want to continue on that theme of individuals. I want to talk about the importance of recognition, and actually Jackie, I’m going to have you start on it. Because there’s actually a caution for Dee, and I’m going to let you read it in the private chat room, before I post it up on the screens. If you want to go over there, you can read it while Jackie talks about the importance of recognition.

Jackie:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, first off recognition and both team recognition, but especially individual recognition is important in any sort of working environment, even if you were in the office. But it’s even more important now that everyone is remote, because again we’re trying to make sure that folks are feeling supported. That they still feel a part of the team, that they know that they’re doing a good job.

Jackie:

What I’ve been trying to do is … I do this in my day to day, even in the office, but when I have that little inkling that, “Oh, that person did something really great.” and I really appreciate what they do, I’m very intentional about listening to that instinct and reaching out to them. Whether that’s individually, so doing a little one-to-one like,” Hey, you said that thing to the client, and you said it really well.” And you did a really great job, and I appreciate you. I see you, I recognize you or even doing that in a public Slack channel, giving someone a shout out. Something I’ve noticed on our team is that we’re usually, but team is just handing out shout outs like left and right now. And I think it’s a really good morale booster during tough times.

Dan:

Awesome. Dee are you ready for your question before I pop it up, on the screen?

Dee:

Sure.

Dan:

Lauren asked us to ask, can Dee elaborate on what she means by focusing on outcomes versus activities? What are some examples?

Dee:

So I think this came up when we were talking about the trust factor. A lot of folks tend to be hesitant about remote work because you don’t see people next to you working, or it’s hard, you’re not in the same space, so it’s not as visible and so what I meant by that, was focusing on what results are being accomplished by that individual, instead of focusing on what are they doing at each moment of the day. So, if the work is getting done and they’re meeting expectations, then that’s what the important part is and I think there needs to be an element of trust involved, when you switch to being remote for that to work properly.

Dan:

I really liked that as advice not just for remote, but for companies at large companies in general. I think in a lot of places, there’s focus on being in your seat for a specific amount of time. There’s not really a measurement of, even if you’re in your seat for a specific amount of time, that doesn’t guarantee that you are doing something in that amount of time, even if it looks like you’re doing something. So focusing on the outcomes are key. Dave will kind of laugh at this and I won’t say the developer’s name, but we had a developer, who had I am talking about the best time management, of any person I’ve ever seen to the point where this person was able to spend a significant amount of time going to the gym, going to coffee and things like working that into their daily schedule and it’s because every single time they were able to deliver. If that person is watching, they know who they are, but it was always fascinating to me and I very much enjoyed it.

Jackie:

I think that’s particularly important as we’re all getting used to a new normal, with working from home. It’s a weird situation, if you’re not used to working from home. It can be really difficult to get into the working mindset. I think it’s important as an individual, but then also as a leader to recognize that there’s still an adjustment period and honestly, some folks might never fully adjust to working from home.

Jackie:

And it’s important to recognize that and like create a safe space for that. I just had to do that this morning where, it was 10 o’clock and I still was just feeling like a slug moving into the day and I just told the team, ” Hey, I need to just take a 10 minute yoga break.” For some reason I’m having a hard time, switching context into the Workday.

Jackie:

So I need to give myself some space and the team was applauding me, like yeah you take that space and you do what you need to do. As a leader, I think it’s important to really encourage the team to do that. That’s where some of those individual check-ins, like if we want to go back to that. If you notice that someone is having a hard time or they sign that,” Ooh, I’m having a hard day”. Just check in with them and say, ” Hey, if you need to take 15 minutes, if you need to take a half an hour, you feel free to do that.”

Dan:

Now before we jump into, so again, reminder, if you do have questions, definitely ask and we’ll address. I want to briefly ask about tools, before we get into something that I think is very important and that’s team fun. Let’s talk about tools, cause I think that also transitions into trying to have remote team fun. Maybe just talk about some of the tools that we use from a delivery lead standpoint, not necessarily that they have changed because we’re remote. But I think in a lot of ways, they have set us up to be able to be remote.

Dee:

I was thinking about this when I first transitioned to being remote and I feel like on our project teams, almost all of the tools that we use, set us up really well for remote work. Things like our Google drive, which is a central repository of all our documents for the project or JIRA, which gives us a way to track all of the work that the team is doing. So at any point, what’s being worked on and what somebody on the team is working on. So you’re not stepping on each other’s toes and that helps build that trust as well. Then also our hangouts that we use for video chats and video conferences have been really helpful, I think.

Dan:

Were you going to chime in Jackie or We do have a question that I want to hit before we go to team fun.

Jackie:

I was going to chime in real quickly. I think Slack calls have been, I mentioned this earlier, but Slack calls have really become the new impromptu meeting for us. We’ve had full team Slack calls where we just pivoted to a quick huddle with the team, rather than, sometimes if you use a Google hangout, it might feel like, “Oh, well we need to put it on the calendar.” And then whatever, but the Slack call feature has been really helpful for us.

