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How to manage a remote team? Mercari and Merpay managers share their tips for effective remote management #MercariDays

Hi everyone! This is @natukifm from the Mercan editorial team.

It’s been two months since Mercari introduced working from home as part of the measures to prioritize the safety of employees at its offices in Japan and to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. We wanted to learn more about what our managers are doing to adapt and manage a team remotely considering different working styles and workloads.

In this article, we introduce a short survey using the KPT (Keep Problem Try) Method.

Current Status: Changes since remote work started

First of all, we asked how members and teams have changed since the start of working from home.

1: Working styles have become more diverse

・ Some members have lost their working habits because it’s more difficult to separate work time and off time. At the same time, some members are facing a lot of mental and physical stress for not being able to find child care and not being able to go out.
・ Some members adopted an early morning shift (working from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm).
・ More members tend to overwork themselves.
・ We are reflecting on the way we work more than before.

2. Fewer opportunities for casual communication with other members

・ We have fewer chances to have casual conversations and openly communicate with other members.
・ The lack of communication has become evident.
・ We see changes in the process of escalation to managers. Until now, we used to double-check with our manager before proceeding, but now working remotely more people tend to make decisions by themselves. As a result, we spend more time working on our own than working as a team.
・ We use Hangouts and Slack more for casual communication.
・ Members have been making a conscious effort to communicate. For example, setting up a daily stand-up, which we didn’t do before. Also, using Slack calls when it’s faster to talk directly.
・ Each member writes down their daily tasks and daily reports on Slack and we are more conscious about our output in order to facilitate management tasks.

3:Division between those members with high performance and those with low performance

・ We have started to see a division between those members with high performance and those with low performance. In the latter case, some of the reasons are a poor working environment at home and difficulties separating work from home.
・ In the beginning we saw a division between those who were able to adapt to working from home and those who weren’t. Now everyone is adapting better in the process.
・ Some members have a hard time keeping their motivation up.

Keep: Initiatives that have given good results in a remote working environment

As we started working from home and communication became mainly online, we were able to see issues such as lack of communication, different working styles, and productivity control. These are some of the good initiatives that managers implemented to handle this situation.

1: Purposely create or increase space and time for casual communication

・ We set a coffee time twice a week to casually chat. As a result, we were able to understand each other better.
・ We set a Daily Meeting to keep working habits.
・ We set a daily meeting called Retrospective from 15:30–16:00 to freely discuss things and ask for advice about tasks. This initiative is working pretty well.
・ The best part of managing WFH was my 13-month son on my laps during the stand-up meetings or 1on1s and my team was okay with that. I think overall, the team has improved a lot in terms of collaborations for complex features with tight deadlines. Also, they have become organized and attentive about how we spend time during the meetings.
・ We set morning meetings, tea time (twice a week), and online team-building meetings (1–2 a month).
・ Once a week we set a meeting for casual conversations in everyone’s calendar.

2:Creative ways for 1on1s and morning meetings

・ Tasks are assigned every two weeks in a scrum format. Thanks to that, we are able to follow each other’s work progress.
・ As a manager listening to the situation of other members I am more conscious of becoming a good conversation partner and letting them release their stress.
・ I continue listening to their working from home situation during our 1on1 meetings.
・ I shifted from task-based discussion time to working environment-based discussion during our 1on1 meetings.
・ We do a 10–15-minute daily check-in for each team to discuss how remote work is going and share any concerns. During this time, turning the camera on is recommended.
・ Before remote work started we already discussed actively communicating and helping each other. Now everyone is doing it consciously, so I’m really glad we did it beforehand.

Problem: Facing new challenges

On the other hand, what are the challenges or issues that you are still facing?

1: Lack of information exchange and communication

・ Lack of communication with members not involved in the project.
・ We have few opportunities to talk about things outside work.
・ Lack of normal interactions and conversations.
・ We don’t talk about things outside work so it becomes difficult to know the other person’s physical and mental condition.
・ I distributed the tasks according to each member’s working time but the team activities didn’t change. We are still trying to clarify the concepts of escalation and communication within the team, so I am worried whether there is any lack of confirmation or misunderstanding.
・ Bilingual communication in the team.
・ It’s difficult to foster a sense of unity when we have new members or changes within the team.
・ We welcomed new members in April but there have been few opportunities to talk frankly with them.

2:Managing performance

・ It’s hard to follow members’ working performance when working from home.
・ I don’t have a solution for those members who are not able to work because they have their kids at home. There is a special leave compensation for those cases, but this doesn’t seem to be the real problem.
・ There is hesitation over personal OKR progress because of the impact of the coronavirus.

3:Switching modes between working and personal time

・ Regarding working hours, we are able to set a rhythm with the Daily Meeting. However, in daily life, it’s difficult to change modes between working and personal time.
・ It’s difficult to create a sense of unity and a cheering spirit within the team.

4:Others

・ We are still trying to figure out how to overcome the concept that meetings working from home are a pain.
・ We are not able to give a hand immediately when someone has a problem.
・ Being indoors all day is not healthy, mentally, or physically.

Try: Overcoming difficulties

Many managers continue to have problems regarding lack of communication and lack of information sharing. So, what are they doing to solve this?

1:Trying to do things remotely

・ We tried an online lunch but it didn’t go that well. Now, we are considering an online coffee break or something similar.
・ Will try to hold an online team building.
・ Talk about team building as much as I can and invite people who I think would be interested.
・ Create various touchpoints, so we can make good use of casual talk time, not only during 1on1s.
・ I increased the number of 1on1 sessions per member, so we not only check task progress but also discuss job direction.
・ We set time for Open Door sessions so anyone is welcome to join for a casual conversation.

2:Increase communication a little bit more

・ It’s difficult to share information so I thought it would be interesting to open an all-day Google Meet session so people can freely join when they want.
・ Try to bounce off detailed decisions and other topics.
・ Increase the number of 1on1 sessions.
・ We plan to have a meeting to discuss improvements in the onboarding process with the team.
・ We have fewer opportunities to casually talk with other teams, so I’m thinking about having a casual session inviting members from other teams.
・ More team building across different teams.

3:Creativity for materials and message contents

・ Important announcements for the team need to be translated to both languages to enable clear understanding.
・ For remote communication settings like a daily 15-minute afternoon tea, the most important thing is to cheer up the mood. Also, during 1on1s I am mindful to send a positive message.
・ When listening to everyone’s concerns and issues about working from home, I keep telling them that those are actually not real problems, but we should see them as temporary circumstances that eventually will become part of the culture.
・ I refrain from sending work requests during weekends and nights.

4:Trying changing output and team working style

・ I focus on the quality of work results. This is because I cannot see how members are working so I have no other way but to see their work results. I believe this is a good opportunity for each of us to improve the quality of our products, so I want to continue our knowledge sharing.
・ Some members need to take time for childcare so my challenge is to create a team that can work well on staggered working hours.

5:Do not overissue or force management measures

・ I think the problem is not remote working itself but forced remote working. There is the possibility that over-management is increasing the level of demand and that results in more stress. When trying measures it’s important to create an atmosphere of voluntary participation, so no one feels forced to do something.

6:Making a music playlist for the team

・ Creating a music playlist for the team 😀 As my team is multinational it’s great to have a variety of music.

We are not sure how long this situation will continue so many managers are starting to think that just bringing communication online is not going to be a sufficient substitute for the face-to-face interaction as it was before. As working from home continues, how are teams going to come out with an optimal solution for this? Let me tell you more about future Mercan articles.

Until then, see you in the next #MercariDays!

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