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How to stay in touch with your team during Corona times

How to stay in touch from the home office

Written by Vera Green

How’s your team doing? Bumped into any misunderstandings or difficulties while operating in this new home-office set up? Finding it hard to “see how the land lies” when you’re no longer sharing the same “land” physically? While some things have been easy to “move out of the office”, the daily contact and social encounters have been… let’s be honest, much more difficult. It’s just not the same. It’s different. And different calls for new ways of doing things. To share some inspiration, I’ve gathered 9 tips from various Umbraco HQ team leads by simply asking them “How do you stay in touch with your team?”. Maybe you’ll find one or more tips useful for your team?

A lot of change has happened in these Covid-19 times. And fast adaptation has been necessary - I’m sure you’ve felt that too.  

The thing I want to dive into today is how you can stay in touch with our teammates whilst working from home. 

How can we make sure they are: alright? Got the help they need? Are working on the right things? Still feel part of a team? 🤔 

These are just some of the difficulties I’ve personally encountered and had to - quickly - find solutions for during this Corona crisis. 

Let me start by saying that neither I nor my colleagues claim to be experts in this field, however, we’ve felt the change and we’ve had to adapt in the teams across the organisation. And because, you know, sharing is caring 💙, we thought; why not share the tips more broadly?

Maybe you’ll find some nuggets in here that you can start doing with your team?

I’ve managed to gather 9 tips for you, pick and mix the ones that you find interesting:

Daily stand-ups to stay in touch and on track

All the teams at Umbraco HQ are now doing daily stand-ups. For some teams, this was already something they did on a daily basis, while for others, it’s a brand new part of their routine.

What is a stand-up? Sometimes someone makes a joke, but it’s not that kind of stand-up 😉 A stand-up is where the team gathers in a circle, often in the morning, and each team member briefly shares what they’re working on today. It’s a great way to catch up on what everyone is up to, address any issues or successes with the team and then, perhaps most importantly, a chance to “see” each other every day.

The new thing for all teams is that we’re all “standing up” from home and we’re doing that using a video conference app/software, Zoom. This way we can still see each other, know what everyone is up to and get a sense of still being part of a team even though we’re currently separated. 

Using “Active Receipt” to avoid misunderstandings

Have you ever tried to hand over a task to someone else, given them a thorough walk-through of everything and then found yourself asking the person “Does that make sense?” - and then he, with a confident look on his face, replies “Yes, completely!” 👍

You're happy, he’s happy - yet, while doing the task you discover that he’s missed out on some important details. Details you were sure you’d already told him. And he did say that he “Yes, completely!” understood the task, right? And he did understand - or thought he did - from his perspective 🙃

The purpose of the “Active Receipt” method is to help avoid misunderstandings like these when handing over tasks - big or small. And the method is not only relevant during these times but has indeed been found very helpful recently especially when we can’t talk face-to-face, read body language etc.

This is how it works:  

- First, you hand over the tasks with all the necessary details; deadlines, resources, tools, budget, purpose etc. - preferably during a video call or phonecall.

- Then you restrain yourself from asking “Does that make sense?” or “Do you have any questions?” and instead ask - “Can you give me an Active Receipt on that, just to make sure we’re on the same page?”.

- Then the person gives an Active Receipt by giving a summary of the main details - not word-by-word but in a broader sense with all the important facts. 

- While the person is repeating the main facts, you listen carefully and are then able to check if you’ve been successful in communicating the task - if things are missing in the summary, you can pick it up again to make sure the details of these parts are understood. 

- Finally, you are of course allowed to ask the question “Do you have any questions?” 😉

Now, in the beginning, it may seem weird or even a bit degrading to ask your super talented and intelligent colleague to do a summary of what you’ve just said. It takes practise, but once it becomes a routine it’s not strange at all and you might even see that everyone in the team starts using it and perhaps even starts doing the summary without you asking for it.

A final tip; before using the Active Receipt, tell your team about the theory as it makes it less strange for you to suddenly ask for a summary.

Walk (separately) and talk (together)  

At Umbraco HQ, all team leads do regular walk and talks with their team members. It’s basically a half an hour one-on-one walk where various things are discussed; workwise, personal, teamwise etc.

The walk and talk concept makes things more casual instead of having these meetings face-to-face in a stale meeting room. And the thing about being on the move also does something good for the conversation - I’m sure you can relate whether you’ve tried this professionally or personally 🚶‍♀️

Are we still walking and talking? We are - but, of course, we can’t walk together atm. However, to still get the movement, the fresh air and the “getting out of the (home) office” feeling, we go for walks separately whilst talking using the good old phone. 

