Digital Collaboration and Teamwork from a Distance – How scitis.io works

digital processes digital workflow home office

scitis.io stands for the digitization of industry. But what does it actually look like within the company itself? How do scitis.io employees work together and with their customers? Jascha Schmitt, Marketing and Operations Manager at scitis.io, will answer a few questions about digital processes and working methods – online, of course.

Hello Jascha! As a brief opening question to the interview: Where are you working from right now?

I mainly work from home. But that’s nothing new for us, we didn’t have an office at all in the founding phase – until the summer of 2017. My job interview back then was actually at the university cafeteria. So the way scitis.io works was set up for flexibility from the very beginning.

What about the rest of the team? Do colleagues tend to work in the office or from home?

Both. Our office in the west of Stuttgart is very well connected and some colleagues are there almost every day. But when everyone actually comes at the same time, it gets tight, and since Corona, that’s no longer possible without further ado. Fortunately, the switch to mainly home office or mobile office was smooth for us. As I said, we have been organized from the very beginning in a way that allows us to be independent of where we work. In the meantime, we also have employees who do not – or no longer – live in Stuttgart and are thus generally in the mobile office.  

The way scitis.io works was set up for flexibility from the very beginning.

Let’s talk about how scitis.io works: How does the digital workplace function and what do you need for it?

The specific Office environment is actually less important. Most common office packages offer usable approaches here. However, I have to say that Google Workspace offers by far the best environment for team collaboration.
Collaboration is not a feature but the basis around which the whole package is built. 

For example, today you don’t have to distribute a copy of a revised version “application_final_actually-final_version2.51.4(16).docx” over a drive or even by email, hoping that in the end all changes will find their way into a document.
In many office environments such as MS Works, this outdated way of working is still prevalent.

It is primarily a question of the team’s approach, and there are office packages that favor it and those that make it more difficult.

Instead, we work online – sometimes simultaneously – in the same document and can see what the others are doing and also track in the history who changed what and when. In addition, the chat is open, where we can discuss and comment, and if necessary, we briefly open a Google Meet to talk directly to each other. If the colleague is not available at the moment, you post a comment with @Name and know that this will be seen and clarified later. In the end, however, it is primarily a question of the team’s approach, and there are office packages that favor it and those that make it more difficult.

Video conferences are also part of the digital way of working. These are no longer entirely new, but there is often the feeling that they are a rather poor substitute for real meetings. What can you do to make a video conference work more effectively? 

So some basics of proper etiquette should be natural by now. For example, you should turn on your camera if possible, but leave the microphone off as long as you don’t say anything. 

Basically, video conferences are one of many tools that should rarely be used individually. Each meeting should always consist of at least one common document (Meeting Minutes) and, if necessary, other suitable tools such as a digital whiteboard. Jamboard, miro or Mindmeister, for example, are suitable here. 

Of course, we also have a team management tool in addition to regular meetings. We work with Asana here. This allows the team leader to get an overview of the status of his projects, estimate and balance the workload without having to get everyone together in a meeting for that. This means that we can quickly and effectively address those points in the meetings that actually need to be discussed, and the organizational overhead is very low.
In addition, online meetings can take place much more frequently and in a less complicated manner, which makes agile product development possible in the very first place. None of this is new or unusual, but you have to understand it as an overall system.

So I wouldn’t see video conferences as a bad substitute for real meetings. Rather, they are one of a whole range of tools that together enable a way of working in which on-site and in-person meetings are no longer as relevant. 

You said earlier that many colleagues still work from home. Isn’t there something missing when you no longer see each other in the office or during coffee breaks?  

In times of “social distancing”, “social connecting despite physical distancing” is what counts for us.

Yes, personal contact with colleagues in general is of course very difficult when working from home. If you only communicate with each other when there is a direct need for business-related information, the atmosphere in the team quickly suffers. Not only is this hardly fun, but it also has a negative impact on the work itself. Especially in a team as small and close-knit as the one at scitis.io, it is extremely important that the atmosphere is right. These short conversations while grabbing coffee in the kitchen or during lunch breaks are essential components of teamwork that tend to be overlooked. In 2020, we set up several non-binding “meetings” each week during the lockdowns that simply serve the purpose of having a chat without necessarily having to discuss work. One of these is, for example, the virtual lunch break “Munching together on Wednesdays” or the “Beer after 4 p.m.” on Fridays, where everyone slowly winds down before finally going into the weekend. So you can actually say: in times of “social distancing”, “social connecting despite physical distancing” is what counts for us.

Apart from keeping in touch within the team, how can you maintain good relations with customers?

In fact, we have the best and smoothest contact with customers we work with exclusively online. This is not because on-site and face-to-face meetings are bad. It’s because it’s much easier to communicate when you don’t have to schedule an on-site meeting and the rest of the communication is via email. We always strive for a customer relationship where we are as easily accessible to the customer as if we were sitting in the same building. This is not always possible, but a digital workplace makes it much easier.

Can you close by sharing a few tips for being productive in your home office?

I actually had a hard time getting into a work rhythm when we suddenly couldn’t go into the office at all. I think that was the case for most people in the spring of 2020. But I figured out a few things pretty quickly and have maintained them to this day:

  • I think the most important thing is to separate the workday and the after-work hours… preferably with an outdoor activity. When the way to the office and the way home are eliminated, the line between work and leisure tends to blur. This is not only harmful to productivity, but also to mental health.  
  • Keep in touch with colleagues, even if there is nothing to discuss. I still find that incredibly difficult myself, because it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the job. But as I said before, the conversations in passing are important. That’s where communication takes place, and the team notices when this communication is missing.
  • Don’t forget to take breaks. If no one says “let’s eat, I’m hungry”, it’s much easier to forget the time. This can be an advantage when you’re absorbed in some task and not interrupted, but without regular breaks, productivity can suffer. Personally, this is easier for me in the office, so I have to pay more attention to it when working from home. It doesn’t hurt to write down breaks and closing time as appointments in the calendar. Even if it amuses my colleagues that I put “exercise out in the fresh air” on my calendar every day at 6:00 p.m. 

Thank you for the insights into your daily work and the helpful tips Jascha! See you next time.

 

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Jascha Schmitt Marketing and Operations Manager