Remote work has become the norm during the global health crisis and it isn’t going away any time soon. Many companies are discovering productivity increases even with their staff out of the office and are beginning to announce to their employees they may be working from home from now on.
While hundreds of blogs and articles on working remotely have sprouted up as everyone throws in their 2 cents, Dr. Pam Estes Brewer has dedicated the past 15 years researching and publishing on remote teaming and has accumulated a vast depth of knowledge in the field.
Join us at the TC Dojo as we talk about this rapid growing trend and how it impacts the organizations and the individual as we move forward post crisis. How do we overcome challenges that may hold us back or cause a failure? What do we need to have in place for a winning strategy? How do we abate our own fears? If you have questions, chances are Dr Pam has answers.
About the Speaker
Pam Estes Brewer, Ph.D., Professor at Mercer University
Pam Estes Brewer is a technical communicator, educator, and management consultant. She has spent the past 15 years researching and publishing on remote teaming, including international teaming and her book, International Virtual Teams: Engineering Global Success, was published in 2015.
She teaches in Mercer University’s School of Engineering and directs the online MS in Technical Communication Management, the Mercer User Experience Lab and its work with such organizations as the Department of Homeland Security. She serves as an Associate Editor for IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication and as a board member for the Wesley Foundation of Macon.
Watch the Video
Transcript (Expand to View)
[00:00:00.450] - Liz Fraley
Good morning and welcome to the TC Dojo from Single-Sourcing Solutions. The TC Dojo is a Techcomm community that is driven by you. You tell us what you want to learn. You choose the topics. And we find the experts. In the open session Dojo today, we have Pam Estes-Brewer here to talk about remote work and virtual teaming. She's been working on this for 15 years and she's got more than just two cents, she's got actual research to back up her advice and her suggestions.
[00:00:31.880] - Liz Fraley
Thanks to everyone who sent in questions earlier to get started. Pam is an Associate Professor at the Mercer University and the Director of the Masters and Technical Communication Management Program. She's a scholar, she's a research reviewer for journals, and we're especially grateful she could be here in the TC dojo today to share her experience and productivity with us.
[00:00:54.490] - Liz Fraley
This is a different session than normal. We're doing a discussion, so don't save your questions until the end. Be sure to type them in as you go.
[00:01:01.870] - Liz Fraley
This is Janice Summers. She's going to do our interview. And welcome, Pam.
[00:01:06.870] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Thanks. I'm really excited to be here and I see some familiar names.
[00:01:11.610] - Janice Summers
Yeah, we're very excited to have you. And this topic is, of course, one of the current hot topics. But you've been in this, deep in the trenches, for over 15 years now. You've done an extensive amount of research. You authored books and papers. What is it that drew you to this topic at the time? Because technology, life has changed. We're not in the same place we were 15 years ago. So what drew you to this in the beginning?
[00:01:44.170] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I think what drew me to it in the beginning was I was a student in the online PhD program at Texas Tech and I had looked for a really good quality program for years that was accessible to me. And so they didn't go online until they were ready to do it really well. And that inspired me.
[00:02:09.620] - Pam Estes-Brewer
That and then my interest in some of the international psychology from people like Hofstede and Hall. And you just put that together and I think that's where it started.
[00:02:23.670] - Janice Summers
Putting all those pieces of the international and the global perspective and virtual teams. Now, in your research, are there some characteristics that define what a successful virtual team is in their performance? Are there like a set of things that these are good predictors that you're going to be successful and having remote work?
[00:02:49.800] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Absolutely. And I wanted to say, as we get started today, that if I don't dive deeply enough into this, something that y'all are interested in, I'm really happy to have more conversation later. But some predictors of successful teams would include my number one, and that is that if you were to ask each member of your team separately--so we're not in a room now, we're having a one on one conversation--and you were to ask that person, OK, so what is the purpose of our team?
[00:03:27.050] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And you do that periodically to take the temperature of the team. And if you're getting the same answer from each member of the team or close to the same answer, you know that you've got a team that is bonded by your purpose and that's what you want. So that's your gateway to do a temperature check on your team. Now, of course, people have different agendas in terms of where certain teams fit into their careers, and that's fine.
[00:03:56.130] - Pam Estes-Brewer
That's to be expected. But everybody should be circling around a single set of purposes. And if they know that, you kind of know that you're on the same page. Other things that indicate successful performance are the things that you would expect, for example, meeting goals, meeting deadlines, and having a sense of presence. It's another question you actually could ask your team members when you talk to them. How present do you feel the members of your team are?
[00:04:31.440] - Pam Estes-Brewer
How present do you feel in the team? Because if people are communicating often and effectively towards the purpose, your team's going to have a sense of presence with one another.
[00:04:47.500] - Janice Summers
So that feeling that even though you might be around the globe and in a different time zone, I'm still connected to you. That feeling of connectedness as a whole.