Dan:

Yeah. I’ve noticed that. I’ve actually been using that instead. I used that to default to phone calls all the time, but now that we’re home and there’s so many different ways to communicate with each other, I felt like I was constantly switching between phone device and all these other different things. Going over to Slack calls was a big help. What’s that? You said it’s easy.

Jackie:

I said it’s so easy, yeah,

Dan:

That’s it then. Half the battle sometimes. So Jordan Jones asked this, which I thought was an interesting thing. We’re talking about right now, the role and responsibility, but also the need to have delivery leads support their team. How can team members and this is obviously beyond just Detroit Labs, how can team members best support their delivery lead?

Dee:

For me, I think one of the best ways is making sure everyone’s communicating really well. So make sure you’re making your status visible in Slack, if you’re doing something else or if you need a break and you’re out for lunch. So just being diligent about updating the team when you’re available or not. Making sure time off is communicated well in advance, just things like that.

Jackie:

I think one important thing for me is taking any direct message and putting it into a public channel. Now that everyone is remote, I think there’s a greater tendency to have a less visible conversation and a direct message either with a peer or even if your client is in Slack too. Having a direct message with the client and then forgetting to make that visible again. So that’s something that’s really important for me, because trying to just keep tabs and a feel on everything. I like visibility and transparency in conversations.

Dan:

Awesome. Y’all ready for another question. This one was asked by Tobi and very I — Tobi wasn’t on the stream today but he is watching and has a question for us. When bringing together team agreements, is there a template guideline you follow? If someone or a team has never made one before how can they start it?

Jackie:

That’s a Deep one that could be a whole live session on itself. One strategy that I’ve used for creating team agreements if you haven’t got started yet, is just agreeing on what your core goals and your core values are. As a team, we believe in a quality product, we believe in quality over speed, that’s something that you might all believe in. And then under that core value, what are things that you as a team are going to agree to do, to uphold that value? That’s a really simple way of doing it, but team agreements can be really simple. They can be really complicated. There’s a lot of resources online on different strategies, but there’s no one right way or one, right or wrong way to do a team agreement.

Dan:

All right. You are comfortable for one more question, this one comes from Eric Quinn on YouTube: When in the office I normally rely on tools like whiteboards and talking with my hands to communicate. What illustrative tools have been working best for you to discuss technical issues?

Dee:

I have used Mural in the past, in my previous job, I would say. So that one, I really like not sure if there are other ones. I know that there are several other ones out there, but I haven’t personally used them.

Jackie:

Yeah. I’ve used Mural in the past too. I think they have a free 30 day trial or something like that. So if you’re really into white-boarding, you might want to take advantage of that free 30 day trial, if it exists, don’t quote me on that. But that’s a really great tool for white-boarding because not only can you draw on the Mural, but you can also create sticky notes and titles in different sections and it’s very similar to collaborating in a Google doc. So if there are multiple people in the Mural, you can see exactly what they’re doing at the same time. So it’s a really good collaboration tool.

Dan:

Again, another question that I’m going to pop in here in a minute: Are those team agreements changing as a result of the lack of proximity?

Dave:

That’s a good question.

Jackie:

Yeah. That’s a great question. Actually, our team agreements did not change much, because we already realized that we had good agreements and practices in place that supported remote work. So ours didn’t actually change for my team, but I think the most important thing is that we had a conversation about it, “Do they need to change? Is there anything else that we need to take into consideration?” And we as a team decided, no, not really. Other than just making sure that we’re posting when we’re online and when we leave, which is something that we already did when we were remote and we just agreed to follow through.

Dee:

I have the same situation as Jackie. We didn’t change ours either when I transitioned to being fully remote, but it was for the same similar reasons. We were already doing a lot of those things as a team, communicating, making sure we kept everyone updated on when we were going to be out or if we were taking a lunch break or things like that. So we didn’t officially change them.

Dan:

I’m going to make sure that I prop this, but if you have any questions, good questions so far, which is great. TB even suggested we should release our own template for team agreements. I know Shannon worked on, had a template for the marketing team, which was nice to build-off of and a good exercise that she put the team through. So the great thing is team agreements aren’t just for software development. Literally they could be for anything, its nice. We’ve had some questions before we got to this, but now I want to get to this. I don’t care who wants to start on this, but maybe explain first what team fun has traditionally been and maybe the cadence what happens and then what it has turned into now that everyone’s remote. Whoever wants to dive in, it’s fine.

Dee:

Team fun is just something we tend to do on projects every month. Just to bring the whole team together, team building activities, and there’s a wide range of things that teams do. It’s really very creative. So a lot of people come up with really creative things to do during team fun. Transitioning to being remote, initially I thought it would be a bit of a challenge, but there are so many different opportunities now to have a virtual team fun. So it might be something as simple as scheduling a remote happy hour where everybody’s just chit chatting, drinking their favorite beverage or there’s a lot of games now that are online. I think Jackbox games is something, a lot of people, a lot of us at Labs have used. There’s a lot of options out there.

