Economic Recovery with Distributed Teams – RemoteAID 2020

For the RemoteAid event on 20apr2020, I was honored to be the closing speaker. The full session is recorded below, but the topic and setting were unusual, so it feels important to give some context.

Obviously, there was plenty of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic as a health concern – various national lockdowns and closures were just starting to happen. Day by day news was startling, with new outbreaks and closures globally. In turn, this was causing a large downturn in economies across the world, with people losing their jobs and many businesses closing permanently.

Under the circumstances, it felt important to remind people of a different perspective that I thought might be empowering and helpful.

The attendees were already comfortable working online, in distributed-teams, so I focused on how they could use their existing proven skills to help others and at the same time also help revive their local economy.

The “easy, familiar ways of working online” may not be so obvious to others who don’t routinely work that way. So, I asked attendees to help others.

It can feel uncomfortable at first to leave a familiar echo chamber, where most others you talk with are also already comfortable working online – just like you do. Instead, I asked people to go find people and businesses in their own hyper local neighborhood who they might not typically interact with and ask them how you can help. Help them learn the personal and business skills they need to survive in these challenging times. Showing teachers how to suddenly teach classes online – after years to only teaching in-person – and brainstorming some practical local ideas to help improve internet connectivity for any of their students left out by the digital divide. Helping a neighbor doctor understand how to use the new buggy tele-medicine applications foisted on them at short notice. Helping a local sandwich shop start taking online orders and online payments. Coordinating online food deliveries to vulnerable groups under lockdown who can no longer go shopping for themselves, yet have no experience of how to safely shop online. Explaining secure online payments and how to avoid scams. Explaining security essentials. Explain how to use video software to connect and talk with family members elsewhere. Answering these, and a 1,001 other questions like these, is an immediately practical way to help a struggling neighbor or neighborhood business.

Yes, these are challenging times – personally and professionally – for us all. Its important that those of us who already routinely work online use our existing skills to help others who are not yet comfortable online. We can use these skills to bring practical immediate help to our local communities and help rebuild each of our local economies.

The RemoteAid event was quickly setup, as an online fundraiser for Red Cross, when the organizers cancelled their RunningRemote conference because of COVID-19. Nice, fast turnaround work by Egor, Danny and the rest of the group for putting this event together, so professionally and so quickly in such short notice.

“Distributed Teams” recorded at Fishburners, Sydney

In Jan 2019, I wrote about being invited to talk at Fishburners, in Sydney Australia while I was there. It was recorded, so I’m finally posting the recording here for the curious.

It was a great evening, with a great turnout and good lively questions before, during and after. Thanks again Brian, Cat and everyone at Fishburners for helping make this happen.

Distributed Teams at Women In Tech Initiative, UC Berkeley

On Thurs 16July2020, Jill Finlayson will be moderating a panel about Distributed Teams and HR with Valerie L. Williams, Brandie Nonnecke, Ph.D. and myself. Given the combined deep background knowledge and practical experience, it should be interesting and lively – certainly, all our prep calls have been!

This event is the kickoff of a new Expert Seminar Series for UC Berkeley Extension, Berkeley Global and the Women In Technology Initiative at University of California, Berkeley – a project I’m very excited to see coming together and delighted to be part of.

For more information and to register, see: https://bit.ly/2NsAAdF

Interview on eRepublic’s ICYMI

I recently talked with e.Republic’s Chief Innovation Officer Dustin Haisler and Vice President of Research Joe Morris on their weekly ICYMI video session.

Obviously, we talked a little about my “Distributed Teams” book, but most of the time we discussed the new mainstream reality of Distributed Teams in Government, including the work we’re doing on DistributedGov.

The trend from office to “work-from-anywhere” has been accelerating in private industry in recent years because of many factors – including generational changes, cultural changes and the competitive advantage of hiring people who live beyond commute range of your physical office building.

Then COVID-19 forced the issue.