[00:04:57.890] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:04:59.630] - Pam Estes-Brewer
It's actually fairly easy to get disconnected. You all have probably experienced that by someone where you just don't hear from them often enough. You're not quite sure when you're going to hear from them. You're not quite sure if they're going to meet that goal. So you've got plan B in your back pocket. Those are things that would indicate that your team doesn't have as healthy a presence as you need.
[00:05:28.370] - Janice Summers
OK, now. And how do you, like, avoid the pitfalls? Like, what are the biggest pitfalls that people trip into as virtual teams that are going to predict their failure, basically.
[00:05:42.950] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Well, you can kind of take the opposite of what I've just said. If you're getting different answers to what the purpose is, you've got a team that needs some triage. If you've got people who don't feel a pretty solid sense of trust in their teammates and a pretty solid sense of presence, then you've got, again, a team that needs some triage. You need to be addressing those things.
[00:06:14.940] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And of course, it all comes down to if those things aren't working, then you aren't accomplishing what you need to accomplish in the strictest of business senses. But there are actually two things at play, two things at risk. One is your company production, whatever those purposes are, those goals. But the other one is the sense of satisfaction. And I want to say comfort, but not exactly. People don't have to be comfortable all the time and they shouldn't be.
[00:06:47.980] - Pam Estes-Brewer
But a sense of satisfaction that I have a place here. I know what my goals are and I know that I and my team are making movement toward them.
[00:06:59.380] - Janice Summers
And that the individual has an impact. I'm sure there are studies out there, and don't quote me that say that actual that the key to happiness is purpose. Right? That the biggest satisfaction is having a sense of purpose.
[00:07:17.530] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I'd have to think about that. But maybe. Yeah.
[00:07:19.920] - Janice Summers
Yeah. They've done studies in different countries. I can't remember where I read the research, but it was actually it was having a sense of purpose. It wasn't always being happy all the time. It was just a sense of purpose. And sometimes purpose has a little bit of challenges. Right? But that's socially.
[00:07:40.110] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:07:40.140] - Janice Summers
So that's OK. Now, Are there characteristics for an individual that would have a strong predictor for--
[00:07:49.120] - Pam Estes-Brewer
You know, can I go back just one step, Janice, and then I'll get to that. One thing you can also do is to let your teams know that messiness or a certain amount of discomfort is an OK thing. You can make them comfortable with the unknown by assuring them, by supporting them that, you know, we're gonna get better outcomes if we embrace some of these unknowns for this period of the project. Because making that explicit. The fact that, hey, it's OK to be uncomfortable can really increase production as well.
[00:08:26.140] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Now, you have to keep that within a structure, right? We can't be uncomfortable and all over the place. But, yeah.
[00:08:31.820] - Janice Summers
And flailing out there
[00:08:33.460] - Pam Estes-Brewer
no flailing, no flailing.
[00:08:38.680] - Pam Estes-Brewer
So back to individual predictors of who might be successful. You know, I am a believer that anybody can be successful in remote work. I am a believer that remote structures, if they're done right, can work really well in education, work really well in business, and work really well for the individual. Yeah, you need some good habits, some best practices.
[00:09:06.700] - Janice Summers
No predictors that one person is going to be a failure online and somebody else is fine.
[00:09:12.920] - Janice Summers
Right. Right. But there are some things that we would..that we have control as individuals that can help foster a higher degree of satisfaction and successfulness and working remote, right?
[00:09:27.390] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Absolutely. And I would say there's a connection between social communication. Meaning, you know, that informal stuff we get to know each other and building trust and effective knowledge transfer. And absolutely, knowledge is a commodity that we're transferring online. Right?
[00:09:50.150] - Janice Summers
[00:09:51.300] - Pam Estes-Brewer
So. You have to have your teams build habits that follow that sequence from social to trust to production. And you probably could name many of the things that helped to build trust. Being on time, coming through with what you say you're going to come through, producing high quality, being somebody that other people can count on. Those are the things that help to build trust. Whether we're face to face or whether we're online.
[00:10:27.630] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And so the thing is that some of the cues I give you face-to-face that you can trust me you don't automatically have online. So you have to find ways to build that online. For example, a biggie is that people know absolutely when and how they can reach you. Which does not mean 24/7, folks. We need a life.
[00:10:52.940] - Janice Summers
Yeah and before we march away from that, because there's a lot of people who are under that assumption that I have to be 100 percent available all of the time in order to be trusted. Is that correct or false?
[00:11:09.980] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I think people tend to think that. And I think they feel some pressure when they go online. They want to be visible to their organizations. And so they feel some pressure to be available 24/7. And I don't think that's healthy for an organization.
[00:11:25.570] - Pam Estes-Brewer
It's certainly not healthy for a person. And I certainly don't want to live that way. So I have to build that presence in another way and I can let you know when I'm gonna be available and then I'm available.
