If you’re new to managing a remote team and are behaving a little like Tom Hanks in Castaway, I feel you. (Wilsooooooon!)
Here at Trifoia we’ve been fully remote capable since 2015, but the reality is that most of us were in the office most of the time. That’s how I preferred it. I would work remotely here and there, maybe once or twice a week. It let me focus on solitary tasks without interruption, and was a nice break from the routine. Then I would be back in the office the next day, available for questions, ready to collaborate, there to chit-chat with my workmates. No big. It was nice.
The truth is, I’ve always had anxieties around working from home. It felt like remote employees didn’t have as loud of a voice due to them not being physically in the room. We’ve had a couple of fully remote employees, and they would always complain about cross talk during conference calls or being accidentally muted the whole time and not be able to participate. I preferred to be in the room, to make sure my voice was heard.
Well, we’re all those remote employees now. We’re all those disembodied heads looking back at you (slightly to the right) on conference calls, those names in Slack channels posting emojis, memes, and silly updates about what we’re doing, what we’re baking, and which store had toilet paper this week. This is where our work culture is made now, and it’s here to stay.
When it became clear that Trifoia would be transitioning to fully remote, I knew I needed to adapt my management style for this new reality. The first thing I did was reach out to someone who had experience in 100% remote eLearning development. I contacted Arturo Schwartzberg, co-founder of SweetRush, an eLearning developer that has been fully remote since 2011. Arturo was kind enough to hold a one-on-one web meeting with me in the first days of COVID-19, and his advice was incredibly helpful. I invite you to check out their great set of remote resources for more information.
My conversation with Arturo was only the beginning. We looked high and low to find what works and what doesn’t when it comes to fully remote work. Here are our findings.
The most important part of working remotely is communication. A lot is lost when you can no longer talk over your desk to a workmate. Those simple interactions can become work blockers without the right communication plan. I ask my team to over communicate, but to do it efficiently. Each communication channel has a specific purpose.
- Slack is for daily project communication. What is where? Who put the thing in the place? Where did that brand guide go? I can’t find anything! Quick communication goes here.
- Discussions around the project will usually end in a decision. All decisions should be tracked, at a task level, in Asana.
- Project requirements, schedules, communications plans, and meeting notes go into Confluence.
- Daily Stand Ups are for what you’re working on that day, and to tell us if you had any blockers the day before.
Successful communication for a remote team means more than just smooth project communication. You need to continue to be human and interact with your other human peers by infusing small talk into your meetings. We need to check in on people, early and often. No one person on your team should feel like they are a castaway (Wilsooooooon!). Bring them in through communication. Your employees are anxious and unsure of the future in 2020, and these soft touches can go a long way. May I suggest web cam Karaoke after the day’s work is done?
VPN – If you have been working remotely in the last few months, you’ve likely had VPN issues. Make sure your VPN is robust enough to handle the load of all the newly remote employees.
Data Security – Speaking of VPN, using a VPN is an important step toward data security. Open networks in a coffee shop can be rife with security holes, much less someone’s personal home network. Make sure, if you’re working on sensitive company material, that you are connected to the VPN.
Cloud Storage – When possible, make sure you have the correct infrastructure to meet your needs. What used to work in the office won’t always work outside of the office. Cloud based file storage is the norm. Every client has their own, but having a company set of guidelines will help make this process easier.
Task Tracking – A robust task tracking system can take some of the guess work out of your build. It can also take up too much of your time. Find a nice balance on creating tickets and deadlines without overburdening yourself with unnecessary chores. We use Asana.
In the end, it all comes down to the people on your team. You have to go all in on your employees. You need to set a date for a task and trust they’re going to get it done. Gone are the days of the over-the-shoulder check-ins. You must trust that your employees will do what they’re supposed to.
Trust, but verify they are achieving their goals through Task Tracking. We’ve created small daily work blocks that everyone participates in. They are for quick questions and rapid development as a team. Also, if there is a mandatory meeting, we tackle it in that work block so people can be more flexible with the rest of their work hours.
This is one of the ways we encourage asynchronous working. Some of our team work best in the early morning hours. Others are best at 11pm. Support what works for your employees and you’ll get better results than trying to force them to work when you prefer. As a manager, do your best to enable your employees and to eliminate blockers.
We all feel a little stuck out on an island these days. Instead of trying to talk to a volleyball, Slack a teammate and talk Masked Singer for a couple seconds. Help team members figure out the technology that will help them be successful. But most importantly, be kind to each other.