While government has supported “telework” for decades, the default for government employees in most agencies was still to work in a government office. With COVID-19, government agencies found themselves suddenly and quickly needing to shift entire agencies to telework. This means transitioning *lots* of people. In a hurry. Some agencies I talked with only had same-day notice to transition literally thousands of people. Each with lots of agency specific issues around security, network bottleneck, server load, data privacy and human training to work through. While massive transitions like this obviously hit bumps, their ability to roll-with-the-punches, improvise-where-needed and quickly get reliable, security solutions in place was impressive.

Now, a couple of months later, most of the surprise gotchas have been figured out, or worked around. There’s still lots to be correctly stressed about but work life has settled into a new rhythm. A strange, different rhythm, but still – a rhythm. In this rhythm, work is still being done, and all the long-term benefits – for hiring, retention, workforce diversity and disaster planning – are becoming very apparent to government agency leadership.

With this context, discussions about returning to the office are now being balanced with discussions like “when will COVID-19 be contained enough to safely return to offices?”, “how do people safely get to/from the office?” and “what do we have to physically change to make the office workplace safe?”. The many complicated practical steps needed to make offices safe are still being figured out and worked on. Meanwhile, another question is becoming harder to ignore: “We’ve shown we can work from home for months now – so why do we even need to go back to the office?”

Dustin, Joe and I had a great, lively, wide-ranging discussion across all of these topics – and yes, we even got to talk about time machines! Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

ps: This was my first time doing an interview that was live streamed onto linkedin.com, and all the mechanics/logistics went quite smoothly! Nice work, Dustin and Joe!

20 Tweet Checklist for Distributed Team Leaders

Migrating from working in an office to working from home is tricky and takes careful effort. This is even trickier when done at short notice and for prolonged periods of time (like scenarios triggered by COVID-19). And then, of course, there is the extra complexity of leading, coordinating and managing others while physically distributed! If you are in this situation, I hope you find this checklist helpful.

  • (1) LeadByExample: Read and do everything on the manag-ee list. Crisp clear communications are live-or-die essential in a distributed team.
  • (2) GroupChat: Arrange channels carefully. Moderate who is in them, discussing what, where. Prune obsolete channels. Be a constant gardener.
  • (3) GroupChat: The phrase “I cant keep up with all the channels” is a warning sign. Remind everyone that all chat is transient.
  • (4) SingleSourceOfTruth: Multiple communication channels make it hard to know what’s going on. Agree on one place as accurate SSoT. Use it.
  • (5) SingleSourceOfTruth: If emails & project docs are inconsistent, people hold status meetings. If SSoT accurate, hold fewer status meetings.
  • (6) SingleSourceOfTruth: Brainstorm ideas anywhere. If you discover something others should know, your work isn’t done until you update SSoT.
  • (7) SingleSourceOfTruth: Don’t ask for status. Do ask where to find status. (Dont ask people to write things down then ignore what they write)
  • (8) SingleSourceOfTruth: Read SSoT before asking people questions. If you still have questions, then ask and get the answer added to SSoT.
  • (9) Meetings: Make sure every meeting invite has a link to the video call and a link to the shared editable document for agenda/notes.
  • (10) Meetings: Have people *append* items to the shared agenda, including topics added during meeting. Get better notes and better inclusion.
  • (11) Meetings: Don’t ask someone to take notes. Do ask *everyone* to take shared notes. Use the shared agenda doc for also taking shared notes.
  • (12) Meetings: As people join, say hello and comment on their video. This helps them informally test audio and fix errors before meeting starts.
  • (13) Culture: Use video in all meetings. Video meetings are usually faster than audio-only mtgs and video helps if tricky conversations arise.
  • (14) Culture: Have 1x1s every week. 30mins every week is better than 60mins every two weeks. Always on head-and-shoulders camera.
  • (15) Culture: Isolation is a real concern. Encourage ad-hoc coffee breaks and schedule weekly group “social meetings”. On video, as usual.
  • (16) Culture: Weekly “virtual happy hour” meetings, on video, help team cohesion – if people can talk freely and the “boss” talks the *least*
  • (17) Hiring: Are you hiring “the best person for the job”? Or “the best person for the job who lives near your office or is willing to relocate”?
  • (18) RealCostOfAnOffice: Physical offices cost money to lease, operate and maintain. Compare those hidden costs with costs of distributed teams.
  • (19) RealCostOfAnOffice: Why spend good money on physical offices in order to create a single point of failure for your organization?