[00:11:39.050] - Janice Summers
[00:11:39.290] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I can let you know how you can reach me and you can reach me that way. I can guarantee you, for example, globally, people like a 12 to 24 hour turnaround unless they're having an emergency.
[00:11:55.220] - Janice Summers
[00:11:55.790] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I can guarantee you that you'll hear from me within 12 to 24 hours, even if what I'm going to tell you is I don't have the answer to that yet, but I'll have it for you by X.
[00:12:05.650] - Janice Summers
[00:12:06.210] - Janice Summers
So even just responding back with an acknowledgement of I hear you.
[00:12:10.330] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:12:10.830] - Janice Summers
I'm aware of this. I don't have an answer yet. Is OK. As long as they're responding back and they have set expectations for their customer or whatever of what their personal performance for them is going to be as far as getting back to that.
[00:12:28.580] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Mm hmm. And I'm available to you whatever it is. Eight to five or eight to seven. You know, you're really this committed person. Eight to seven Eastern U.S. Time. And I am. But after that, no, you can't count on me during my time with my family or my whatever.
[00:12:50.900] - Janice Summers
Right. Right. So this is also a good way to make sure that you're maintaining boundaries if you're finding yourself in a remote work environment. Boundaries are important. Right?
[00:13:05.640] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Very much so.
[00:13:06.530] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And if you think about it, boundaries do get blurred. And kind of Picasso-ed, kind of disfigured online. You know, for example, you know pretty much that you can talk to me if I'm sitting in my office and my office door's open. That it's an invitation. Right?
[00:13:29.990] - Pam Estes-Brewer
But you don't have that same clear signal online unless I make sure that you have it in some way. And people, they want boundaries because just like we've said, we don't want people .. we don't want to be available 24/7. But by the same token, roles, for example, what Janice is responsible for on a project and what I'm responsible for, we want boundaries between those roles, too. Janice is not going to appreciate it if she has spent all of today completing a part of the project.
[00:14:03.770] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And then this evening, I let her know, hey, I finished this. And it's about a quarter of what you spent your time on today. No, you know, she's just wasted her time. So you have to find those ways to communicate boundaries of space, of time, of project roles online. And being proactive about that is just a testimony to your professionalism. You look better if you can do that than if you have no boundaries and people view you as boundary-less.
[00:14:38.200] - Janice Summers
Right. And as a manager, managing remote teams. You kind of need to make sure that you're encouraging that amongst your employees, right?
[00:14:50.880] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Absolutely. If I'm the manager. I've got a real responsibility for the culture of my team, whether that's an online team or a face-to-face team. I need to let them know. OK, these are the absolutes for our team. These are the things that we need to discuss as a team and come up with our own agreement on.
[00:15:13.230] - Pam Estes-Brewer
But I'm the one who has to set those boundaries.
[00:15:18.310] - Janice Summers
Right, right. So do some companies or organizations fare better doing virtual teams than others? I mean, is the technology, the company here, what they do. Is that an indicator?
[00:15:39.250] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I believe the companies I've seen struggle with this the most are those who have strong face-to-face teams and then online teams and the boundaries are weak. And what results from that is that some of your folks, but especially your online folks, will end up with responsibility, without authority. Responsibility without authority is a real... really injures team productivity, both in terms of production and employee satisfaction.
[00:16:32.480] - Pam Estes-Brewer
So, the companies that are all online. Don't struggle as much as the companies who have face-to-face and remote. But that's not because they have to struggle. It's just they haven't figured it out in a lot of cases that I've observed. They need an equal playing ground and an equal presence for their online and their face-to-face employees. I cannot have remote teams who are integral paired with face-to-face teams or maybe just teams that are made up of both.
[00:17:18.210] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And, for example, have regular face-to-face events, celebrations, meetings, whatever that include only my face-to-face folks and my online folks are an afterthought. That doesn't work. Those remote folks can't be an afterthought.
[00:17:37.500] - Janice Summers
Right. So you'd have to make sure that you're including them in strange and different ways. Because if you..you know, there's no doubt when you're face-to-face, it's quite easy to, you know, have a quick little break, and a lunch, and what have you, and there's that intimacy. How would you go about including your remote people in that environment? I think we've seen some pretty creative things happening lately.
[00:18:03.300] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I know. I love it. I totally love it. The innovative ways people have created presence in the last two months has been phenomenal. One of my favorites are these drive-through graduation ceremonies.
[00:18:18.380] - Janice Summers
[00:18:21.170] - Pam Estes-Brewer
That can give a real sense of celebration and satisfaction. And I thought, oh, that! Kudos to whoever first came up with that one, I loved it.
[00:18:30.870] - Janice Summers
[00:18:31.180] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Yeah. You have to make an effort to do things that are meaningful to those online folks. And you've got to communicate that to your face-to-face folks. I mean, everybody needs to know that the remote and online staff have equal playing ground. Well, within your organization structure, but equal playing ground and accurate boundaries.
