“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously wrote in her 2013 memo, announcing the end of remote work for Yahoo staff. Reaction to the news was mixed, to say the least, from Yahooers, the media and fellow CEOs alike, with some lamenting the tech giant’s return to the Stone Age

Then again, remote work can be a mixed bag of results, as well. The late political economist Peter Duckers announced the death of commuting to office work as early as in 1989. IBM was one of the first companies to embrace this sentiment, having installed “remote terminals” in employees’ homes starting from the 1980s. In March 2017, however, IBM decided to pull thousands of its workers back into the office in an effort to boost collaboration and innovation.

Now that WFH is no longer an optional benefit but the new normal, it’s time businesses figured out how to make remote collaboration work, within and outside of organisations. When W.UP was born, this was one of the very first things we had to check off our to-do list. Serving a predominantly foreign client base, remote is how we work and communicate day-to-day. Here are the two most important lessons we’ve learned during the dozens of banking platform implementation projects we’ve delivered.

1. Communication is key, presence is optional

The success of any project boils down to good communication through the right communication channels. Whether it’s in person or using technology that makes collaboration as smooth as when people sit side by side is completely irrelevant. The key is to match the message to the medium. 

Kick-off meetings and quarterly review meetings, for example, are best to be held face-to-face. For ad hoc technical issues during the project, a chat window or screen sharing app will do. Or any of the myriad of communications platforms available today, including MS Teams, Webex or GoTo. Share huge chunks of code or logs with collaborators through Slack in a heartbeat. 

Sounds obvious? Trust me, it’s not. “Many people instinctively default to their preferred method of communication, which can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and lost productivity,” warns Virtuali co-founder and CEO Sean Graber, writing for the Harvard Business Review

2. Comb through your workflows and processes 

“This is akin to trying to fix a sports team’s performance by buying better equipment,” Graber describes companies who make remote collaboration all about technology instead of process. Real change, he reckons, requires clear processes to foster efficient communication, seamless coordination as well as trust and engagement. To my mind, this means laying down the who, when and how of collaboration early on and leaving as little room as possible for unexpected delays, expenses and challenges. Use the kick-off to set up budgets and timelines, sort out roles and responsibilities and pair milestones with deliverables. 

Again, this might sound like a no-brainer but workflows are not always as clear-cut as you’d think. 

For instance, it’s one thing to assign the right number of people to a project – but do they have the right skills for the job? Also, getting a platform integration project up and running is no small feat – but keeping all of the moving parts in motion can be just as hard. My team and I often run tests on banking systems that are used by IT administrators and millions of users on a daily basis. If the system goes down, getting things back on track for customers is always a priority and the efficiency and speed of delivery will suffer. My advice? Make sure that both sides have all the resources, access and capabilities they need to make the project a success come hell or high water. 

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