Jackie:

Our team recently had a remote team fun just last week and it was over lunch. So we all like ate lunch at our desks while we were playing a game called scribble.io, which is like online Pictionary and it can support, I think up to 12 people, our team is like somewhat large and so it was really nice to see an online tool that could support that number of folks. And it was really fun. We hopped on a Google hangout so that we could all hear each other talking. And then we also had the scribble.io app up. So we were talking about each other’s drawings and making jokes and it turned out really well and it was a lot of fun.

Dan:

Awesome. All right.

Jackie:

Also We do have a blog post out, I think we recently published a blog post about remote team funs. So check out Detroit Labs.com. if you want some more ideas.

Dan:

Oh, that’s a great thing. Elise can comment on YouTube and then LinkedIn as well, since I believe she is the one that put that together, which is fantastic. Anything else I’m going to put the prompt up there again. If, if you do have a question ask away, we are, believe it or not, we are 32 minutes live streaming. I told you, it goes by faster and it makes it easy when it’s just a conversation here. Anything else, any other advice that you would have for I am going to add in there, I am going to add project managers, I am going to add scrum masters in there, accounting because a lot of different things that is what they do. Any other advice that you would have for them as they’re transitioning to this new world?

Jackie:

I think with this sort of people type role and leadership role communication is a really big part of our job. A lot of that communication when we’re in the office tends to be face to face. A lot of folks in this role might really miss that face to face communication. Obviously we can’t totally replace that, but if you’re the type of person who likes to have a conversation, whether that’s a call or a Google hangout, a video chat, just give everyone a heads up that you’re going, you’ll likely request more calls with folks just to check in or understand the concept.

Jackie:

And this serves two purposes. One, it lets the team know to expect that sort of communication from you. But then two, I think it can help alleviate some of the anxiety you may have reaching out because I know for me, and I think others can be like this too. If I’m remote, I hesitate to just have a call with someone, because I don’t want to bother them. They might be in the middle of something. I can’t see what they’re doing and so if you just let the team know to expect additional calls or communication from you, then it can help relieve some of that pressure or anxiety from your shoulders.

Dan:

We do have one other question from Tijana here: Anything that you’ve learned or observed while working remotely that you’d like to continue doing as a team, once we’re back in our offices?

Jackie:

I need to think about that one.

Dee:

So one of the things that for me, I noticed when everyone transitioned to being remote versus me being remote and the team being at the office was how different it is when everyone’s on their own cameras versus being in a room that has one camera or one speakerphone. So that made a big difference for me. So if there’s a way to do that more, when we get back into the office, that would be awesome.

Jackie:

I honestly — I would agree with that too. I feel like our meetings are more productive now than a meeting where half the team was remote and half the team was in one conference room. I think there might be a critical point that if a certain number of folks are remote, it might be more productive of a meeting, if everyone just sits at their desk and calls in individually,

Dan:

We posted this link, Jackie talked about it, 30 office party games for remote work, which has been a great blog. So you can head over there and check that out at any time. If there are no more questions, did we have any more advice before we start to wrap things up here?

Dave:

I was just going to throw in that I finished, this is a bit of a plug for remote by “37 Signals”, which is a book about moving your organization to remote work, as well as how to, yourself move to remote and there’s a lot of really nice one to two page nuggets in there. So it’s a pretty quick read, which is perfect in this rush to figure out how to work well remotely. So plug for that “37 Signals Remote”. And I actually think that they offered to reimburse anybody who bought it. Right.

Dan:

I believe so. They’ve been offering to reimburse and I don’t know if they’re still doing free or, I don’t know what they’re offering. They did chime in and offer to reimburse, which is really fantastic. Dave, we’ll buy you both a copy. That’s how generous that’s how nice we are.

Dave:

I’ll buy everybody a copy.

Dan:

Careful. You just said that. So now you can find them online. So Dee and Jackie, thank you so much. I appreciate you coming on and sharing what you’ve learned so far. Dee what you’ve been learning over the last couple of months now and I think as is people are transitioning, hearing stories like this and tips certainly help. With that I think as we start to wrap up, I probably have to add a couple. Thanks Dave, great tips and great tips, Dee and Jackie. Thank you, Sharon.

Dan:

As, as we wrap up here, I should kind of mention, we are continuing to kind of work through what our schedule is going to be from a live video standpoint. So the way we have it set up now, at least our thinking is on Friday, we’ll have more of a short fun engaging live chat to wrap up the week. Think it would be fun, kind of bringing in more and more Detroit Labs team members to maybe ask a couple of serious of questions and a couple of silly questions, because I think it’s still good to, to smile and laugh. Now as much as, as much as we can at the same time, I will have more remote spotlight live streams and I’m really excited because next week at our normal time, I believe right David three o’clock on Thursday or a normal time, we will have Labs live, come back, which fantastic because Chrissy and Erica have already prepared a great conversation about women in tech.

And we had planned on having that essentially the day we started to go remote and we wanted to make sure that we iron out all of, all of the kinks in this new live streaming remote setup. So excited that that’s coming back. So make sure you follow us on all of our different social platforms. Think we’ll be prompting some opportunities to ask some questions that we will make sure that we address on air and again, if you have questions during any of these broadcasts, ask and let your friends know, and thank you for tuning in and have a good rest of your Wednesday. So I’ll see you all later, Goodbye.