Team Workload Management in a Hybrid World

| Jennifer Begg

How do we work together when working apart?

If your team are working remotely or using a hybrid model, you need a robust process for managing resource (and stress!).

As mentioned in my previous post, the things we took for granted in an office environment no longer work. We don’t have a clear picture of what our colleagues are working on each day, which can lead to imbalance, frustration, and negative workplace culture.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen so much unrest, which could have been avoided if teams had more oversight (and respect) of their colleagues’ workload. We’ve developed a modified agile approach specifically for marketing and product teams, which successfully achieves this. Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify the need

Each team works differently. Before deciding on the process requirements, pouring out all the frustrations and challenges honestly (and hopefully constructively) is essential. The key thing to make clear to everyone is that we are looking to reduce workload, not make things more bureaucratic.

Usually, if we’re talking to your team, it’s because people are at the end of their rope. Feeling overworked and underappreciated. We want to discuss ways we can help them manage their own workload while also making things more visible to their colleagues and management.

The goal is to protect your team from an uncontrollable flow of incoming tasks while ensuring existing work is correctly prioritised and realistically scoped.

  1. Define the process requirements

Who needs access to your system? What functionality do users need, and what visibility is required at the management level?

Again, this is about designing a system that reduces tasks and leverages automation where possible. We don’t want to create additional reports or summaries — the process and tools we choose should have the flexibility to provide both day-to-day and top-level reporting.

We recommend approaching requirement scoping by considering how you want to filter your tasks.

For example, most systems should allow you to filter by:

  • Task Owner
  • Requesting Department
  • Task Type
  • Deadline

It’s also useful to be able to group tasks by things like:

  • Dependencies
  • Task Type
  • Project
  • Requesting Department
  • Task Owner

We recommend keeping this as simple as possible and building it out as requirements arise. The next phase of software selection will also help to tighten things up.

  1. Review existing software tools available

When we want to implement a new process, it can be helpful to leverage tools staff are already familiar with (and using). This isn’t always the case, as a bit of novelty can work in your favour. However, especially when discussing paying for software, you want to evaluate your options closely before taking on additional costs.

  1. Agree on tools and final process with the whole team

Now that you’ve thoroughly evaluated your team’s needs and the software you require, you can start to test.

Add real data to your tasks management software using existing tasks and projects. When you have the data, we recommend trying the following:

  • Filter tasks for the criteria mentioned above and see if the results look user-friendly and if the team are happy with their user interface.
  • View the tasks at a granular level for the whole team.
  • View the tasks as a timeline or Gantt chart and filter/group them differently to see how to display the information to others.

Something we haven’t mentioned so far is the importance of having both:

  1. Task Backlog
  2. Task Timebox (Sprint)

We’ll publish other posts shortly, which go into this part of the process in more detail.

  1. Implement in stages

There’s a reason Change Management is a respected ideology and requires long-term strategies to implement smoothly. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and habits take time for individuals to develop — essentially, that’s what we’re doing here.

Despite what I’ve said above, there will be an initial learning curve which will result in more work in the short term. We need to make this as painless as possible and keep our eye on the prize — long-term reduced workload and stress.

A large part of the success we’ve seen is the result of us taking the pain out of setting up the new process for your team. We spend time doing the time-consuming software setup (and sometimes even add the tasks from spreadsheets or other sources) and join weekly meetings for a short period to help with admin updates.

This takes the edge off that initial workload increase and helps keep enthusiasm high (when it’s needed most!).

  1. Review regularly

No system is perfect straight out of the gate. It’s important to embrace feedback and incremental improvements.

It’s also important to get started while enthusiasm is high!

When implementing this for clients, we use weekly meetings to keep track of teething issues and make quick changes for you. After a few weeks, we can review what has gone well, what has caused frustration and where there might be room to be more ambitious with our strategy.

Often it’s only when we get started that we see the potential for what “could be”. A good example is dealing with incoming tasks from across the business:

No process —

  • Your team gets asked for things through multiple channels like Teams, Email, other project management tools or even via calls and in-person meetings.
  • You’re cc’d in emails or part of a group chat; therefore, you’re unclear on who will implement the tasks.

Workload process in place —

  • You have one channel for submitting task requests using a form which adds the task directly to your backlog.
  • Using a form with “required” fields, you ensure your team has all the information they need to get started and reduce the need for back and forth with colleagues over multiple communications channels.

The second description might seem like an unattainable dream if you’re stuck in firefighting mode but trust me, that’s when you need it most.

Talk to us about how we can help you design, implement and succeed with workload processes for your team.

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