Got a hookup: how to band remote employees together into a team

I often face one request from online teams.

How great it would be to know who is doing what in the team? And how can you keep everyone informed?

I am bringing to your attention a simple tool that has shown itself to good advantage in the Agile and Scrum lovers’ environment. In addition, Tatiana (author of this article) has used it for more than 4 years in her work with remote teams.

The Check-In Tool Description

Daily video calls during which each project team member answers three simple questions:

- What tasks did I do yesterday?

- What tasks will I be doing today?

- What can stop/prevent me from working?

Use the tool in four simple steps

Step one: define why you are doing it. What do you see or hear in the team that makes you think that this tool can be useful for the team?

Step two: understand by what criteria you will evaluate the tool effectiveness BEFORE its implementation. Namely, write down what you will see and hear when you realize that the instrument is working.

Step three: openly discuss with the team why you think this tool will be useful to them. Tell them how you see its implementation and ask what the team members think about it. At this stage, it is important to hear ALL of the team members, but this is a specific skill, you need to acquire it and constantly pump it up.

Step Four: if the team is interested in trying to implement a new tool, mark the Check-in intervals (every day, once a week, etc.) and set a clear time for the calls.

Pitfalls (hidden risks)

First: there is no need to make daily calls. Choose the intervals that will be convenient for you. If you are launching some media with daily content, it is sensible to make daily calls. However, if you are working on something that is not permanent and it is meaningless to synchronize every day, then you can call up once a week or less often. Choose the interval for yourself that is right for you. Do not be afraid of experimenting!

Second: it is important to start with calls, at least with voice calls, if it is not possible/comfortable to use video calls. It helps to consolidate the team and put people together. Hearing the dog bark in the background, you will get to know that the person has a pet. Or, if you can hear a kid squeal at the background, the person‘s image is getting richer. With the video, you have even more opportunity like that. It is a minor substitute of a water cooler, near which people meet at the office during breaks to discuss things that have no relation to work.

Third, the tool works well with project teams. That is, teams of 3–7 people. If you have a team of 30 people in your company, it will be a waste of time to get people to gather in such a crowd in the online space and listen to everyone. It is better to check-in with small teams that work on specific projects. If you have 3–4 teams, and they (team members, not the team leaders) do not have enough communication with each other, and it is important for them to know who is working on what, it is possible to join everybody for a check-in 1–4 times a month.

Fourth: rhythm and stability are important. Do your best to agree with the team in advance on the specific call up intervals. To see the result, you need at least a couple of months of the tool use. Remember to say or even write down for yourself BEFORE the check-in introduction what you (as a leader) are going to see and hear when you realize that this tool is working for your team.

Fifth: no despotism or violence. If someone does not want to be on the call up today, but he/she has written the answers to the questions – it is excellent. Thank the person for this and ask them in PM whether they need any resources and support from the team so that he could voice/video call and talk with everybody at the next check-in. Also, remember that there are no right or wrong answers to questions. You can specify what you do not understand in the answer, but it is not necessary to interrupt or say “no, this is not the right answer” or somehow devalue the team member’s words. For clarification, use the questions: And what is this …? Is there anything else about this …?

Sixth: create a trusted space where the team members will not be afraid of coming to a call-up and say that they did not do anything yesterday or the whole week. Make the team understand that this check-in is not aimed at revealing the best employee of the week or at finding out who can take on more tasks, but its only goal is making up a big picture of the project for everyone and, by means of voicing the intentions, it is aimed at increasing the chance of their implementation. In the long view, it is very important to teach the team to take on feasible tasks and be able to assess the time and resources that they will need. Since you are going to have regular check-ins, you will see the patterns in no time. If one of the team members regularly takes on five tasks a day, but performs only one or two, or promises to make a report during each call-up, but does not do it — this is an occasion for feedback.

Remember that it is important to adjust the tool to your team, so the unquestioning execution of the rules will not work here. Keep the focus of your attention on the goal “for the sake of what you are implementing this tool” and make bold changes into its use, into the questions, into the intervals or format of communication, so that check-in starts working for you to achieve your goals, and not vice versa.

If you want us to help you implement this tool in a team with the least risk and with the greatest benefit, feel free to email us and we will set the time for the session.

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