[00:19:01.030] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I'm trying to think of ways that I've done that. You know, one thing that's easy to forget for your remote folks, because, you know, I might.. I might come up to Liz, you know, at a conference and say, "oh, Liz, that that blog post, you did fabulous. I used that." And I just thought of it. So I said it. And I can forget those kudos online a little easier or a little more easily. I don't so much anymore because I'm online so much and I think more people are getting that way. But it's easy to forget something like a kudo.
[00:19:34.660] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Or something like... Now, Liz's.. I was so impressed by Liz's blog post. Right. So I want to let Liz's boss know that. But Liz doesn't have a boss. Well, Janice is Liz's boss, but
[00:19:48.360] - Janice Summers
She does have a boss!
[00:19:49.540] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:19:52.130] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Well, online I might be more likely to forget to take that step to send out a kudo for Liz to her boss.
[00:20:00.760] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Something kind of formal, maybe. And maybe even as formal as a letter that goes in the post. But something that's somewhat formal that, OK, then again, what I'm doing by giving Liz that kudo is I am making her presence greater. I'm bringing her to mind for her boss, Janice. Yeah.
[00:20:27.790] - Janice Summers
Right. I just got sidetracked and I'm Liz's boss now. So, that's cool.
[00:20:31.840] - Pam Estes-Brewer
You got to, Yeah.
[00:20:34.760] - Janice Summers
So how do you distinguish your address between productive remote workers and non-productive?
[00:20:43.880] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Yeah, I saw that question and I was starting to think about it, and that's going to be a deeper dive because I'll be honest with you, we need more metrics on this. We do not have the metrics in the studies we need yet that could answer that question really well.
[00:21:00.200] - Janice Summers
[00:21:01.130] - Pam Estes-Brewer
That's also true in the field of TechComm. We need some metrics.
[00:21:05.910] - Janice Summers
And isn't that have a lot to do with managing remote? There's a different.. there's a different style to it, in management. And when they're even in performance evaluations and there are different metrics that you use for remote versus... 'cause doesn't it shift from more task and physical presence to project or deliverables based. When you're remote.
[00:21:34.860] - Pam Estes-Brewer
You know, Janice, I don't think so.
[00:21:36.880] - Janice Summers
[00:21:37.720] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I think task and presence. Is fundamental online or face-to-face. I don't think it changes at all. Just how we make sure that we're communicating those things. So I think it's still task and presence. I think it's still evaluation and whatever metrics your organization uses. But what I think we don't have yet is how can we...And I may disagree with myself right there in the middle of the statement... How can we determine whether this remote worker is productive as opposed to non-productive?
[00:22:27.230] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I would say go back to the same way you would do it face-to-face, whatever those metrics are, and then make sure that you are communicating, launching and responding to those tools online as well. It's not different. It's just a matter of communicating it with tech instead of communicating it behind a mask, face-to-face.
[00:22:55.520] - Janice Summers
So when it comes to..
[00:22:56.240] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Does that make sense?
[00:22:57.260] - Janice Summers
[00:22:58.280] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:22:59.360] - Janice Summers
But when it comes to technology, are there like certain types of tools not branded, but are there certain types of tools that you need to have lined up to help support a virtual world?
[00:23:11.810] - Janice Summers
What are some of the key things that you see from the technology... and, boy, in fifteen years technology has changed, hasn't it?
[00:23:18.660] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Yeah. Tremendously--just yeah..
[00:23:20.650] - Janice Summers
Go ahead. What do you, what do you see in that?
[00:23:24.410] - Pam Estes-Brewer
That's a fabulous question because I can't have--at least I don't believe I can have--a productive remote team using only one technology. And the way I look at it is, comes out of research, we have media that run from lean to rich. Lean media are really limited in terms of cues. So like email, the only cues I get with email are words and punctuation and maybe an emoticon. But hey, that's you know, in business, we're not going to be throwing those out there a whole lot.
[00:24:04.090] - Janice Summers
I can't use emoticons. I'm emoticon handicapped.
[00:24:07.380] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Well, I'm having that problem with memes right now. They just go pfft.
[00:24:13.820] - Janice Summers
I know, what do you mean by that yeah...
[00:24:15.290] - Pam Estes-Brewer
So there's the lean media on one end, the email. And then on the other end are the really rich media and probably the richest media we have online right now or what we're doing right now, web conferencing.
[00:24:26.210] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Because we've got the voice, we got the text, we got expressions, we got volume. We've got all of those cues. They're the face, the closest we've got to face-to-face right now.
[00:24:35.900] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Well, your teams need some lean and some rich media, and they need to have discussed how they want to use those media because that can change culturally as well.
[00:24:51.200] - Pam Estes-Brewer
What media are acceptable for what tasks? But typically, no matter where you are on the globe, you want some lean, you want some rich, and you want your teams to have discussed how those are going to be used for the team.
