Collaboration and distance in business

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Recently an article hit my LinkedIn feed as an “In case you missed it.” And I was pleased this popped up because immediately I was fascinated and impressed with HBR’s article about “How to Collaborate Effectively if your team is remote”

Monday 22 - June - 2020
mediabit
Collaboration and distance in business

A few things immediately struck me as relevant and applicable to our working style here at Baufest:

  1. This is exactly what Baufest does when partnering with clients.
  2. For the first time, dimensions of “distance” were put in terms I could understand and maybe even quantify – which also means distance and collaboration effectiveness can be measured and improved upon in our business practices.
  3. We can and should speak about these distances with our clients and employees.

What are the three dimensions of distance in remote collaboration?

  1. Physical Distance: place and time.
  2. Operational: team size, bandwidth and skill levels
  3. Affinity: values, trust and interdependency

First, these models about collaboration with a team assumes all the employees work for the same company. This isn’t always the case at companies in general and is never the case with Baufest given our business model is to augment other companies’ teams. Baufest is a hybrid model for delivery with a small US team and 700+ people in Latin America including Buenos Aires, Lima, Mexico City and Santiago among other cities.

You might be curious then, what Baufest does about each type of distance?

It is important to first be aware that each distance exists and second that you can manage each with specific tools, skills and techniques. We also make sure our clients are aware about these types of distances and build resources to our project teams.

As the article states, managing affinity distance is the most effective to drive team performance. That said, let’s not neglect the other two.

Physical Distance

This is what we characterize as a ‘structural’ problem. Our teams almost always work remote and the time zone difference between California and Lima Peru is (three) 3 hours while the difference to Buenos Aires is (four) 4 hours – during daylight savings. Baufest staffs the workday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in-country time. Therefore, the working day overlaps in most cases for six hours of the day from between 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. PST. We mitigate the time differences by structuring meetings from the beginning of our client’s day to the end of our team’s day which is a normal core block hours. Time differences can create advantages when intentionally managed this way. Baufest uses the ‘early start’ of the LATAM team to get a jump on specific work that ideally is complete before our clients start their workday. Finally, ‘pager’ duty can be assigned to the Baufest team at times that are inconvenient for our clients.

Web conferences are a daily part of reducing physical distance. We insist on including video and modeling the behavior with our teams to ensure everyone can see both the physical spaces that we work (including at home) and the body language, expressions and gestures. It is part of what makes us human and part of the fun of working together and keeping our closeness.

Finally, the last and most effective tool for reducing distance, physical and affinity, are site visits. We can’t say enough about the benefits of a client visit to Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Santiago and Lima or the opportunity to embed the Baufest team at client offices. Flights are relatively easy and not too expensive and the benefits of embedding in each other’s teams for a week, especially at the beginning of the project and during major milestones reduces or eliminates both perceived and actual process and cultural differences.

Operational Distance

Is an ‘intentional’ distance by design in our business model as this distance relates to team size, bandwidth and skill level. Baufest is hired because we bring a unique capacity or capability to our clients. Our capacity is intentionally greater than that of our clients given our bench of available UX, UI, Dev, QA, Data and Infrastructure capacity. Baufest hears time and again that it is easier to work with us than internal IT teams because we can scale quickly with the precise skill needed.

Affinity Distance

Is the trickiest given it pertains to ‘soft’ dimensions such as values, trust, and interdependency. Layered in here are elements of power, fear, and transparency. Basically, this is about people, and the way we interact and communicate. The most effective tools for affinity distance are effective dialogues at specific points throughout the engagement. The arch of expectation is predictable and have been observed and documented extensively both in personal relationships and work relationships. Client engagements and projects follow a mostly predictable arch and specific communication touch points and mechanisms are employed to address affinity distance. For example, at Baufest, we challenge the status quo about work-based power, trust, knowledge, fear, honesty, interdependency and transparency from the very first intro call with a prospect through to the warranty of our deliverables.

There are some other gems in the original article worth highlighting:

· Establish communications norms. For example: chat for quick-hits, email for communicating to a broader team such as the RACI list, ad-hoc meetings for making decisions, scheduled meetings for standups and planning.

· Be sparing on the types of messages you’re sending. If you’re following up on a message with a phone call and a text, you’re probably doing too much messaging with your team. Pick a medium to engage and allow space for the receiver to properly internalize and respond in a timely manner. The medium you choose determines the response time, so if it truly is urgent don’t send an email vs a phone call.

· Written communications can provide ways for people to engage in surprising ways. Soft spoken members of teams who might be less inclined to speak out in a meeting, may be prone to instead writing thoughtful messages over email. Make sure to vary the types of communication you use with your team, including incorporating written messages, to allow people to express themselves in the way they feel most comfortable.

· Make sure to bring people together, to celebrate. The article discusses how birthday cakes are still a big deal for teams and as we grow more and more digital, finding excuses to get people together is even more important now. Finding unique ways to bring people together goes a long way in building team unity, now more than ever.

If you have feedback or would like to connect on this topic further, contact me at US@baufest.com.

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