Flatten the curve, not your learning curve

March 23, 2020


Jasper Verplanken, co-founder

There's an opportunity in every crisis.

Working remote is challenging, especially for larger teams.

Covid-19 is forcing people out of their offices into their homes. The speed at which this has changed is so fast that companies might see this as a setback.

This often stems from the firm belief that the physical workspace should be copy/pasted into digital.

Newsflash: you're missing out on some of the huge opportunities that digital workspace technology has to offer.

Enjoy some of our suggestions on how to keep public health & safety a priority (flatten the curve) whilst still making sure your team stays razor-sharp.

"In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity."

Where can you go wrong?

We'll discuss 3 common pains that are easily solved.

  • Pain #1: In a remote workspace, there are no physical shoulders to "tap on"
  • Pain #2: In a remote workspace it's harder to keep everyone engaged
  • Pain #3: Remote tools aren't always built for focus-first and tend to scatter information

Pain #1 — There are no physical shoulders to tap on

The issue

It's very easy to tap shoulders in real life. Teams often ask the colleagues that sit next to them if they might have an idea who could help regarding a specific topic.

Tapping shoulders in the physical world is of crucial importance to keep learning, to keep the edge sharp.

While we're working remote, flattening the curve (good on you 💪) some of may struggle without a direct entry point to company knowledge. New hires, interns but also seasoned professionals investigating new fields or topics.

The remote solution

Direct messaging tools like Slack or MS Teams make a lot of sense. They are very convenient and almost every colleague is only a few digital taps away. Good stuff.

But is it though? There is substantial research that interruptions can cost a lot of money. And we all know Slack and Teams aren't the best focus-first tools out there.

So how to go about this? Asking for help shouldn't become a bad thing now, is it?

No, it shouldn't. But when working remote a substantial opportunity arises.

The "remote-but-still-physical-world" example

  1. Alice asks Bob on Slack to help her how to set up the Google Cloud Platform.
  2. Bob answers Alice in full detail, writing down his response in a document shared with her on MS Teams.
  3. Carl has the same question. Searches on it for Google but didn't find a high-quality source.
  4. He taps the shoulder of Bob on Slack, the company's Google Cloud expert.
  5. Bob is a kind (and proud) man and answers Carl in full detail, again.

Now, did you notice what happened here?

If we're going to approach this the same way as we're doing in the physical world, we're not reaping the benefits of this digital interaction.

As instead, take this remote-first example

  1. Alice asks Bob on Slack to help her how to set up the Google Cloud Platform.
  2. Bob answers Alice in full detail, writing down his response in a document. It is automatically indexed, tagged, stored on
  3. Carl has the same question, searches for it on Google and sees a search suggestion pop up from
  4. Carl can now use a prepared document from Bob and has learned that Bob is a Google Cloud Expert (Carl didn't know, they work in different teams)
  5. Bob still sees in his weekly report that Carl engaged with his document (dopamine alert - he's still the same proud man)
  6. Carl didn't have to interrupt Bob, didn't have to wait and has re-used high-quality company knowledge.

What to take away from this

You have to apologise for plugging like this. But we hope that it's clear that digital tools can be used in a lot of ways, many of which can hurt productivity. The main takeaway here is that you should put in place a system that captures company knowledge (for smaller teams this can be a digital meeting, exchanging weekly learnings). For teams larger than 20 people this approach wouldn't scale.

Real asynchronous communication that pops up when knowledge is needed the most. That's where company knowledge investments generate returns.

On a final note: it's interesting to see how this is way less obvious in a physical environment. Purely because human courtesy would rather provide information in full rather than diverting the question (and consequently, the conversation) to a digital source.

Pain #2 — Keep everyone engaged

Remote teams should still be teams. What a company sets itself apart from "a group of freelancers working together" is that it's way greater than the sum of its parts.

However, for it to be like this, it requires a seamless way to exchange information amongst all employees.

When there are less informal water-cooler moments of knowledge sharing this can pose a threat in the mid-term. Smaller teams can fix this using a short "what I've learned this week"-moment on their team meetings but that's hardly scalable.

Remote teams have to take extra measures to make sure that relevant information flows to those who need it when they need it. We talked earlier about enriching Google Search results using but there are of course others ways to do it. (digital tribe sessions, chapter mini-conferences, topic-channels, etc.)

But that's hardly the biggest risk. When you're leaving information in a company unattended for too long there's a huge risk that everyone starts making up their own version of reality.

The "remote-but-still-physical-world" example

  1. Alice (new to the company) is learning to set-up their landing pages so that they are optimised for Google Search.
  2. She uses Google to learn how she should do it

If there are no substantial resources suggested to this person at that very time, chances are that a new "version of reality" is established.

As instead, take this remote-first example

  1. Alice (new to the company) is learning to set-up their landing pages so that they are optimised for Google Search.
  2. She uses google to learn but sees a suggestion "SEO Landingpage Checklist.docx" by company SEO expert Bob
  3. She opens the document and finds a tried & tested approach to immediately do it right

The discovery of this document keeps everyone engaged: Bob, who has created the document and Alice.

Both now have a feeling of accomplishment and have engaged with each other on a professional level. Everybody wins: Alice, Bob and the company.

Pain #3 — Remote tools tend to scatter information more easily

Remote tools are so convenient and user-friendly that it becomes very easy to share something.

And while the benefits far outweigh the downsides, it's still something that requires some thought.

Slack stores its files within channels. MS Teams uses Sharepoint. Whereas others might use Google Drive files, etc. All of which can end up being "orphaned".

And there's an extra curveball here: what about external content? Medium posts, Slideshare documents, Stackoverflow answers, Github repositories, etc.

To bring an overview and structure in this mess is a classic case of "machine-easy, human-difficult".

When left unattended, it increases the chances that company knowledge:

  • Is not being discovered or findable when someone needs it
  • Someone is searching in the "wrong" file system
  • Content is forgotten or (even worse) lost

The latter is especially painful when using the Slack Free plan. All links and files that were shared once are lost as soon as you reach the plan's limit. But even when you use Microsoft Teams, it's very clear that content shared 1 month ago has a very low chance of ever being found when someone needs it. (You can't expect someone to search every search bar from every remote tool a company is using). Continue reading on Slack and its impact on knowledge.

A possible solution

There are two ways to go about it.

  • #1 - The manual way: use a "Knowledge Base" or Learning Management System that contains all this information. This requires a lot of governance and discipline. It can work wonders if everybody sticks to the plan but requires a lot of effort. Moreover, these solutions tend to be quite expensive.
  • #2 - The automated way: we're in the age of artificial intelligence. We currently have the technological means to combine numerous sources of information: Slack, Teams, Drive, Sharepoint, but also external content like Slideshare posts, Medium, Youtube, etc. We also see huge developments in AI that enable us to categorise and structure this automatically. Moreover, a smart integration in the workflow (as a MS Teams plugin or Google Search extension) makes the discoverability instant and guaranteed.
  • (and yes, I'm talking about here, just pointing to the elephant here 🙊)

TL;DR - how to get the most out of your remote team

  • Encourage shoulder tapping. Once. Then make sure it's documented and available to anyone, in the flow of work.
  • Make sure everyone stays connected using rituals like team meetings, direct communication channels but also making sure everybody is using the same information (technology outperforms humans in this).
  • Stand on the shoulders of giants. Document company knowledge but most of all aim for ultimate discoverability.
  • Flatten the curve working remote. But make sure that you keep your edge sharp.

We're here for you.

All remote teams benefit from knowledge that flows freely.

Request a demo to learn how we increase remote team productivity.

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