[00:25:08.550] - Janice Summers
So there's a lot of... from hearing you. There's a lot of things that you've repeated over and over again that there's a lot of a team sign off and team agreement. So they're involved. From my perspective, what I'm hearing you say is that they're involved kind of like co-creators in maintaining and establishing a successful virtual team.
[00:25:37.520] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:25:39.050] - Janice Summers
[00:25:40.030] - Pam Estes-Brewer
From the beginning to the end.
[00:25:42.530] - Janice Summers
Yes. Cause one of my questions was going to be: How do companies prepare? I mean, if you want to move your team to virtual or you have to move your team to virtual, how do you prepare people to thrive in an environment where they may never have had the opportunity to be present in?
[00:26:03.260] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:26:03.830] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I have publications on that, that take it through a flow. But the first step is that you set your team purpose, team members, and possibly team roles, and then you set up a series of meetings like this where your team meta-communicates and that it means where they communicate about communication. And this is where your team starts navigating what the goals for the team are, the purpose and the part they have to play in it, and the questions they have, and the standards and the norms they want to have.
[00:26:48.170] - Pam Estes-Brewer
What technology do you want to use? What kind of turnaround time do you need? What do you...How do you feel about taking on this role? Now, I know that organizations are going to appoint people with roles, but within those teams, there needs to be some discussion of all that infrastructure that's going to keep the team going. And meta-communication is something that helps you do that.
[00:27:15.440] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I discovered a long time ago that teams--face-to-face teams or online--didn't recognize patterns in their communication that in a lot of cases can predict success and failure. And it wasn't until they actually stepped back and we talked about what happened that we could acknowledge the patterns and make sure they worked for us. And those are the things that have to happen at the beginning of successful virtual teams. If you don't, well, then it's just going to be trial and error. We'll see if it works. And those odds are not as good as we would like them to be.
[00:27:59.540] - Janice Summers
Right. You don't want to have to go just with trial and error. And I noticed in your book and I want to encourage everyone...I have to go...because I was reading through part of your book. And I want to encourage everyone to pick up this book because there's a lot of research in here and a lot of--there it is-- International Virtual Teams Engineering Global Success.
[00:28:30.440] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:28:31.070] - Liz Fraley
I put it In the chat window
[00:28:31.800] - Janice Summers
Oh, it's in the chat window. Thank you. Liz is just like doing this and I'm like, I don't know what that means. So here we have a failure in communication.
[00:28:45.840] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:28:47.950] - Janice Summers
Liz and I have worked together for while 10+ years and we still have breakdowns in communication.
[00:28:55.220] - Janice Summers
And it's funny, earlier when you were mentioning how some people, you know, you run the risk of feeling disconnected when you're out there, especially if you're in different time zones and you're the lone person in that time zone. You can feel it. And I just I remember there's times where I just feel like I'm like in a spacesuit floating out in space and there's like a little tiny tether connecting me to the mothership. And I just need to reel myself in. But anyways, OK, but there's a lot of research...
[00:29:25.270] - Janice Summers
That's a good metaphor.
[00:29:26.970] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Yeah. But I want to get to some questions too, because we had some advance questions. I don't know how we're doing on time. I got lost in our conversation. How are we doing on time? Timekeeper.
[00:29:41.990] - Liz Fraley
Let's go another 5-10 minutes since we started a little bit late.
[00:29:46.970] - Janice Summers
- All right. I lost the question that I was going to ask.
[00:29:56.750] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I'll mention real quickly Liz put in the chat that I and a team are launching a blog, a website in July, that will have Q&A potential where people can submit questions and comments and then we'll respond and it will be moderated but you'll be able to see other people's Q&A.
[00:30:22.860] - Pam Estes-Brewer
In the hope that with everything changing so quickly right now that we can keep the conversations and the research going in order to help one another.
[00:30:33.770] - Janice Summers
Right. Yeah, that's very good. And we'll make sure that once that website's launch, that will include it in the links below this video when the video gets posted so that people can have direct link to that and ask questions, because there's a lot of meat that you have to share. And in your book, there's a lot of research. It's all research-backed and all of that is important for people to tap into.
[00:31:02.050] - Janice Summers
One of the questions is how do we keep work efficiency going?
[00:31:09.230] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I think that's a great question. I won't say that on every question, although they generally are really great.
[00:31:15.350] - Janice Summers
They are good questions, aren't they?
[00:31:16.710] - Pam Estes-Brewer
It's so easy when we're working remotely. To have, I think, inefficiencies set in where our workday trickles far into our personal day where I might think that. OK, I just sat down and worked on that for two hours. I don't feel like I've got two hours of product for that.
[00:31:36.770] - Pam Estes-Brewer
So I think something that's working really well for me and for some others is to work kind of agilely to kind of work in sprints. And you can set up your sprint schedule. But where you set 20 minutes of I'm on it, I'm totally focused or 30 or whatever is good for you. But sprint with a goal in it and then take a break, you know, movement, whatever. Do some of the small things on your schedule that don't require as much thought.
