In Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019 report, 99% of survey respondents indicated that they’d like to try working off-site “at least once in their careers.” And due to the rapid increase in remote work adoption in light of the ongoing spread of COVID-19, more workers may find themselves suddenly thrust into this situation - whether they like it or not.
At Simpat, we’ve been working remote successfully for years, both with our nearshore team in Monterrey, Mexico and with our Austin-based developers. So today, we’d like to take the opportunity today to share a few of the best practices that have been most impactful for our team.
We hope you find them helpful whether remote work is something you’re newly navigating, or whether you’re using today’s conditions as a test for long-term distributed work.
Test Different Communication and Collaboration Tools
A few of the tech tools we use at Simpat include Zoom (for video conferencing), Confluence (for team collaboration), Google Docs (for document management), Docusign (for electronic signatures), and Slack (for casual chats). These options are pretty commonly used, but just because they’re popular doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for every team’s needs.
When you’re forced to build out a full remote work infrastructure in just a couple of days, you may need to make quick selections in order to keep projects moving forward. But as soon as you’re able to, spend some time identifying your team’s specific workflows, processes, and needs. That way, you can match your specifications against existing tools to find the options that’ll have the biggest impact on your productivity.
Train Your Team to Look for Blockers
In an Agile environment, “blockers” are the coding issues that prevent teams from moving forward with testing. Apply this same logic to communications to adapt to an environment where you’re able to meet less frequently.
When your whole team is working on-site together, all it takes to answer simple questions may be dropping by your colleague’s desk. But if your only chance to pose questions to your teammates may be a daily, remote stand-up meeting (especially if your team works across multiple time zones), failing to notice a situation that’s blocking your progress could set you back an entire day.
Instead, get in the habit of planning your work in advance and proactively identifying situations that may arise based on your plan. That way, you can raise issues within your new communications framework without delaying your progress.
Set a Standard of Over-Communication
At Simpat, one of the ways we manage working across borders and time-zones is to have a standard behavior of over-communicating. For example, when team members start their days, they say a quick hello on their project’s Slack channel. They also let their teams know if they’re stepping out for lunch, or if they’ll be away for more than 15 minutes for any other reason.
It takes some practice - and some team accountability - to get everyone onboard, but it goes a long way towards limiting time lost trying to figure out where people are or what they’re working on.
Invest in Creating a “Central Source of Truth”
One of the biggest time wasters we’ve seen in remote work environments - ours and our clients’ - is status update emails that either ask questions that have already been answered or that ask for help locating the same resources multiple times.
You’ll save yourself and your team a ton of time if you create a central repository where commonly needed information can be accessed without emails flying back and forth. Your “central source of truth” may be a project management system, an intranet, or even just a web storage platform like Dropbox. However you proceed, use your system to capture:
- Project plans and timelines
- User stories
- Key contact details
- Team members’ contact details (ideally, across multiple platforms in case they aren’t responding when fires need to be put out)
- Clients’ account information
- Team or client org charts or corporate hierarchies
Add some or all of these to your system, or add other resources your team accesses frequently. Then, train your team to get in the habit of updating these assets as needed, so that they always have the most current information available.
Keep Your Culture Going
Going remote can feel disorienting for workers who have only ever worked on-site or who didn’t necessarily want to work from home. Add in fears associated with the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the rapid nature of the transitions associated with it, and you’ve got a recipe for low morale and other negative emotions.
There’s no secret to establishing a remote culture, since what constitutes “culture” is going to look different for every organization. One of the best things you can do is to try to keep your existing rituals intact (albeit, in a slightly different form). If you always celebrated birthdays as a team, conduct them as video conferences. If you had Friday afternoon happy hours, invite team members to BYOB at a designated time.
Beyond replicating established rituals, you can add new ones or leverage tech tools aimed at building positive remote cultures. The Go Game and Donut are two options, but there are plenty of virtual team building solutions for maintaining rapport while remote. Reading the guides put together by companies with thriving remote cultures - including Zapier and Groove - may provide inspiration as well.
Bottom line? Don’t be too hard on yourself or your team if the transition to full-time remote work isn’t as smooth as you like. Remote cultures take time to build - and that’s when people aren’t dealing with the added stress of school closures and pandemic health concerns. Give your team members the space needed to adjust. With time, you’ll find your rhythm as a remote team.
Got any questions about how Simpat works as a distributed team? Send them our way - we’re happy to share any suggestions we can.