These 20 tweet-able protips are obviously intentionally short. If you have questions on any of these, you can find more details in my book: Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart. Or of course, just ask me – I’d be happy to help.

John.

Effective Distributed Teams in Government

I’m extending my free video training sessions until the end of April. I’ve also broadened the audience to include government employees, government contractors and civictech/NGO groups that work with government. For more info and to register, see here: https://civicactions.com/distributed-government

As always, these webinars focus on practical mechanical tips+tricks, suggestions to reduce work disruptions as well as help keep the humans connected as a team over a prolonged period… all with lots of Q+A to make sure it is immediately helpful to those who attend. Based on changing demand, I’m changing some of these sessions to be deep-dives on specific requested topics:

  • Running large remote meetings with 50+ people
  • Running effective and secure remote meetings
  • Knowing what others are working on and staying in sync
  • Dealing with isolation, trust, and team cohesion

All are free.

For those of you who attended any sessions (running since 11March!), and found them helpful, please do help spread the word. The goal of these sessions is still the same – we need government services to work in a crisis – so these sessions are to help government services keep running, even when the humans who work in government are suddenly not able to go into their usual government buildings. If you work in government (at any level), and your team suddenly transitioned from “working in a government office building” to distributed teams / telework / remote / “work from home”, these are for you.

Also, if you think it would help to arrange a dedicated session for your team, separate from these webinars, just let me know and I’ll be happy to do that too.

Speaking at RemoteAID today – how you (yes, you!) can help…

Today is RemoteAID conference.

This free day-long event is fully online, in these #covid-19 times and is helping raise donations for the Red Cross. I’ll be the closing speaker on main stage at the end of the day, with “How You (Yes, You!) Can Help Rebuild Economies”.

Come join this conference, learn tips and tricks from an amazing collection of seasoned industry leaders and share your knowledge with others. This looks to be an exciting day, Chris Herd, David Heinemeier Hansson, Jo Palmer, Paul Estes and Tracy Keogh were the first 5 to make me stop and go “wow”, but you should see the entire list at https://runningremote.com/remote-aid-agenda/.

See you all later today?

15 Tweet Checklist for Distributed Teams

Migrating from working in an office to working from home is tricky and takes careful effort. This is even trickier when done at short notice and for prolonged periods of time (like scenarios triggered by COVID-19). If you are in this situation, I hope you find this checklist helpful.

  • (1) BeforeLeavingOffice: Work from a different desk for a day. Notice what you still need at your desk. Solve before you leave the building.
  • (2) BeforeLeavingOffice: Connect laptop to internet via your cellphone’s hotspot. Verify access to systems work before you leave the building. 
  • (3) Camera: Use head-and-shoulders camera for all meetings. Facial expressions and non-verbal cues help meetings go faster and builds trust. 
  • (4) Camera: Put your camera at eye level. Avoid looking down at laptop camera on desk – it means everyone else is looking up your nose. 
  • (5) Camera: Move the meeting video window near the camera. This helps you instinctively look at others in the meeting when speaking.
  • (6) Camera: Check your rearview mirror when joining a call. How do others see you? Small changes to camera, chair or lighting fix most problems.
  • (7) Camera: Check your rearview mirror when joining a call. What is visible behind you? Does it look professional?
  • (8) Camera: Sit with your back to a wall to avoid backlighting. Avoid sitting with your back to windows, glass doors or bright lights.
  • (9) Camera: Watch old silent B&W movies. Learn how camera placement and lighting change unspoken “moods”. How would that help your next call?
  • (10) Audio: Use an external microphone or a headset. Don’t use your laptop’s microphone and speakers – ok when they work but bad when they fail.
  • (11) Audio: If someone on a video call has audio problems, don’t use *audio* to tell them. Instead, use non-audio cues visible on camera.
  • (12) GroupChat: Treat all chat as transient. Don’t expect everyone to read all messages in all channels all the time.
  • (13) GroupChat: Tell people when you start/stop workday, go for lunch, etc. This keeps others in ebb/flow and helps you take guilt-free breaks.
  • (14) Soul: Structure your workday. Create a “fake commute” to walk out of your home at start and end of day. Good for your body, mind and soul.
  • (15) Soul: At home, prearrange non-verbal cues with others, so they know when you can/can’t be interrupted, are on video calls, etc.