Being in this strange situation and being more distanced than usual, some team leads have even decided to do more regular walk and talks as a way to check-up on how their team members are doing.  

Using Slack in a different and better way

Everyone at Umbraco HQ uses the chat system Slack to talk to each other, to teammates and even to the entire company. 

We’ve always used Slack so nothing new here 🤷‍♀️

The new thing is the way we are using it. 

We are, not surprisingly, using it more but also better. Especially when it comes to sharing things with the entire team. By writing in a dedicated team Slack channel, the entire team now has the news/information and the entire team is now able to chip in or follow along with what’s going on. This makes it a great tool for staying updated on the development of tasks in the team.

How do we not get interrupted all the time from Slack notifications? 

With this new set up, there’s also come a greater understanding and respect for how to interact on Slack. It’s completely fine for someone to be offline, it’s okay to have your notifications snoozed. We are all doing work and in order to concentrate, we have to turn these notifications off now and then. And as a rule of thumb, if something is super important or urgent, give the person a call. Don’t be scared to set guidelines for Slack or even encourage your teammates to turn it off and then e.g. have them set a status for when they’ll be online again e.g. “Off Slack until 14:00”. 

The closest thing to face-to-face communication

Now to Zoom. Most of us have probably used some sort of video meeting tool before. 

But never this much! 😅

At HQ, all virtual meetings are hosted through Zoom, however, we are also using Zoom for other things now like regular 5-10 mins check-ups with teammates or if something needs to quickly be discussed or clarified. Slack is great - but when it comes to things like this, Zoom is greater. 

There’s just something about seeing each other and talking together that works better - probably because it’s the closest thing to what you’d normally do in the office.  

Transmitting office vibes to your home office

One team has even had great success with having Zoom running in the background whilst team members have been working on each of their own tasks. Just like at the office, if a question arises, simply say it out loud and someone from the team is there in the virtual office to answer.

The team has had success with hosting these “online office hangouts” scheduled for 2 hours at the time and are doing them a few times a week. It’s a great way to stay in touch and get a feel of the normal team/office vibe - at home.  

Pair programming 

If your team is used to doing pair programming on certain tasks, why stop? Do like one of our team leads who’s encouraged pair programming via Zoom. Pair programming is a great method to learn, collaborate and share knowledge between team members when working on a new task - and it can easily be done virtually with Zoom and the share screen function. 

Remember the fun bits! 

As a company, we have a few optional things set up to help us stay social whilst being apart. 

Things like; 

Zoom Lunch where you twice a week get added to a group of 4-5 colleagues you then eat lunch with virtually while talking about Tiger King, the weather etc. 

Twice a week we also get up from our home-office-chairs and do 5 mins of office-exercises and stretches hosted by our awesome Developer/dancer Elitsa.  

Awkward screenshot from an active office-workout session 💪

On Fridays, we all miss the casual hangout by the sofas at HQ with a cold beer. So now we do Friday bar from home using Zoom. It’s a nice way to end the week, and a nice way to see the faces of the people from the other teams too. We’ve even had a quiz and a stand-up comedian join us at some of these! 🍻😂

Stay social with casual team hangouts

On team-level, there have also been virtual hangouts. A hangout after work hours to talk, well, whatever. One team lead even had beer shipped out to his team members so they could enjoy them “together” during the hangout. How cool is that!

And by having these initiatives on a team-level means there are fewer people than e.g. a full Friday bar which can be a pro since it makes it possible for the conversation flow more naturally among the team members.

Final tip: Bring lessons learned back to “normal” 

I hope you were able to find a tip or two from the above inspirational. 

Finally, a “bonus” tip for you and your team: since none of us are going back to “normal” but possibly going back to a “new normal”, don’t miss out on the chance to talk with your team about what worked well during the lockdown and maybe see if some of these initiatives can be brought with us when we’re back at the office. 

One thing that I’ve heard a few of my colleagues say is that especially the people who already worked remotely prior to the crisis now feel a lot more included and part of the team due to the situation having everyone working in the same set up at home. It’s a good point - and something we can learn from and be more aware of when things are back to “normal”. 


Stay safe. Stay connected. Stay friendly 🙏


Oh, and if you’re looking for how you can stay connected with the Umbraco community, check out the Umbraco Meetups. Due to Corona, all of the meetups around the world are now happening online - which might make it easier for you to participate wherever you’re from! 

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