How team interdependence affects the location of work

19. 03. 20 John Chapman

Remote working

At the start of a project, we are asked where the consultants will be working. Is there a requirement for them to be on site every day or can they work remotely?

The answer is dependent on

  • the type of work being performed
  • an assessment of the advantages of on site and off site work
  • the technology available

Type of work and team interdependence

In an article by Nancy Dixon she references ‘three levels of team interdependence; pooled, sequential and reciprocal; each requiring different levels of interaction and thus the frequency of meeting face-to-face’

At Touchstone we deliver business solutions projects. These have particular types of activities and they do map to the three levels of team interdependence.

With Pooled Interdependence, virtual hybrid team members work independently of each other. There are no handoffs between team members, there is no need for the team to come together to ensure that handoffs go smoothly or to resolve joint issues

Examples are

  • Writing design documentation
  • Software configuration (with remote connection)
  • Integration development (with remote connection)
  • Writing of first set of test scripts
  • Preparation of training material
  • Clearing down system in readiness for live running (with remote connection)

Location of work can be off site with remote connection to the system.

With Sequential Interdependence, the team carries out a series of tasks, each performed by a different team member, like a virtual assembly line. Each team member’s success depends on the person who does the previous task completing that task on time and at a high level of quality.

Examples are:

  • Walkthrough of test scripts and confirming sequencing.
  • Running a set of user acceptance test scripts where one individual completes their tests which then pass forward to the next person to test
  • Project progress reviews to confirm what has been completed and what the next actions are

Location of work; this can be achieved through remote working and using enabling technologies like MS Teams for online collaboration

Reciprocal Interdependence requires continual interaction between co-workers. Team members must diagnose, problem solve, and collaborate to accomplish their task. They must continually adjust to each other’s actions as the situation changes.

Examples are:

  • Project initiation meeting
  • Design workshops
  • User Acceptance Testing
  • Training where there is instruction on using the software and then how it will be applied in the live environment
  • Go live support: to respond and quickly resolve any issues that arise

Location of work: this would typically be face to face under normal circumstances, but could also be achieved using enabling technologies like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or Zoom videoconferencing for online collaboration, see here for the best Videoconferencing software for 2020, or the best free options.

It is not uncommon for a project to include tasks from all 3 of the categories listed above. It is important that these are recognised for what they are in order to provide the best working environment available at the time.

An assessment of the advantages of on site and off site work

First let us consider the advantages of remote working

  • There is less opportunity for interruptions or distractions when the consultant is working in a quiet location. Whilst working at your offices they will be included in conversations, meetings and questions raised about the delivery. This detracts from activities such as software configuration, which requires focused effort.
  • Travelling itself can be stressful. Taking public transport, waiting for trains, having to stand where there are no seats available, cancelled services all add to the stress of the consultant whether it is travelling to site or travelling home. By working remotely this improves the well-being and health of the individuals
  • Travelling is expensive both in time and in travel costs. Where time is money, it is more productive to not have to travel for long periods. There are no travel costs incurred for those working from home. Standard class rail fares during the working week are not cheap
  • Office space is typically at a premium. There is often not the desk space easily available to accommodate on site working.
  • This is consistent with Government advice to reduce travel to a minimum (as at date of publication – 19th March 2020)

Next let us consider the advantages of working at your offices

  • Physical proximity gives more opportunity for interaction, to discuss points that require clarification and get issues resolved quickly. Email is not a good mechanism for this type of dialogue.
  • Projects are about people and in-person interaction can help develop these relationships.
  • An element of project work relates to the handover between the consultant and the customer’s team. Knowledge transfer, in many instances, is best done face-to-face.

The technology available

The technology itself is divided into two discrete areas

  • Software configuration capabilities
  • Team working

Software configuration capabilities

For connectivity to the infrastructure, to enable solution configuration, it will be necessary to have software that provides remote access. Examples include Citrix Netscaler Gateway, Check Point Mobile, Cisco Meraki VPN, Bomgar, and Teamviewer Remote Desktop.

Team Working

Projects are about people, and whilst a conference call does have its place, there are limitations to what can be achieved using just voice. For an amusing look at situations I am sure we have all experienced with “voice only” conference calls see “A conference call in real life

Video conferencing is a better solution. Using software like MS Teams or WebEx it is possible to combine on screen both the documentation / solution being reviewed as well as seeing the attendees.

In setting up this approach, we should consider the location of the camera and how we are seen. Whilst a laptop camera might be easy to use, for those who are looking at us, what is their perception of the image they see? Do they look strangely up close and personal, or are they set back, like a newsreader, with a much more professional look?

As always, but especially in these unprecedented times, it is important that the health and wellbeing of our project teams are a high priority in the planning. By understanding the nature of project work we can accurately assess what can be effectively delivered without the need to travel.

This means your organisation is able to get the return on investment that was envisioned through the original business case.

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John Chapman

Written by:

John Chapman

Programme Director