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Let's Talk about Feelings!

The Meltwater Engineering teams have always been doing a lot of remote collaboration, due to the distributed nature of our company. Still, we have to get used to the work-from-home situation where we cannot even meet the colleagues in our own offices.

In this post Niall Burkley from our middleware team shares a simple standup routine to remind us that “we’re all people” after all. This can support your growth as a remote team.

You find more articles like these on Niall’s blog niallburkley.com.

Building a remote team

Recently, my team added a new protocol to our daily standups. We kick off with a round-the-table check-in to say how we’re feeling. It’s a simple, but a great addition to our morning standups.

Half the team are based in Germany and the other half in Sweden. Coupled with that, we’re used to working with remote colleagues in all parts of the world on a daily basis. But building bonds within the team, across countries, can be difficult. Given the recent COVID-19 pandemic everyone is working remotely, so this is especially important now.

In an effort to improve as a remote team, we sought some guidance from a colleague who works on a globally distributed team to get some ideas.

Checking In - The Core Protocols

One of the things we discussed was the Core Protocols, a set of “best practices” for high performing teams. One of those protocols is to “Check In” to a meeting.

The meeting starts by each member “checking in”, taking turns to say how they feel, using one (or more) of four emotions; mad, sad, glad, afraid. If you wish, you may share a brief explanation for how you feel. Each member has the option to Pass if they don’t feel like it on the day.

Checking In - Our Version

We liked the idea of checking in and sharing how we’re feeling on the day but felt the core protocol guideline was a bit restrictive.

Instead, we start the standup with a sentence or two saying how we’re feeling. It could be something like:

“Hi team, I’m feeling good today. I’m happy it’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend”.

Or maybe it’s not such a good start to the day:

“Morning all, I’m pretty tired today. My partner’s been unwell, and I’ve been awake all night”.

It is up to each person how much they want to share on the day, and of course they can always Pass.

What’s the big deal?

It’s a simple idea, so why is it worth writing about? Well, I feel it’s helped us to grow as a remote team, and there are a few reasons why I think that’s the case.

It reminds us we’re all people, not just work colleagues

While working remotely, we don’t get to have the hallway conversations or the lunchtime catch-ups where we get a glimpse into each other’s personal lives. Sure, we still try to hang out and chat while we’re working remotely, but it’s not the same.

With this daily check-in, you’re free to share something personal. Maybe it’s something enjoyable that excites you, or perhaps it’s something not-so-great that upsets you. Basically, it’s a non-judgemental space for your teammates to see what’s going on in your life on any given day - and maybe get to know the real you a bit better.

Of course, you can check in and “talk shop”, and respond that you are happy/stressed because of work topics, but I find that small personal check-ins are beneficial for growing together as a team. You’re more likely to trust and try to help someone when you really know them, and genuinely getting to know someone is hard to do when you’re all remote.

It helps us to see the bigger picture when someone’s having a bad day

When someone’s a bit abrupt or impatient with you, it’s understandable you would take it to heart. It’s easy to get fed-up with a colleague when they give you a one-word answer to a question you sent them an hour ago. But when you know they are having a bad day; maybe their child is sick, or perhaps they have hardly slept the night before; then it’s more obvious to put this all into context. It’s entirely possible that if you were having a similar day, then you would have reacted the same way.

By starting the day with some context of the teams’ headspace, you can plan the day better. Maybe you can rearrange tasks to help someone who knows they’ll be offline for large parts of the day, or perhaps someone doesn’t feel like pair-programming on a given day - these things are easy to change and will be much better for the team in the long run.

It takes the pressure off when you’re having a bad day

Knowing you can start the day by getting things off your chest, can be a huge relief when you are the one having a bad day.

With the recent weeks of COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve been struggling to sleep properly. In the past, when I hadn’t slept well, I’d start the day with a feeling of dread, knowing I wasn’t going to be as productive as I should be. But now, I can start the day by checking in and telling the team I haven’t slept, and I might not be firing on all cylinders that day. That check-in allows me to get it out in the open and lifts the feeling of dread that I would have had in the past.

In closing

All in all, I think this has been a great addition to our standups and has helped our team to grow. Sure, you can do all these things informally during the day, but personally, I feel that having is as part of your morning routine, ensures you do it every day. This helps to build relationships and unify the team, whether you’re remote or on-site.

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This post was originally published at niallburkley.com/blog/lets-talk-about-feelings/.