[00:32:11.390] - Pam Estes-Brewer
But I think that real awareness of time in small segments has got the promise to help deal with that inefficiency creep that can sometimes happen when you're alone physically.
[00:32:28.580] - Janice Summers
Mind drift is a real thing. And it's easier to keep your focus for a limited period of time and then to release that and let it go and let your mind flow because you get some creative breakthroughs that way. At least that's what I found. And I'm not I don't have any science backing that.
[00:32:48.530] - Pam Estes-Brewer
There's a new name for that strategy. I think it's 20 minutes on and five minutes off. And I'm forgetting the name of that if anybody.
[00:32:55.730] - Janice Summers
Oh, somebody's named it? Okay good.
[00:32:58.140] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Somebody named it there?
[00:33:00.120] - Janice Summers
No, no. I don't know if they named it. I just need to know anybody named it. It's funny cause sometimes when we have a general rule, SingleSourcing Solutions. And when we're like working on building stylesheets for people, we're working on some highly technical. We'll spend for only 20 minutes. If you're spending for 20 minutes, then reach out, put it down or reach out or something.
[00:33:23.410] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:33:24.470] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And see, we've got those techniques. We just have to think, OK, which ones are really important to remote work? And yes, somebody named it there in the chat, the Pomodoro method.
[00:33:34.030] - Janice Summers
Oh, OK. Didn't know it had a name. So what are some of the strategies because we're face to face virtually right now. But that's not always the case with people. How do they create those personal bonds in remote situations? And we're talking languages right? So across the globe, you're talking language, which has you know social differences, what are some strategies to create a stronger personal bond?
[00:34:09.560] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:34:10.910] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And I would think this would be a great win for people to just rattle off ideas in the chat because, you know, things work differently for each of us. But some of the things that help me are to learn a little more about you, just like I would face to face. And, you know, I remember that, you know, you guys are out on the Pacific Coast. How's the weather out there? Oh, my gosh. I can't believe that earthquake hit you.
[00:34:43.430] - Pam Estes-Brewer
That wasn't really funny, but there you go. But at any rate, I take an interest and I try to remember that you are you. You are a person and I bring that to me in an awareness in our conversations. I also allow some time for social communication. That's not wasted time. That is time to get to know people, to bond, to develop relationships. That is important stuff. And you have to make more time for it deliberately.
[00:35:15.950] - Pam Estes-Brewer
My daughter works for an online company and they have--most of them are remote. And so they've moved to a Friday happy hour online with each other. Those things that can help promote some social, informal communication.
[00:35:36.670] - Janice Summers
Very good. Now, how about communicating when--because oftentimes we're in a situation where you have to communicate with people who aren't so good at communicating or are more closed offered or just they just tend to be more in their own little world. And we have to pull information from them. How does that change in the virtual world versus if we're in the same boat?
[00:36:01.540] - Pam Estes-Brewer
You know, in a way, it doesn't change because you still need to try to encourage some more response from that person online.
[00:36:09.610] - Pam Estes-Brewer
One of the options you have that works really well is try to start establishing some open communication from them via lean media. So, in other words, people might be less likely to talk because they're an introvert, because they're shy, because they don't have a good command of whatever language you're using. There a lot of reasons for it. And this with all of the cues can be kind of intimidating. So trying to have some opportunities with Lean Media can help to bring those people out.
[00:36:47.890] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And then once they've contributed and begin to feel more comfortable with the team, then this part gets a little easier too.
[00:36:56.410] - Janice Summers
Right, right. And minimal encouragers I've found have been very helpful. So if you're just an audio. But because a lot of times we nod our head, like I have a habit of nodding my head. You can't hear me. Not on the phone.
[00:37:11.650] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Right. And teleconferences are my least favorite. I don't like that, it's like the awkward, most awkward, particularly for non-native speakers of a language.
[00:37:23.830] - Janice Summers
Yeah. Yeah. Well, and don't we have to use all methods? Written, Audio, Visual. Using all methods and just reinforcing back to people?
[00:37:37.380] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:37:38.700] - Janice Summers
So can virtual meetings be as effective as in-person meetings?
[00:37:44.390] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Oh yeah. Aren't we all finding that now? I mean, we're diagnosing some of the problems with our online media meetings and fixing those. But absolutely, they are very productive. Depending on my personality. I might come out of it feeling drained or fulfilled or whatever it is I feel. But in terms of productivity.
[00:38:08.230] - Pam Estes-Brewer
You run an online meeting, a healthy one, just like you would any other. You've got your goals. You've got your owners of your tasks. You make sure you know you've got the works. Yeah.
