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Our experience of remote working and the best of what’s out there

This guide will discuss how to boost engagement and motivation while working remotely, how to keep the collaboration flowing and run effective remote workshops, and how to choose the right tools for your virtual team. 

We know that things are feeling a little weird right now. Perhaps working from home is something that has been thrust on you when you least expect it and you’re not really sure what to do or how you’ll cope?

Perhaps you’re an experienced homeworker but you’re used to scheduling your activities to work independently when you’re working from home and now that rule no longer applies?

Perhaps you’re one of the folks still making your way into the office each day but you think homeworking is in the post and you want to be prepared?

If you are one of these people, or you’d just like to learn how to collaborate more effectively, read on!

Here at Pathfinder, we are experts in working collaboratively, and whilst our preference has always been to physically co-locate with our clients wherever possible, we recognise that in the current climate that is no longer feasible.

There’s a huge wealth of information out there you can access to learn more about remote working and we’ve curated some of the best for you to access in one place.

1. Boosting engagement and motivation while working remotely.

What are the things that you can do to ensure that you engage people and keep them motivated during this period?

This is the most comprehensive guide we’ve come across on the interweb and it really covers every aspect of remote working, not just people engagement. Zapier are a small company but their workforce (~300 people) is distributed across the world. The page opens with an hour-long video which is interesting to get context around companies who have chosen to move to remote working. However, if you don’t have the time or patience to watch, there is a heap of content on their site which really does cover pretty much every question you might have.

If your boss loves a Harvard Business Review article, send them this one. It’s a helpful guide for managers who are new to the whole remote working thing. It’s pretty introductory, but it’s riddled with links to other articles that go into lots more detail.

This article is written by Linsey Pollak, author of the Remix, which is her guide to succeeding in the workplace today. It’s a good one to think through how to best look after you, as does this one. Although this Instagram post has to be our fave on that particular topic – leotard anyone?

For some helpful tips from experienced remote workers, take a look here. It’s got lots of very specific advice from actual humans who’ve been doing this for ages.

Lastly, LinkedIn have helpfully published a blog which has links to 16 free, LinkedIn learning courses. LinkedIn learning, in general, tends to be pretty good so it’s definitely worth a look.


What’s been our experience?

When you’re stuck behind a laptop all day with no physical interaction there can be a real tendency to fall into the habit of reverting to written communications. Messaging apps are handy when you’re trying to multi-task and nab people who are otherwise engaged, but they also make it easy to be misconstrued.

Written communication is great when you’re trying to get across specific messages that you’ve invested time in considering and finessing, however, it’s really easy for people to read into things and to infer emotion that simply isn’t there, increasing the likelihood of conflict. Instead, pick up the phone or even better video call as the non-verbal aspects of communication will reveal emotions, motives and feelings.

So how do you encourage people to show their face and put down the keyboard?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Organise virtual breaks with your team to encourage openness and sharing.

You have no shared coffee machine to congregate over so create a virtual one. Schedule a team tea break for 15 minutes every couple of days and have everyone join by video. You can all catch up, drink your tea and have a natter. Here’s a great post which talks about how you can harness humans’ natural behavioural tendencies to great effect.

2. Think of interesting ways to connect with team members.

Perhaps you set a goal to all take a picture of an interesting object in your home and then share the story behind it, or have a “who has the best working from home lunch” competition. Anything and everything which encourages you and your team to stay social, to share experiences and remember that there is a world outside of work and Covid-19.

3. Ban email and set rules for tools.

Consider not using email at all, or close down your email client for large parts of your working day. Set guidelines for when different tools should be used, encouraging people to prioritise voice and video communications.

4. Invest even more of your time than usual in checking in with team members.

You won’t have those opportunities to just come across people, or to have catchups at the beginning or end of meetings. Pick up the phone to colleagues and take a minute to understand how they’re doing and what you can do to support.

2. How to keep the collaboration flowing and run effective workshops remotely.

There are many articles on this floating around right now which cover not just approaches but also tools and other helpful stuff. Here are some of the highlights for us:

This is a really excellent one from the UX Collective. It takes 10 minutes to read and covers everything from tools (see more in our section below) to how to warm up participants who aren’t used to this way of working.

More from the UX Collective on how to reboot your remote working; nothing groundbreaking but a good summary if you’re looking for an overview. If you like lists here are 32 different tips for how to max out your working from home.

If you only have 5 minutes this one from Medium gives a good intro on this topic, whilst this one from Miro is way more comprehensive and has loads of great ideas, as well as (of course) suggestions on how you can use Miro to support these kinds of activities (more on that in our tooling blog).

This amazing website is a collection of the best tools on the web for design and change. Whilst not specifically focused on remote working, loads of these toolboxes use great visual working techniques which can be used in a virtual setting. Be warned, it’s huge, however, the authors have helpfully indicated their favourites for you to get started on.


What’s been our experience?

We find you need to work that bit harder with virtual workshops than you do with those where you are physically co-located. There’s a definite tendency to multi-task so be firm with attendees around expectations i.e. no taking calls, no emails etc.

As a virtual facilitator you will need to remain switched on to everyone on the call, and for that reason planning and structuring your agenda and activities is even more important than normal. Think carefully about who you want in the meeting, why you want them there and what their expected contribution is. It may even be worth calling participants in advance to warm them up. Break your agenda into timed sections with clear inputs, discussion points and outputs.

