Managing Remote Teams 101: Stand-up MeetingsThe COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to switch to remote work. The sudden change can impact team performance, and requires new strategies to manage teams and tasks. In this post, we’ll be providing best practices for companies to help maintain efficiency in this new situation.

While working from home is definitely a feasible option for many companies that may also hold various benefits, this abrupt way of making the shift all at once is far from ideal. For organizations with no experience, suddenly going fully remote can be a frightening experience. At Intland Software, remote work is part of our company culture, so by listing a few easy-to-follow best practices, we’d like to lend a helping hand to companies that have just made the leap.

We'll give a quick roundup of the most fundamental tool to ensure transparency, efficiency, and accountability in remote teams.

Stand-up meetings, the ultimate best practice

Stand-up meetings originate from the world of Agile and specifically, the Scrum framework of software development project management. However, they have long been used elsewhere by all business disciplines to align teams and to track daily progress. They are intended to be performed standing up, but that's hardly feasible with a remote team. Some companies choose to do weekly stand-ups, but we believe the traditional way of daily stand-ups works best for most teams.

So how does the stand-up meeting work, and what should you focus on in order to stay productive? Stick to the following core principles for successfully adopting the stand-up culture:

Holy stand-ups: consistency is key

A standup meeting is a routine that provides time for your team to align on current issues. Stand-ups give your teams a solid foundation, a feeling of safety that stems from an understanding of the team’s shared circumstances and goals. So make it into a habit. At Intland, most of our teams do their stand-ups at 9:30 am sharp – every weekday, no exceptions.

Make sure that all your team members attend the meeting, and that they are always on time regardless of their workload. Is someone late? Don’t wait, start the meeting anyway. Unless there is a real emergency, team members should not be planning other events for the set time window you’ve specified for standups.

Stay on point: the 3-question agenda

Stick to the three core questions that are the 'raisons d’être' for stand-ups:

i) What did you accomplish since the team’s last meeting?

ii) What will you be working on until the next meeting?

iii) What is blocking your progress?

In traditional Scrum, the first question isn’t really a point of focus, more like a brief mention. For teams just switching over to remote work, however, it’s a good way to track progress and monitor everyone’s workload. The point is for all team members to answer these three simple questions – and not to add anything else!

Do your best to moderate the standup in order to keep people from digressing. As your team gains more experience, you may even consider setting a time limit, e.g. 2 or 3 minutes for each team member, but it’s not recommended to do this as you’re just starting out. Moderation usually works better: granted, it can be awkward to step in and stop someone as they talk. But even if you do have to cut in, you’ll only have to do it a few times before the team learns that the standup is no time for chit-chat.

Visualize project tasks

Find a way to visualize all the tasks being discussed so that your team members see them. Kanban boards are by far the most popular tools to ensure that your team can follow the progress of tasks. No need for anything fancy: you could even create your own Kanban board by drawing up 3 columns for “To do”, “In progress”, and “Completed” tasks on a whiteboard, and moving post-it notes around. Most online project management tools have a cardboard built in and accessible for everyone.

It’s all in the teamwork

In a remote environment, you’ll want to focus on efficient teamwork and clear, transparent coordination. Stand-ups are NOT performance review sessions!

In Agile, where stand-ups come from, the empowerment of team members is vital. The aim is to to build a team where everyone is capable of working on their own problems independently, but can help other team members if necessary. Asking for help is encouraged. Therefore, it’s generally advisable that upper management does not attend the daily standup so as to avoid intimidating the team.

It’s also important that these meetings are relevant for all team members, so anything said during a stand-up should be valuable for everyone present.

Daily cafe: encourage conversations outside the standup

Because of its sharp focus, the stand-up meeting shouldn’t be the only way your team members interface. Rather, it should be seen as a daily alignment call that is necessary, but not sufficient for everyday teamwork.

With regards to teamwork, another point to note is that (attention, novel idea ahead!) we’re all people. A team’s success depends on more than just the tools and processes it uses. While socialization isn’t generally regarded as “productive”, it is the secret ingredient that adds cohesion, a certain “team spirit”, to a group of individual members.

To facilitate team-wide conversations, some teams choose to set up “daily cafes”: largely informal meetings later in the afternoon that enable teams to socialize, and to follow up on and iron out the details of certain collaborative tasks before they wrap up the day.

Participation at these 15-20 min daily cafes is not mandatory, and often extends to spouses, children, pets, etc – in a stressful pandemic situation, this is an especially comforting aspect of these meetings. It’s not all social though: some time is allocated for chit-chat, but there’s actual work discussion taking place, too. It’s a good idea to write down action items at the end of these meetings to serve as reminders for everyone involved the next day.

Overall, going remote requires a cultural shift that may be very foreign for teams used to working co-located. Some updates to your tooling may help, but going remote doesn't necessarily require a whole lot of investment into infrastructure – applying best practices is more important. Used the right way, daily stand-up and cafe meetings can help your team overcome these new challenges, while promoting efficiency and helping you monitor team performance.