Today’s guest post is by Phil Montero the founder of YouCanWorkFromAnywhere.com and an evangelist for distributed work. For more than a decade he’s been teaching how to work effectively from a home office, the road, or practically anywhere. On his blog, TheAnywhereOffice.com, he shares tips and articles about living a digital lifestyle and navigating the changing world of work.
As a reader of this blog, you know that business as usual no longer involves working in a traditional workplace at set hours. Today’s professionals are working from virtual offices, client sites, home offices, coffee shops, airports, hotels, and any number of remote workplaces.
International Data Corporation (IDC), in a forecast released in February 2010, Worldwide Mobile Worker Population 2009-2013 Forecast, projects that the world’s mobile worker population will pass the one billion mark this year and grow to nearly 1.2 billion people – more than a third of the world’s workforce – by 2013. The global economy and increasing speed with which we conduct business makes the rise of distributed work and virtual teamwork inevitable. What is more, the benefits of workshifting are real.
The biggest problem is that most organizations take an ad-hoc approach to workshifing, which has been thrust upon them. The business landscape began to change; they increasingly found themselves working across time and distance with team mates, remote offices, clients, vendors, and other outsourced professionals. And they mostly left individual employees, project teams, and offices to decide for themselves how best to conduct business. Virtual teamwork was not deliberate, and not undertaken with any real strategy.
The key to success with distributed work is getting a handle on how you interact. In order to help with this process I have developed what I call the Information, Communication, Collaboration (ICC) Workflow Audit™. It’s a way to wrap your mind around the methods of your distributed teamwork and determine how to best use your technology, regardless of specific field or industry. Choosing the right tools and thoughtfully applying them to your business processes can turn your office into The Anywhere Office®: allowing you to work with people around the world as if they were across the hall.
Regardless of what stage of workshifting you’re in, or which flavor your individual remote work comes in, you can benefit from this simple exercise to organize your thinking. Look at your workflow and workstyle, and separate all of your tasks and responsibilities – the day-to-day functions of your job – into 3 categories: information, communication, and collaboration.
Then, with those lists in front of you, consider what tools and technology you are using and how; think about what types of strategies and guidelines you have in place or need to institute; and think about how to better manage your process and solicit feedback from your team members and distributed employees.
I will briefly outline below the thought process and the key questions and consideration involved in performing your own ICC Workflow Audit™. It is intended to allow you to take a step back and get a perspective on your workflow process and the mobility of your work.
When it comes to your information needs, your primary concern is access to files, data, and research. How it will be synchronized, updated, and exchanged. If you are someone who works from the road or remote locations often, the challenge is how to access your files or take your data with you when you are away from the office.
- What does your team need?
- Contact management
- Shared calendars
- Are special programs or data needed?
- Should data be centrally located?
Your primary goal is to determine if the data that your group needs is as current and easy to find as possible.
Choosing the right tools is only part of communicating well. It’s also important to discuss certain communication guidelines within your organization or team.
Setting up these simple guidelines will make sure there is no miscommunication and that everyone has a clear understanding of expectations.
- Instant Message
- Text Message
- Discussion Board
- Online Meetings
- Synchronous vs. asynchronous
I often say it’s important to “communicate about how you are going to communicate.” This will help you develop clear guidelines and create an environment that supports an open and free exchange of ideas.
Look at synchronous vs. asynchronous methods of collaboration and try to incorporate both. It is also important to determine if decisions are often made as a group during meetings. If so, you’ll want to consider tools that support live polling or other features that support rapid decision-making.
- Asynchronous or synchronous?
- Are decisions made as a group during meetings?
- With what style or tool does your team seem to be most comfortable?
- Do project teams work as unified groups? Or do teams tend to get broken down into smaller groups that work in tandem?
For many teams, collaboration is enhanced by developing more structured policies. Look for things the group is doing successfully and use these as models and ideas for future development and best practices.
You can conduct the ICC Workflow Audit™ for yourself, but if you’re managing a team you will want to get your people involved in answering these questions. This will ensure that you have an accurate picture of how work gets done and what tools can best help improve productivity and communication flow.
Once you’ve chosen the best tools for your workstyle, learn to really use and manage them: Get some training or coaching to help you master the features and maximize your efficiency.
Also, remember that technology changes daily and new tools are cropping up all the time, so it is important to make this assessment part of your ongoing process.
If you have any ideas on how you can use this workflow to better your organization, please share!
Photo Credit: the_tartanpodcast