Working in a Smart Working team means it’s likely that you are working with people who work in different places, at different times, or on different work patterns.

This doesn’t mean that you never see each other. You will probably see most of your colleagues on most days of the week, it’s just that you will all be together at the same time less often. This means more freedom and choice to work in different ways, but it also means having an agreed set of standards to ensure you can all work well together.

Here are some of the essentials for working together as a Smart Working team.

Being managed by results: monitoring and reporting

A key feature of Smart Working is being managed by results.

This involves the development of a culture of trust. Working in a Smart Working team, the manager is not looking over your shoulder to see that you are working. However, they do need to know what you are doing and to have insight into its quality.

So it is essential to feedback regularly on the work you are doing and how it is going. This involves both direct communication and keeping work in shared areas at all times rather than on a personal hard drive.

Notifying managers and other relevant colleagues of any issues in good time is also very important so that support or additional resources can be brought into play.

Team agreements

It is a good idea to have team agreements to set out standards and expectations around the new working practices, to cover such things as:

  • The requirement to let others know where and when you are working
  • Clear reporting structures
  • Sharing of calendars and schedules
  • Rigorous use of electronic document management systems, to ensure work is easily accessible
  • Being flexible about flexible working – to ensure that no individual is disadvantaged by the choices of others, e.g. in providing office cover or attending meetings
  • Etiquette in online communications and behaviour in virtual meetings
  • Signposting availability for phone contact or online discussion
  • How to use shared space when in the office.

Etiquette for remote meetings

For remote meetings to work well, it is important to have an agreed set of expectations and behaviours. This is likely to include the following:

  • Ensure that the meeting has a purpose, not only a title
  • Circulate any necessary information well in advance, giving everyone time to process it
  • Read information sent in advance, and be prepared to comment on it
  • Be on time for meetings.
  • If conferencing technology is involved, allow good time to set up
  • If someone is only needed for a part of a meeting, don’t drag them in for the whole time, but arrange to send a message 5 minutes before they are needed
  • Make a habit of sharing screens between participants to enable different people to lead different parts of the meeting
  • Actively participate
  • When people do not know each other well, make a point of saying who you are before speaking
  • The person running the meeting should make a point of bringing other people in to participate, and politely cut off people who are getting too dominant
  • Respect other people’s opinions
  • Wait for others to stop speaking before starting to speak
  • Review actions at the end of meetings
  • Meetings should end when the purpose is accomplished, rather than stretch it out to fill the time that has been booked.

The protocols may include some space for social interaction, but there are many other means of interacting socially with new technologies without having meetings. It is best to start a meeting on time with a purpose than get into the habit of starting slowly with chitchat while waiting for others to join.

Using technologies well

Working in Smart Working teams means learning about the capabilities of the remote working and collaboration technologies available. Imperial College uses Office 365 which offers a range of tools and applications to help you work more effectively. 

Used properly, the new technology can replace a lot of time spent in meetings with more flexible collaboration. You can also reduce much of the email and attachments sent and received, by using messaging and shared areas for documents.

Watching out for problems and issues – for self and colleagues

When people are working more remotely, some of the signs of stress or underperformance may be a little harder to spot.

All team members can keep an eye out for each other. Be prepared to ask how people are getting on, just as one would when together in the office.

The social dimension

There are many ways to keep the social dimension of teamwork going even when not working together all the time.

Setting aside times for all the team to meet together remains important, though care needs to be taken that this is not always on a day when an individual colleague is not working.

Some organisations arrange outside activities to bring people together, but often these are generated by people within the team according to their interests. These can be supported and encouraged.

Using the new collaboration technologies, sometimes colleagues keep a voice channel open for long periods as they work so they can fire off questions to each other, or just get more of a feeling that they are working in a team. Virtual coffee breaks or lunches can be arranged too.

On the basis of a trust-based culture and management by results, team members should feel free to chat to each other about non-work issues, as long as the work is done on time and to the high standard expected.

Health & safety and ergonomics

Sometimes people are concerned about health and safety and potential occupational health issues connected with remote working.

The basic principle is that the employer has the same duty of care to employees wherever they are working. There is no specific legislation around home or remote workings though there is good general guidance from the Health & Safety Executive and ACAS, and from several of the unions that have guidance on homeworking.

The College’s guidance on Flexible Working

In term of ergonomics, employees working remotely for more than an hour or two should work with a desk and chair that are adjusted to the right height, with keyboard and mouse in the correct layout and a screen adjusted to the appropriate height.

So users of laptops and tablets will need to use laptop/tablet risers and/or additional screen(s), plus potentially a separate keyboard and mouse. Our ergonomic guidance webpages explain how you should best have your desk set up. Make sure you have had the right training in this.

People working remotely also need to take regular screen breaks, just as they should when working in the office.