Don’t feel like you’re on your own; implementing formal roles for everyone who is in the workshop can be an effective way to keep people involved, especially those who have a tendency to let their mind wander or to sit back and let others do all the talking. And of course, it also takes some of the weight off of you.

Roles you may want to consider are:

  • Observer – someone to provide feedback at the end of the meeting as to how they think it went, and what could be improved
  • Rabbit hole monitor – someone to watch out for when the discussion veers off-topic or becomes too nuanced
  • Timekeeper – someone to make sure you get through everything in our agenda
  • Notetaker – this enables the facilitator to focus on facilitation and active listening
  • Rewarder – someone to recognise key contributions and to point out good behaviours you want to embed within the team

3. The right tools to support your virtual team

There are a ton of tools out there designed to enhance your collaboration capability. You may already have access to some of these, although you might not be using them. If you’ve been struggling to convince your IT department to look at some new apps then now’s your chance! The cloud is our saviour here – free trial periods and subscription models mean minimal investment for maximum results.

There are lots of articles out there that do comparisons of different remote working tools. Here are some of the best;

  • This one on medium doesn’t just focus on business productivity tools but also looks at health and wellbeing for a more holistic tack.
  • This one covers some of the most well known ones as well as others you may not have heard of.
  • Zapier nails it again with this mammoth tour of 30+ apps to support you in working remotely.
  • Here’s an even bigger list although there is little insight/review, just links against different categories.
  • This one from TechRadar covers all the biggies with reviews and comparisons.
  • Session Lab have compared 25 different tools across lots of different capabilities, all with the aim of running effective virtual workshops.
  • Lastly, this one from InVision helpfully pulls a bunch of comparison data from across the web for a number of tools and then explains the best 7, with specific recommendations from folk they’ve spoken to.

What’s been our experience?

  • Collaborative working platforms

We’re going to start with Teams. Like lots of non-digitally native organisations we are Microsoft junkies. We have an enterprise licence for Office 365 which means this comes with the bundle. For anyone who’s been using (and hating) Sharepoint for years, this is the pimped version with a host of collaboration tools on top, meaning you can avoid ever having to enter the dreaded Sharepoint folder navigation ever again.

It’s basically Sharepoint with a bunch of Slack features thrown in for good measure and also offers integrations with a whole host of third-party apps to avoid you having to go anywhere else.

The good

1. If you’re a big organisation, the chances are you have licences for this you just may not be using it.
2. It obviously integrates with all other MS apps, as well as a bunch of third-party ones, making life simpler.
3. It’s pretty intuitive and the search capability across Office 365 is really powerful meaning you shouldn’t have a problem finding that document you saved yesterday.

The bad

It’s still pretty immature and missing lots of really obvious features, particularly around moving and changing content between and around teams, which can make things pretty unproductive. It is relatively buggy although it is improving. You’ll find features can vanish or options disappear although it rarely goes down entirely. Like all of the tools we’ll talk about, this requires extensive effort to embed usage. It requires behavioural change for organisations to use it effectively and that takes time.

Slack is probably the most well known of all the collaboration tools and is the one used by all the cool kids (i.e. digital natives and start-ups). It’s pitched as an alternative to email and is an excellent communication app, but it definitely doesn’t cover all your collaboration needs.

It’s feature-rich which is great, and once teams have adopted it, you’ll definitely see improvements in communication and collaboration, however, this same richness drives complexity. It’s not intuitive to new users – you need to learn the parlance and the behaviours to be able to use it effectively – and like Teams, you’ll need to provide training and support to ensure it embeds. We’d also question how much better it is than email at not sucking up attention in your working day.

  • Video and voice calling

WhatsApp – who doesn’t use WhatsApp? We can make the mistake of thinking this is just for sharing the birthday photos from your gran’s 80s or for organising holidays with your pals, but it can be used for much more. This ubiquitous tool can handle pretty massive groups; up to 256 folk. You can share videos, photos and messages, either in the mobile app or on the desktop version.

Free voice and video calling and end to end encryption means your IT department should be comfortable enough with you using it and you can also send documents up to 100MB. If you’re looking to get people to take baby steps into collaborating using digital tooling, this is probably your best place to start.

Google Hangouts – this is another messaging tool which you might already be familiar with. You can make calls (voice and video) and send messages. It works best, unsurprisingly, if you’re already using the rest of the Google suite. It’s easy enough to set up groups and get started, although we found the interface isn’t always that intuitive. Worth giving it a bash.

Zoom – this is our favourite video conferencing app (along with half the world). It’s super easy to use, the quality is great and you can use it for free if you keep your meetings to under 40 minutes.

It can cope with up to 1000 participants on a call and we’ve seen it being used for country-wide events where thousands of attendees are distributed over a number of locations.

  • Visual working

Miro – this is the number one app worldwide and for good reason. As well as being packed with features, it looks great and is relatively straightforward to set-up. It includes features for service design blueprinting, customer journey mapping, wireframing, and a bunch of tools to support Agile working. It also offers a host of third-party integrations to simplify life even more.

In our view, it’s worth the investment but your biggest challenge will be convincing folk why you need this tool on top of others. Hopefully, the current situation will give you the perfect opportunity to persuade!