[00:38:19.220] - Janice Summers
And I think one of the things during you know, because of the current situation, nothing like a health crisis to really drive people towards one towards being in the virtual world. One of the most interesting things was that the online appointments with doctors, health doctors having a diagnostics that are done online for virtual office meeting with your doctors fascinating.
[00:38:44.680] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:38:45.320] - Janice Summers
they've found that it's highly productive. They can pull you into the physical office when you need them, but they can do an initial consult online.
[00:38:55.720] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Absolutely. And don't you think we could make that work in any venue?
[00:39:02.070] - Janice Summers
[00:39:02.570] - Pam Estes-Brewer
There are stages and...
[00:39:05.860] - Janice Summers
Right. And it seems like a lot of companies as a result of all of this. Have there's companies out there that have expressed an increase and in productivity and expressed an interest in maintaining a virtual platform for their employees going forward.
[00:39:24.540] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Absolutely, and a lot of employees are saying that they hope that that's the case.
[00:39:29.810] - Janice Summers
Now, if you're an employee, how would you encourage your employer to continue along this platform, if not 100 percent, but maybe a percentage? How would you push from the bottom up?
[00:39:45.090] - Pam Estes-Brewer
There's a lot of context there that I don't have for answering that question, because it would vary a lot, but I would say that, of course, your organizations love metrics. So any metrics you can provide about the successes that you're having as well as your preferences.
[00:40:05.270] - Pam Estes-Brewer
You know, start communicating that up. You can do it informally or formally. You could even go so far as to do a relatively minimal feasibility report on how your office can proceed forward, either remotely or hybridly, whatever it is you want to propose. Yeah. So you can absolutely do that from grassroots up. And remember that you may have people in your line who just can't see virtual working. I mean, more people are now than they used to for sure.
[00:40:45.090] - Pam Estes-Brewer
But there are still some old guard who think it just can't work. And you have to help them envision that. You have to show them how it works.
[00:40:55.820] - Janice Summers
Right. And adaptability to technology is one of the key things is being able to tap into technology and utilize it.
[00:41:04.980] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Yeah. And believe me, universities are facing that right now.
[00:41:10.300] - Janice Summers
[00:41:11.190] - Pam Estes-Brewer
How do we envision education moving forward?
[00:41:15.200] - Janice Summers
Yeah, education is really interesting. Now you're professor at a university. Now you are a professor in a online master's program for technical communications right?
[00:41:28.990] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Right. Where a face to face Bachelors, and we're an online Masters.
[00:41:34.070] - Janice Summers
Which is very interesting. Now, with all of these universities having to adopt more virtual, how are they preparing people? The university setting?
[00:41:46.070] - Pam Estes-Brewer
They're all over the place right now. They're doing everything from the California system that's staying online for the fall to places like my university that says we're going to be back in our seats for the fall. So they are trying to find their way and they've got to do it.
[00:42:03.510] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And this could be true for your companies, too. They've got a brand, whatever they're selling.
[00:42:20.160] - Pam Estes-Brewer
They've got at the universities have a brand just like any organization. And so they've got to find out how do we move forward and plan for the future and support our brand, whatever that is. And just to give you an example, I teach at a private school and part of our brand is that face to face on campus. State of the art research lab brand. And we have to figure out. OK So how do we do that? And we can. But yeah, you adapt with your brand.
[00:43:06.120] - Liz Fraley
Yeah, it was funny, I was talking to a professor at Michigan University and she said one of the things we teach students is how to do the background because you need to have that boundary with public spaces, right from your private space. And that's just one of many things its really interesting.
[00:43:28.460] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:43:31.510] - Janice Summers
Yes. As the curtain was dropped. The funniest part, I think, about all of this when everybody is thrust into a virtual world. I'm not usually on video. Actually, I've done extensive training with customers that have never seen my face until years later. So I've done a lot of things just with my voice. But yeah, so I have this virtual background. So a lot of people have experienced some interesting things. My cats, by the way, decided they weren't getting my attention, so they decided to pull the curtain.
[00:44:06.560] - Janice Summers
That's what happened. But it's funny how a lot of these things actually you don't sweat it because we're all people and it's that human state that comes in. And I don't think people should be afraid of that happening. But I do believe you should have a virtual background.
[00:44:25.260] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Well, no, I don't. I mean, you're seeing my study right now. I've got virtual backgrounds. I mean, I've been flying over Mercers campus while I've talked some places, you know, but mostly mostly my studies, my professional space. I'm very comfortable with that. But I do think about what's behind me.
[00:44:44.090] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I had a student once who had a Victoria's Secret bag hanging right behind her for a semester. And I didn't say anything. And I would now, but at the time, I didn't.
[00:44:59.420] - Janice Summers
But the nice thing is, is there is a solution. So if you're in an environment and you're working in a virtual world, you can set up a virtual background because people can walk behind me. I'm in a shared space. I don't have an isolated room or a study in my home that's dedicated just to me. My office is in a little corner of my dining room. So people have examples now. Right. So it allows me to be able to have a work from home space.
