This is the first in a series of blog posts that we’ll be publishing over the coming months about how to build effective remote teams. We’ll share insights and experiences from the Scott Logic delivery team working on the Scottish Government Payment Service as they shape optimal ways of working on this important project.

Remote working has been in Scott Logic’s DNA since it was founded 15 years ago. But nurture is just as important as nature, and the environment in which we’ve all been working for most of 2020 has been utterly abnormal, to say the least.

From our centres in Newcastle, Edinburgh and Bristol, our delivery model has always been one of onshore outsourcing, with our delivery teams closely collaborating—but typically not co-locating—with our clients. So, when the pandemic struck and the UK went into lockdown, delivery to our clients was uninterrupted.

But on a human level, the shock to the system wrought by lockdown affected people across the world in profound and unexpected ways. Just look at Elton John, one minute playing to mass crowds on his retirement world tour, the next minute singing gibberish alone in his garden.

And it’s not just the scale of the change in all our working patterns that’s been unparalleled, it’s the duration too. Like many companies, we at Scott Logic have been working from home since late March. While we have always been highly adept at working remotely from our clients, we have been used to working face-to-face in Scott Logic delivery teams – not in prolonged isolation from each other. While light is now glimmering at the end of the tunnel, it’s still some distance away, so we’ll all be working like this for some time longer.

That’s why we at Scott Logic have been taking very seriously the importance of developing a new and improved approach to building effective remote teams, with a new initiative to explore this in detail; and not just in relation to productivity. People are at the heart of our business, and so we’re viewing this holistically. As we embark on new projects, we want an approach to forming and onboarding remote-first teams that gives them the best chance of success, while sustaining their motivation, morale and wellbeing.

Importantly, we’re basing this initiative on solid principles that underpin effective teams in any context. So whatever the future holds – working in the office, working remotely, or a mix of both – this initiative will stand our teams in good stead.

Optimising a remote-first team for the Scottish Government

Lead Developer Chris Kurzeja is sponsor of this initiative and he began by speaking to a wide range of people across Scott Logic to get a sense of what was already working—and what was missing: everything from the kitchen chats, to overhearing useful project conversations, to the ability to simply slide your chair across to a colleague and tackle a difficult task together. Common themes emerged around team building, ad hoc interaction, communication, collaboration, transparency and wellbeing.

Chris was particularly keen to understand the extent to which colleagues were consciously making changes to adapt to these new conditions. And the response was understandably mixed. Each team is made up of different people with different needs, working with different clients in different contexts. So it was clear to Chris that the approach to forming successful remote-first teams could not be one-size-fits-all. However, he began to see an emerging framework of principles that each new team could use to self-optimise for remote working.

With the fruits of this exploratory phase, Chris was ready to work with a new team to apply the framework in practice: the delivery team for the SG Payment Service. We’re extremely proud to be The Scottish Government’s delivery partner on this project and, through our remote working initiative, we are committed to giving this project the best possible start.

Through a series of project initiation workshops, Chris tasked the team with actively considering from day one how they wanted to optimise the team for working remotely: what values, behaviours and attitudes they wanted to embody; what processes and tooling they wanted to use; and how they wanted to celebrate, socialise, and build trust. It was important that all of this came from the team themselves. They quickly agreed that their guiding star should be the user of the payment service, motivating their day-to-day work and steering their response to the project’s challenges.

The outputs of these workshops were codified in a team manifesto which will not only help the team to hold true to the standard but also to onboard new team members. Chris will continue to work with the team, facilitating remote-working retrospectives to identify what’s working, what pain points remain, and how the team might work to address them.

And this series of blogs will offer an insight into this initiative, discussing the principles underpinning the work and sharing practical examples of the team’s self-optimisation that you may find useful at your organisation.