Eight Dimensions of Clarity Needed By Remote Teams

In our previous article, “How to Create an Effective Team During a Pandemic”, we discussed how to evaluate tools and approaches for effectively running a remote team. Clarity was mentioned as an important requirement for remote workers.

Clarity helps teams focus, strengthens trust, increases engagement and promotes overall effectiveness of the team.

This article provides a list of the types of clarity needed, especially by remote teams. Use this list to evaluate your tools and approach for remote work. Ask yourself if your communication and project management and other collaborative tools enable or support the types of clarity described below. How about your processes? Do they support clarity?

“It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else’s point of view without the proper training.”― Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

The eight dimensions of clarity

The formula for an effective team is what we call the “Eight Dimensions of Clarity”. Think about it this way, people tend to follow the path of least resistance. Hence, when we are remote, we tend to communicate less if we are too busy, or we tend to over-communicate when we are afraid of not being heard. Clarity reduces stress and confusion and helps us communicate what matters, and more importantly helps us know what matters. While all these dimensions are important to any team, they are especially important for remote workers where communication is less frequent and has less fidelity than in-person communication.

#1. Clarity of purpose

When we all know and believe in why our team exists and why we are working on our priorities we are more motivated, more engaged, more willing to help, more effective overall. For example, if a team member believes getting the search engine built fast is the most important goal and others believe quality matters the most and still others believe the report generator is more important functionality, then there is a lack of alignment, and it will be difficult to succeed collectively.

#2. Clarity of process

When our way of working is understood and well-defined, we don’t have to continually rehash or invent new ways of doing what was working. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t improve what is not working. For example, if we all understand how we intend to deploy then there is less chance we will do it differently and introduce less risk of failure.

#3. Clarity of work

Also known as Transparency, a team that makes it clear who is doing what and why and what the team expects to accomplish will have a much better time staying aligned. This is especially true externally to the team. Providing a transparent view of what the team is doing to stakeholders encourages support and feedback. Without this, a team may feverishly work on something and finally deliver that thing nobody wants. Don’t laugh, this happens far more often than you might think and probably in your organization.

#4. Clarity of value

An effective team measures what it values, and it truly values what it measures. A metric that a team does not believe in can easily demotivate it or cause it to ‘game the system’. However, a metric that the team believes represents its goals and its purpose can align, connect, motivate, and supercharge a team’s ability to deliver.

#5. Clarity of communication

The best communication is in-person, face-to-face, and this isn’t going to happen remotely. How can we deal with this? Start with video conferencing. It’s the closest to face-to-face you will get, and it alleviates some of the more serious remote communication problems. The best solutions we have seen have an always-on approach where teammates can ask questions and it’s as if the other person is right next to them. Remember the goal is to minimize the disadvantages of being remote without creating more burdens than necessary or copying the bad behaviors we sometimes find in co-located environments like constant disruption. So, teams need to be creative but keep in mind that goal. When video conferencing isn’t available, moving from face-to-face video to voice-only loses a great deal of our ability to communicate and may encourage disengagement during meetings. Moving from voice-only to text loses much more of our ability to judge emotion and intent, it is efficient for communicating status or asking a simple question but beyond that, it is not a good strategy for an effective team. Emotion is a big part of a team so don’t discount the value of acknowledging it.

#6. Clarity of quality

Everyone on the team should have a clear understanding of what quality means to the team. If they don’t, then when someone thinks they are done, how do they know if they really are? A written definition of done or several examples that can be pattern matched can be effective tools. This also prevents the other mistake which occurs when someone is unsure what “done” is and they overengineer the solution. This is costly too. Uncertainty always slows us down and makes our flow less efficient. For remote workers, there is more uncertainty which means we must work harder to reduce it where we can.

#7. Clarity of meetings

Having a regular cadence of touchpoints is important to team cohesion. When people must constantly remember when the next meeting is scheduled, they often feel less accountable. It can also interfere with their sense of flow, which is demotivating. The schedule also implies a timebox, not just a start time but a clear end time. This is the hallmark of an effective team. The team should never use all the time unless it needs it but should also never go over the time allotted. This destroys trust, engagement, learning, and discipline over time.

#8. Clarity of culture

A team, remote or not, has a culture. Culture is not what is written on a wall — that is an aspiration. A culture is like oxygen. It is all around us. When was the last time you saw “remember to breathe” written on a banner? Culture is important to the success of a team and a remote team needs a strong culture. So put time into promoting and building this.

As you look at the many posts on how to run remote teams that are popping up these days, thanks to a natural disaster we are all living through, we hope you reflect on these aspects of effective remote teams and ask yourself, “How can this tool or process support clarity for an effective remote team?”

In the next article, we will touch on aspects of culture that impact remote teams. We’d love to hear what ideas you come up with for building an effective remote workforce and remember, you don’t have to have a remote workforce to plan for one. In times of crisis, we need to act but we don’t need to react if we are prepared.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

If you would like to discuss your remote team challenges or how NeuEon can help with your strategic or organizational planning, please let us know.

This blog was previously published on Medium.