[00:45:29.390] - Janice Summers
And I don't necessarily have a private office in that everybody has a private office that they can close up or a background that they would think that they would want to share. You know what I mean.
[00:45:42.020] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:45:42.690] - Janice Summers
[00:45:47.480] - Janice Summers
- So let me see if there's any other questions that came in at the last minute. Are we. Are we doing on time Liz?
[00:45:53.630] - Liz Fraley
I think we should wrap up. Thanks everybody for sending in your questions and helping us try out this new type of thing. We don't. It's not always webinars it and learn that we should work together and discuss, because that's how some of us learn best, trying many things.
[00:46:10.760] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Thank you all so much. I enjoy I'm enjoying the questions and the comments too.
[00:46:17.240] - Liz Fraley
That was really great. Thank you, Pam, for doing this. You're always a great guest. I love having you here.
[00:46:23.370] - Janice Summers
Somebody was asking about people who are salaried versus hourly. I'm not quite certain. Are Hourly workers encouraged to work shorter hours to save the company money? I'm not certain how that. Is there a difference between salaried or hourly employees as far as expectations in the virtual world and online?
[00:47:01.990] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I think that would be a company culture issue.
[00:47:05.060] - Janice Summers
[00:47:06.750] - Pam Estes-Brewer
I think probably there's a way of thinking that once you do hold hourly workers more to the clock, so to speak, and so you'd have to think about how that impacted, but they're still working towards certain goals and levels of productivity.
[00:47:26.490] - Janice Summers
Right. Because I know like support people, they're typically not salaried employees support people are typically hourly employees, but they have tools that they use that log their time. So when they take a break, they log out of the tool that tracks time.
[00:47:43.810] - Liz Fraley
I've seen that.
[00:47:45.280] - Janice Summers
So it's probably it's, again, back to you know, there might be some different tools depending on your position and your structure.
[00:47:53.400] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:47:55.070] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Yeah. And you make a good point about the tool. You know, that a company can very easily set up a timekeeping system where people essentially sign in, sign out when they're on the clock, so to speak.
[00:48:10.770] - Pam Estes-Brewer
And I'm just reading... there's Kelly. Hey, Kelly.
[00:48:19.250] - Liz Fraley
- Well, thank you to everyone for being here and participating. That's a great chat stream. We'll post a lot of this. All the links are on the Web site. The event page where you registered we'll add some of the advice here, to also, maybe post the chat I'm not sure, might pull out some of it, at least. And we're going to try this again. This worked out so well. Thank you, Pam.
[00:48:43.100] - Janice Summers
Thank you Pam It's been really interesting, and I really was interested. Your book is fascinating. Everybody should get that book. Absolutely.
[00:48:52.760] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Thank you. You guys are such a pleasure to work with. And you're always doing the cutting edge stuff. And I feel so safe with you because I trust you.
[00:49:03.620] - Janice Summers
It's really about as far as, you know, predictor of success for those people out there in the virtual world, who have to work in a virtual situation. Just work on establishing trust. And that's the same thing you have to do when you're in person with people. And the thing is, is it can be done in a virtual world just as effectively, if not more effectively when you're in a virtual world, right?
[00:49:29.540] - Pam Estes-Brewer
[00:49:31.860] - Janice Summers
[00:49:33.560] - Pam Estes-Brewer
It makes me want to break into song--you're living in a...
[00:49:43.070] - Pam Estes-Brewer
Thank you all so much. It's been a pleasure.
[00:49:46.070] - Liz Fraley
All right, everyone, before we go, let me tell you what's coming up next. Next month, we've got John Garrison. He's going to talk about what it takes to get your career. Forty five years later and still be moving fast and strong. And even a pandemic can't slow you down.
[00:50:03.320] - Liz Fraley
Thanks for coming to the single Sourcing Solutions, T.C. Dojo, where it's all about you, what you want to learn. You should always attend a webinar life because you can't ask questions of a video.
[00:50:13.130] - Liz Fraley
Subscribe to the TC Dojo Mailing List at join.tcdojo.org and never miss another.
[00:50:20.610] - Liz Fraley
Every month we go out and find experts willing to share their expertise based on your votes in the T.C. Dojo survey. Why should we tell you what to learn? You should tell us. So be sure to vote at survey.tcdojo.org. The T.C. Dojo is our pleasure to host. As always, if you need more personal help. We're here to take you from the basics to expertise.
[00:50:40.830] - Liz Fraley
See you next time.
Be sure to check out her website for more resources so you are Successfully Remote https://successfullyremote.com
Pam recommends these two books:
- Brewer, P. E. (2015). International Virtual Teams: Engineering Global Success, 2015, Wiley.
- Hayhoe, G. F. & Brewer, P. E. (2020). A Research Primer for Technical Communication (2nd ed.), Routledge.
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