Enabling Remote Work
Unless you’ve been rafting in the Grand Canyon for the last 25 days, or are Jared Leto, you’ve obviously seen our world turn upside down. For those that are able, working from home (WFH) is a new reality for many.
What you miss when working remote is the random encounters, the ability to ask quick questions and check-in, not to mention building trust and camaraderie that comes with being in the same place.
The lack of easy interaction has benefits as well. Less distraction for one. Meetings are shorter because there are less of the formalities and travel.
I’ve been fully remote for the past year and have spent a bunch of time working from home. I coordinate and collaborate with several others across time zones and borders. In that time I’ve found some great tools and workflows that help me stay productive, and connected, with my teammates. And I’ve never been more productive.
There are lots of these circulating, but I wanted to share a few of the tools and routines that I find helpful in maintaining collaboration and camaraderie, even when you aren’t in the office together.
I’m a product person. So, it will come as no surprise that I am always looking for the right tool for the job. There is a current generation of SaaS tools that have done well for pre-remote first work. Most of these are adaptable and useful in the current work from home climate as well. What’s more exciting is the abundance of new products that are geared towards remote-first individuals and teams. Below are a few that I use with my teams and projects, and why I think they are the right tool for the job.
Hangouts or Zoom: Video conferencing
You are going to need a video conferencing solution. It’s sort of the most obvious tool. Everyone raves about Zoom, and frankly I don’t get it. It works fine, but Hangouts is free if you have a Google account, and it works well in the browser so anyone can access it. Zoom recommends you download the software, and is a bit clunky for me. Whichever you use, more importantly make sure you have a good microphone and webcam. If the ones built into your laptop don’t work great, consider buying a Logitech webcam.
Tandem: Quick audio chat and screen sharing
Tandem bills itself as a ‘virtual office for remote teams’ and having used it for a couple of months now, it has become an integral part of our stack at Taskable. It makes having a chat and doing a screen share super easy and quick. I liken it to when you are about to send a Slack message or an email to someone, and instead realise a quick tap on the shoulder and asking them a question would just be easier and quicker. Even better, though, is that it has focus mode settings which mean that your team members can cut out distractions if they are in the middle of deep work.
Another nice but less important feature for me is that you can also see what tools your teammates are working in. So, if you see a teammate working on a certain blog post, for example, you can hop in and discuss it with them.
Slack: Manage internal communications and notifications
Love it or hate it, Slack will be an integral part of remote teams. It’s a good tool for internal communications, as well as team notifications and keeping tabs on things happening in real-time around the company. We use Slack for the following:
- Replacing email for any messages that take place internally
- Setting up notifications for things like when new users sign up or giving the latest analytics and linking us to our dashboards
- Sending funny gifs (this is very important)
In my view, there is a lot of improvements to be made to Slack to fit it in to the WFH/remote-first reality. The real-time nature of it means there are constant notifications and interruptions. It also means if you are working across time zones you tend to miss out on important messages that get buried.
Taskable: Get more done with less distractions
Shameless plug time - we of course use our own product, which is designed with remote teams in mind. It helps solve the problem of constant notifications and information you need to get work done living in various apps. Taskable integrates with tools like Slack, Gmail and Asana to send action items from these products into your very own task manager. That way nothing slips through the cracks, and you avoid spending time searching through various products trying to find the latest information you need to get work done.
We are in closed beta, but if Taskable sounds like a good solution for you feel free to send me an email and we’ll get you set up.
Asana: Coordinate projects with your team
While Taskable is great for individuals to plan and prioritise their day, teams still need a project management tool. This gives everyone an overview of who’s doing what, and when. To me, there is no better product than Asana for this. Organise projects by team, create subtasks to break work into smaller pieces, assign tasks to teammates, and much more.
The free plan is super powerful so if your team is under 15 then no need to upgrade to paid either.
Notion: Your company’s internal Wikipedia
A critical component of remote work is documentation. If you can’t just quickly ask where to find a certain document, or if you are across time zones and someone needs access to information while the rest of the team is sleeping, then having as much of your workflows and company-wide information documented as possible is critical
In my opinion, Notion is perfect for this. While Notion can be used for many of the same things you would use Asana for, such as coordinating projects and tasks, where I think it is best used is as an internal company knowledge database. Think Wikipedia for your company. Put company policies, meeting notes, how-to guides, workflow documentation, etc. into Notion. Teammates can search across it easily and quickly.
Some teams prefer to keep Notion as a purely source of evergreen documentation, which I understand. Notion doesn’t work great as a project management tool in my opinion as it’s hard to find all the aggregated tasks you need to get done. For this reason, we used to use Asana as our place for meeting agendas and notes, which makes it easy for you to assign tasks to individuals and projects directly from your meeting.
Notion makes the documentation part easy. The harder part is making sure everyone takes notes and keeps it up to date. Solving this is probably best suited for a seperate post.
Having the right tools is helpful in staying productive, innovative and happy with a remote team. The more critical bit is having the workflows in order that enable these goals. While every team is different, particularly as it depends on what their roles and responsibilities are, below is what works for the smaller, more technical teams I am part of.
Weekly Team Call and Goal Setting
Start everyone out on the right foot for the week with a weekly team call on Mondays. In this meeting you can recap the prior week, and what work got done. Then plan the upcoming week. Most importantly, set some goals on what you want to accomplish.
Daily Stand Up
Checking in every day is important. In the stand up we discuss what we want to accomplish that day, and what we need from the team to get that done. It’s a stand up because you want it to run quickly - five minutes should be the goal depending on the size of the team. If anyone needs more time, then do one-on-ones after to go into more details. And of course use Tandem and Slack throughout the day to check in or get progress reports.
I have always done these in real-time. However, for teams distributed across time zones this isn’t really viable. There are some ways around this, such as creating a stand up channel in Slack, or a daily email thread, where everyone shares what they worked on, what they are working on, and any blockers. There are also some Slack apps that achieve a similar result.
Usually these follow a video call/meeting with someone external, or after a stand up or team meeting. It might be to follow up on a specific point, but often we’ll start going down rabbit holes. While perhaps off topic and not 100% pressing, I like to encourage these chats. It's our water cooler moment where the team can riff on ideas, or even blow off some steam.
This is of course only a partial list, and largely based on my experience in smaller teams, working on technical projects/products. What works for will of course vary, depending on the size of your team, where you are distributed, and what you are working on.
If you had thoughts on workflows and tools that work well that we missed, tweet them at us or send me an email.
* Shout out to the Delocate community, and Rhys and Tyler for their input on this post!