Remote work is part of everyday life for the approximately 200 employees in the knk group. This is because the headquarters of our software and consulting company is in Kiel, Germany. In addition, we have 6 other locations in Germany, and offices in France, Great Britain, and the USA.
The Group has been working remotely with a specific Microsoft tool (MS Teams) for some time now. In addition to remote office communications, the tool offers several best practices that simplify mobile communications. We would like to present some of our conclusions and best-practices from our experience.
Our main goals in working remotely:
- Keeping in touch real-time
- Compact and structured coordination and tracking
- Providing scope for creativity
Exploiting the capabilities of virtual communication
Use the camera: Communication using the camera generally thrives from different points of view. Gestures and facial expressions, so-called non-verbal communication are very important. When working remotely, the video function should therefore always be switched on so that at least some of the body language and gestures of your colleague can be seen. Granted, it’s unusual and a little strange at first, but you get used to it so quickly that you don’t want to do without the video after just a few weeks.
Check in often: As we no longer meet in the corridor or in the office, we hold regular check-ins with our colleagues or superiors, so we can stay up to date and know what everyone else is doing.
It is important to plan time for this. If working remote is still new, experts recommend that you meet with your team members regularly once a week, or even daily, via video. We hold so-called weekly and daily check-ins of about 30 minutes.
The aim of these check-ins is to stay in contact with other employees, to clarify open issues at short notice, and to agree on things like capacity for further tasks. This personal contact is particularly important if your team has no previous experience working from home. Additionally, the manager gets a good overview of where the team is at the moment and where adjustments may be necessary or support is needed, for example to meet important deadlines. When working remote, it is particularly important to set expectations clearly, for both the individual and the team, because with virtual communication, especially when it’s new, it is sometimes easy for things to remain unclear or get misunderstood.
Make working hours clear: As my colleagues cannot see intuitively when I am sitting, working, and available when I am remote, it is important to make it clear (for example in your calendar) when you are available. This status is also directly visible in our collaboration tool via small icons that can be edited manually by the employee, for example if time out of the office is planned.
Observe break times: Those who work from home or on the road, where colleagues cannot pick you up for lunch for example, should pay particular attention to taking regular breaks, or getting up and taking a short walk.
The Invitation defines the meeting: We include in the invitation text, the goals and the agenda for the meeting. This means: No meeting without an agenda.
In virtual meetings, the focus often shifts from personal interactions to the subject at hand, and to help with this, it’s often better to work with visual aids such as presentations, etc. There are third-party tools that offer a virtual whiteboard on which people can work collaboratively and then save the result as an image. A simpler option is to share the documents, texts, tables, and graphics you are talking about on the screen. If one of the meeting participants is presenting, the other participants should mute themselves to avoid unnecessary background noise. The mute can easily be unmuted at any time.
Moderators: In a virtual meeting it is even more important to have a moderator who leads the meeting and makes sure that breaks are left for questions or other contributions. This may sound a little mundane, but you don’t always see people waiting to speak or ask questions even with video. Tools to chat are there to, for example, get agreement on a point in or outside a meeting. It is then a good idea to assign another person other than the presenter who oversees the chat, especially in larger meetings.
Notes / Minutes: For online meetings it is important to summarize the conclusions and to-do’s briefly. Unlike physical meetings, those who were unable to attend the meeting do not have the opportunity to stop in the hallway or the kitchen and ask what topics were discussed. Some providers of collaboration tools also offer the option to record meetings. This is a particularly valuable option right now when colleagues are not always consistently available because children are home from school. To organize and track tasks, there are various tools such as Trello, Asana, and Microsoft Planner or similar. Notes, for example, can be recorded and edited in shared OneNote pages.
Those who don’t already have an intranet for internal communication can use the current situation to introduce one via the collaboration tools.
In the collaboration tool we use, we have created a central team for all employees, where we post organizational matters, internal events, information about our product, useful links around our locations and much more. We have named this team “knkKompass.”
We also offer our colleagues a so-called LiveKompass once a month, which is also implemented via the collaboration tool. In the LiveKompass, we present our colleagues with the most important process-related and operational innovations.
Continuing Digital Education
We have established various small programs such as “knowledge2go” and “methods4try” at knk. These 30-minute digital programs take place every two weeks and give employees input on current topics, methods, tips, and tricks. We also record all sessions so that everyone can access them later whenever he or she has time. The recordings are uploaded to Microsoft Stream, our “in-house YouTube”, where they can be viewed by colleagues on demand. In this way, information that may be limited to the participants in physical meetings is more permanent, because it can subsequently be used for various purposes, from orientation to continued training.
In addition, other online training, presentations, and further education can be easily recorded and filed in a structured manner.
We recommend that users set up small task forces for the changeover to remote work on all the various tasks. These task forces can, for example, consult each other on communication via channels and structures and promote implementation at higher levels in the company. Checklists and guidelines also helped us in the beginning. A remote codex is also possible. If you work in multiple languages, it is important to think about how to communicate with those colleagues too.
In general, it is important to give room to experiment with different communication standards and channels.
A collection of the most important points can also be found in our checklist for staying up to date despite remote working.
Sebastian Mayeres joined knk in 2003. He is COO of knk Sotware LP and Head of Global Sales. He is especially knowledgeable about Editorial Office, Media Production, CRM, Paid Content, Digital and Physical Subscription Management and – for B2B – Advertising.