These 15 tweet-able protips are obviously intentionally short. If you have questions on any of these, you can find more details in my book “Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart“. Or of course, just ask me – I’d be happy to help.

John.

Zoom Security and Fixing “Zoom Bombing”

(updated 12apr2020)

Given all the newly-working-from-home zoom users out there, and the recent flurry of security alerts for Zoom video conference software, I thought this summary would be helpful.

(1) A few zero-day security exploits for zoom were announced recently. Many are already fixed in the latest version of zoom. And watch carefully for new updates from zoom in the coming days. As expected, soon after writing this post, zoom released a updated version with security fixes. Make sure you are running at least v4.6.10 (20041.0408).

(2) “zoom bombing” happens when someone guesses your meeting url, joins un-invited and disrupts your meeting. To prevent this, there is an existing setting in zoom to add a password to your meetings. Use it. To make this easy for users, zoom appends the password to the meeting URL, so most people using zoom just click on the URL and join instantly without needing to type in the password. Importantly, people without the URL cannot zoombomb your meeting unless they guess the meetingID and the long password! To review your settings (and if needed change this setting), login to your zoom profile on zoom.us and look at your user profile settings. Under “Personal -> Settings -> Meeting”, make sure you have *at least* these three settings turned on.

(3) Zoom changed the default settings on Sunday (05apr2020), to address press coverage around zoom-bombings, and push users to use these passwords by default. Watch for changes to default zoom meeting behavior Monday morning – depending on your existing meeting invites, you may have to re-notify attendees of new longer-URL-with-password for upcoming meetings. NOTE: I recommend putting the zoom URL into your calendar invite, so all attendees see the same info at the same time. This helps you avoid delaying meetings while people search for the correct/updated URL and end up joining the meeting late. Zoom also wrote their own “tips and tricks for secure zoom meetings” post which you might also find helpful to read.

(4) The Washington Post reported that a bunch of Zoom “cloud” recordings were found on publicly-accessible Amazon S3 buckets. Details still developing, but until this is clarified, I recommend checking your zoom meeting invites for any meetings you record and change them from “cloud” to “local recordings”.

Thats all for now. If you know of any other zoom essential tips I should share, please let me know.

John.

Helping Government Move From Offices to Distributed Teams

Its clear that that COVID-19 has been causing widespread disruptions to humans across society – in multiple countries – as well as to the government employees providing essential services to those who rely on those services. For many government employees, the hard reality of sudden shifting from working in an office to working as distributed / remote / “work from home” / “telework” is disruptive to ongoing day-to-day operations.

For the last week-and-half, I’ve been running daily webinars for government employees working their hardest to keep the wheels of government turning, even while facing these hard realities and changing health risk alerts. Demand has been so high that I’m going to continue running them and have now added more free webinars for every day this coming week (23-27mar). Again, these are all FREE.

Each webinar is based on lessons I’ve learned over my years of running distributed teams, as well as my experiences working in private industry, US Federal and State government, as well as coaching company leaders transitioning from an all-in-office to distributed-team. Intentionally, each session has lots of Q+A to make sure it is as helpful as possible for those who prioritize the time to attend. I carefully adjust each session based on initial registration questions from attendees as well as feedback from previous sessions. Depending on demand, we may again be doing multiple per day, like last week.

If you are a government employee, dealing with the sudden transition from working in an office because of covid-19, please do attend – these free webinars are just for you. My hope is that these webinars help you keep the wheels of government turning for those who rely on your services – especially in these tricky times and especially while you are struggling with the practical realities of workplace disruptions caused by rapidly move out of the traditional government office.

To find out more info and register, see here: https://civicactions.com/distributed-government/

Hope to see you all soon,

John.