Teamwork and Culture in the Era of Remote Work
Originally published on Failure is Inevitable.
Fostering teamwork and culture
With decreased resources, increased stress and cognitive load, and social distancing policies, many teams are under extreme pressure. Without over-communication and special attention paid to organizational culture, teams can become fractured, anxious, or disillusioned. As Principle Developer Advocate Liz Fong-Jones pointed out in a recent SRE panel, the most important thing about fostering teamwork during uncertain times is having a people-first mentality: “If it turns out that if your service is going down 1%, it’s probably actually acceptable if it means that people stay home, or that people take their kids to the hospital if they're getting high fevers.” At the heart of a successful team is shared compassion and trust to back up teammates who might be struggling.
To embrace a people-first culture, collaboration is key. According to Liz, it’s important “to not silo knowledge, which means that you have to have more than one person with a working knowledge of how something works. How do we do things, why do we do things? That's one kind of redundancy mechanism that we can employ to guard against the possibility of someone going to the hospital and not being available.”
Not only does this create a safeguard against SPOFs (single points of failure), it also encourages communication.
Beyond logistically replicating a team structure while working from home, it’s also important to create remote-first spaces for social engagement. Without coffee breaks, water cooler chats, and group lunches to organically bond with one another, it can be difficult to reinforce bonding and positive organizational culture. Distributed teams can try the following ideas to keep up the team camaraderie:
- Virtual water coolers or coffee breaks: Setting up 15-30 minute windows where everyone can hop onto Zoom to catch up or engage in casual 1x1s can make a big difference in how your teams gel. Donut is a great way to keep the remote connections going.
- Team lunches: This can be your mid-day boost to keep energy high. Scheduling a weekly team lunch can maintain a sense of normalcy with those struggling with social distancing.
- Happy hours: Wind down the week the right way by setting up a happy hour with your team. Consider enforcing a “no work talk allowed” policy to keep things focused on relationship building.
- Team games: Teams that play together stay together. Taking the time for friendly competition with trivia, Dungeons & Dragons, or Jackbox games can lift spirits and get some laughs.
Thriving in this extended remote work period
Prior to COVID-19, moving an organization to remote work was a calculated, planned decision rather than a mandate. Teams had significant advance notice to get equipment, processes, and documentation in place prior to the switch.
However, in a context where organizations need to shift to remote work overnight, it can be much more difficult to adjust to this new way of working. While we’ve had time to adapt, many people are beginning to feel burnt out or tired, especially when having to go the extra mile to collaborate.
According to Liz, teams should ensure their “tooling supports remote workflows for people to not need to be shoulder surfing each other in order to collaborate.” She adds, “The sooner companies can adapt to that reality with solutions that enable people to collaborate without being physically in the same place, the better prepared they'll be for any scenario, including hiring remote employees, or this crisis dragging on longer. And yes, including people not wanting to go back to the office, too.”
Remote work might become the new way of life for many organizations, possibly even permanently. This will require a heightened level of collaboration. DevOps and SRE best practices can certainly help. While having similar roots, SRE and DevOps are two different things, and remote work functions better with both practices in place. As Senior Cloud Advocate David Blank-Edelman noted during another SRE panel, “SRE and DevOps, though complementary modern operations practices, focus on different things. The way I have come to understand it is if the keyword for SRE is reliability, one possible keyword for DevOps would be delivery.” You need both to keep an organization functioning.
As with all other companies, the Blameless team is adapting to a world of remote work where distributed teams will need to get better than ever at staying aligned and efficient. To be reliable yet deliver new product features, we’ve been relying on Blameless more and more to improve how we collaborate virtually with:
- Automated incident response
- Incident retrospectives
- Releases and deployments, and more
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