5 Things Running Helped Me to Understand about Remote Collaboration
“Ready, set, RUN!” Nope, that’s not how we hype our scrum sprints. Nor how we end our kick-off meetings (although it would’ve been certainly amusing). But these were indeed the words that accompanied my first days at SO1. And they weren’t even about work.
It was literally running—one of the first tasks I got when I started at SO1 was to take part in the Berlin’s 5×5 team relay. Although other SO1ners have already attended the event several times before, it was the first time for me as well as some other newbies. What could be a better way of introducing yourself to your new team?
As if not. We had dozens of questions to discuss as a team beforehand like “what is everyone’s pace?”, “who’s the most experienced?”, “how to find your teammate at the finish line to hand over that baton?”
Even though everyone understood it was just for fun, it took us some time to plan, train, get to know each other better, learn how to focus and… support. Plus we’re pretty competitive so of course we wanted to score well!
It may sound a bit surprising but the simple principles that we had to keep in mind while preparing for the event also apply to our daily teamwork.
Especially now, when our life has changed over the course of a few weeks due to remote mode, it became a perfect opportunity to check what really works well in our team culture and what we could improve.
Build routines and stick to them
We really wanted to get in shape for that relay. While training, we all did our best not to miss training runs because that could break the progress of the whole team. We organized trainings together and sticked to the plan as much as possible. Consistency was everything.
It goes without saying that modern software development processes are all about consistency as well. We have a number of certain “ceremonies” in the R&D team such as a daily sync, retrospectives every three weeks and epic review and backlog refinements several times per week. Even simple one-on-ones are kept regularly to catch up on all the small but important details otherwise discussed in the office over a cup of coffee.
Whether you’re using agile, scrum, kanban or waterfall, planning and sticking to your routines is essential. Especially now, when we have to wall off from each other, we have a great opportunity to test and improve our existing processes to better reflect modern requirements of remote working.
Respect others’ focus
When I run, I run. I can’t stop even for a minute because that would get me out of pace. I put on my headphones, turn on the music, switch my phone into a flight mode and run in quiet places with few people to avoid disruptions. And if I meet other runners, they understand this and hence we greet merely by glancing, not words.
In work, however, this is much harder to achieve. Whenever people need urgent feedback or they miss some tool access, they need immediate attention from someone else. But interrupting someone who is deeply in flow, even for a minute, can completely ruin their focus for hours to come.
That’s why we introduced a “focus time” every day between 2 and 5pm when no one should be interrupted. On top of that, the current remote work situation strongly fosters using Slack for any urgent inquiries. In fact, people are getting more and more used to Slack and we hope to keep this habit even back in the office.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid face-to-face communication, whether personal or over a call. But we’re learning that it’s just a much better practice to first message people “can I interrupt you for a minute?” before storming their desk. Of course, checking for these inquiries whenever one has the minute is an equally important habit to make.
Put yourself in your teammates shoes
We are all different. When it comes to running, we have different paces, running styles and sometimes even moods. But when running as a team, we sync all of these pretty quickly without even realizing it. This is much harder to achieve at work, especially when working remotely.
Many SO1ners work from abroad, so we were pretty used to online meetings even before the outbreak. But we have never thought of how it feels to be on the other side of the screen. Remote workers can attend meetings but the rest of the team can already catch up before joining or exchange opinions after. It’s also much more challenging to express oneself via call with the same vigor as those physically present.
Now when everyone is forced to work remotely, these differences dissipate and everyone is on the same footing. We should keep this in mind after returning to the office. Next time you’ll have a meeting room brimmed with people and just a few remote attendants, make sure they have enough space to express themselves and clarify all information they might have missed.
Support those who need it
If you are a runner or enjoy doing something else—try to recall how it all started. You felt super excited at the beginning about your new idea: “I will be great!”. But what did you really get after a couple of first attempts? Most likely slow pace. Mistakes. Exhaustion. Pain. And a question “how do other people even enjoy this?”.
Having like-minded people who feel your “pain” and are happy to turn it into success is essential. I have goosebumps when I read stories about professional athletes who stop meters from the finish line to turn back and help their exhausted competitor to finish.
It’s similar to onboarding new team members. Despite the fact we have a well-structured onboarding plan, it will be nothing without a human touch. That’s why as a new employee you will get not only your onboarding buddy, meetings with your practice lead, HR and superior, but also the whole team to support you in your success — whether remotely or in the office.
Make it fun!
And yet the most important learning is the most obvious one. We might motivate ourselves with constant goal setting such as “we must win the race” or “I have to run my next half marathon in this time”. But how long would this motivation last if running itself was dull?
At work, it’s the small daily social interactions that make even the most mundane maladies fun. And frankly, this was the biggest challenge in the times of social distancing. But social isolation does not mean we have to cancel all our social plans, so we just adjusted them a bit.
For example, we have our daily “virtual coffee breaks” to catch up at 3PM. We play CS:GO with live streaming or board games with screen-sharing. And by the way, no one cancelled beer and pizza deliveries so we also order those together.
Birthday party? It’s sad that we can’t congratulate our colleagues in person but luckily we’re living in the digital world where we can deliver each other morning video messages and cakes, sign digital postcards, and much more.
Coming back to our team relay—I’m quite sure not one of us remembers what place we got. Our main prize was much more valuable than a line on the participants’ results dashboard. We learned about each other, got bounded as a team and had a great time.
No matter your goals, you can achieve much more if you have a well-established connection with the people around. And every challenge makes you closer, even if it’s about distancing from each other. So consider this time a great opportunity and use it to build habits and connections that will last long after we return to normal.