April 11, 2017

5 Tactics for Facilitating Seamless Remote Work

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in customer experience, experience design, digital transformation, and strategy.

Jim’s newly published book, The Jobs To Be Done Playbook, offers techniques organizations can follow to turn market insight into action.

“But I like sticky notes.”

At MURAL, we hear that a lot when we bring up remote work. Don’t get us wrong: we like sticky notes too. And there’s nothing like being face-to-face with your workshop team to creatively collaborate and solve tough problems together. We totally get that.

But the fact is that teams are becoming more and more remote. Our research shows that throughout large organizations, distributed teams are ubiquitous. The need to think about how you’ll collaborate effectively even when your team isn’t onsite is increasingly imperative.

What’s more, you’ll eventually have to digitize all of the content you create anyway. Even if you run a brainstorming session in a war room, you have to capture everything electronically afterward to move forward. In most cases, you’ll be forced to do one or both of the following:

  1. Take photos of your offline work in the shape of whiteboards and flipcharts
  2. Transcribe sticky notes and whiteboard content into a digitally accessible document

Yet both options are less-than-sufficient. Photos of whiteboards rarely get opened again, and they are often indecipherable when they do. Meanwhile transcribing sticky notes is downright time consuming.

Our advice? Don’t get caught without a plan for getting your team’s output into a digital format for remote work, even if you are starting your team collaboration offline.

Here are 5 tactics to seamlessly merge your onsite and remote work:

1. Add a photo of your physical whiteboard to MURAL and continue adding to it digitally.

Your use of MURAL doesn’t have to be solely digital. It provides a great way to capture photos of physical flipcharts and whiteboards with a simple upload. More important, it enables you to continue working around it, adding sticky notes and ideas as needed.

You can even do this in real time during a live workshop, so you can see how the walls and whiteboards in the room limit creative space. In this instance, instead of pointing your webcam at a whiteboard or reading sticky notes off for the remote team to hear, you’ll also give remote folks a better view of the action going on in the room.

With more digital space, you can continue to add photos from the workshop into a mural as you go.

Capture Sticky Notes in MURAL

2. Create two types of break-out groups: one analog and one digital.

Our research shows that a mixed collaboration setting is the most common among companies, meaning you have a group of people face-to-face in one location as well as a group of remote folks dialed into the session. This often results in a “here-vs-there” situation, where the people on the call feel like second-class contributors.

Teams work Online and Offline

You can reduce the friction by giving distributed teams a chance to contribute on their own mural in real time. This way the in-person team can work face-to-face without excluding the remote participants. In the event that there’s just one person working remotely, you can ask someone in the room to pair up with him or her to create more inclusion.

3. End your in-person collaboration session with an all-digital exercise.

Consider how you can structure the collaboration so at least the last exercise, if not more, is completed digitally. This strategy, shared with us in a recent webinar, is used by IBM’s Eric Morrow to keep the momentum going in remote work contexts following an in-person session.

Get started using your preferred sticky note method, and set up a template in advance to guide people through the exercises. Throughout the session, use MURAL to capture thoughts and notes. Then ask everyone to take out their laptop or mobile device to complete the exercise.

You might have to violate your own no-phones-no-laptops rules, but it will help you troubleshoot issues before everyone returns to their usual work locations. It will also get the team thinking about the next steps in collaboration.

Use one of our templates to get started quickly. Or custom build your own activity template. Either way, you’ll make a smoother transition from offline to online.

Project Templates in MURAL

4. Have a note-taker transcribe everything into a mural in real time.

This will help you capture outcomes in MURAL, prevent you from doubling the time spent on the workshop by transcribing and retain any context that might get lost in notes after the session is over. That said, it’s worth noting that workshop conversations aren’t always linear, and can therefore be difficult for someone taking notes to easily follow.

To aid the process, consider taking intermittent breaks that allow them to ask questions and catch up, or incorporate it into your final exercise while everyone organizes and elaborates on the notes that pertain to them.

You can read more our experience doing this during the Shared Value Initiative (SVI) Conference in 2016 here. In advance of the working session, we created templates that were ready to capture content on the fly (see image below).

SVI Template to Capture Content

5. Try going completely digital from the beginning.

It goes without saying that we believe the future is digital. Soon teams will be working with digital media from beginning to end. While this gets away from the tactical use of sticky notes and paper, or may feel unnatural to some people, there are undeniable benefits and our experience with fully digital collaboration sessions shows it’s entirely possible.

Intuit Collaborating Digitally

Take our work with Intuit, for example. Principal Designer Erik Flowers uses MURAL to create and iterate service design templates to meet customer challenges across international teams. The ability to scale his digital Service Blueprinting has increased engagement and understanding company-wide as well as improved team alignment, minimized service gaps and raised customer satisfaction overall.

Why combine online and offline work?

We see firsthand the benefits of pointing toward digital outputs on the back-end of collaboration, after the session is over. In addition to saving time consolidating material, you’re also better able to keep the momentum going.

As you already know, once you’re work is digitized, your output becomes shareable, replicable and archivable. Not to mention that it enables you to pivot easier and work with more agility.

In the end, it’s not a matter of either-or. Instead consider how you can get the best of both worlds. Planning towards an all-digital future, even to a small degree, will get your team closer to the results you need.

Get started with a free trial of MURAL.