Working remotely used to be seen with disdain at most companies. However, well implemented, distributed work can be even more effective as working in an office. There are million-dollar companies (ej. Gitlab, Zapier, Wordpress, Elastic) that are fully remote. In fact, anyone who hired a lawyer or an accountant has worked with a remote team.
Distributed teams present a unique opportunity: flexibility and access to a global talent network. Here some advice gathered from years of managing remote teams.
One of the common mistakes made when switching to remote work is to attempt to mimic life at the office (e.g. making the team keep their webcams on at all times to simulate being “present”).
Instead of recreating the office, a smart approach embraces remote work’s unique characteristics and leans into its advantages: fewer distractions, easier to focus, performance-based feedback (vs. chair time). There are also personal advantages, such as not commuting to the office every day, or managing your time more efficiently.
The key to remote is to document everything. Meeting notes, calendars, project goals; everything has to switch from verbal to written. So it is key to:
It is also necessary to have one source of truth: a shared folder or an online document repository, where you can store the documentation for every project. So if someone from your team misses a meeting or wants to add comments they won't have to search in emails or ask someone else, they will know where the information is.
Have a work dedicated communication tool (e.g. use Slack, not SMS) to better separate work and personal time. We all tend to answer SMS messages as if they were all urgent. To have a work chat room will allow everyone to focus and organize their workflow. It also helps separate work from personal life.
Remote’s culmination is asynchronous communication, unlocking hours of focused work without distractions.
Why is this important? We, humans, are bad at multitasking and are more efficient in concentrating on one task. Here is a good article on the subject: Maker’s schedule, Manager’s schedule.
Some communication tips:
Tips for meetings:
Remote meetings - Always share a draft document where everyone can add ideas and comments.
In remote work, there is no such thing as time tracking or “showing-up” pressure. Hence the only measurable (and relevant) metric are actual results. Again, documentation is key: every project and task must be shared. Proper documentation allows one to run work in parallel, understand who has a work overload, or even discover opportunities to help teammates. There are many different ways to manage projects and as many to document them. Excel can be good enough, but one can also use online platforms such as Trello or Asana.
Create moments for the team to interact and bond. To be social on camera is more challenging than in person. It's essential to be deliberate about organizing team building activities that unite the team beyond work.
Organize at least one informal team meeting per week: story time; have each team member share their favorite activities outside of work or videos, readings or events recommendations. play games. Even the most mundane game such as this Pictionary can be good fun.
Be intentional when organizing these activities. We all need emotional support.
Working remotely requires specific skills, but it's not that hard. Leaders play a key role, but so does every team member. Working remotely can lead to misunderstandings. We must seek empathy. Default to compassion, rather than anger. Assume the best intentions. If you haven‘t yet, watch this: This is Water, de David Foster Wallace.
Team leaders must set the example and lead by empathy. If you manage a team, you can try to keep your camera on during the day, leaving an “open door” for anybody to come in and get feedback or advice.
🧘🏻♂️ Personal advice How to handle your own transition to remote work?
Working and leading teams remotely requires practice. Let me know if you need help.
I hope this article helped clarify a bit how to manage remote teams. If you have any questions or best practices you would like to share, I would love to hear from you.
Notes: The author started and led 2 fully remote teams: (i) Deltaway Data, focused on data analytics for European waste-to-energy Companies, with engineers distributed between China, France, and San Francisco. And (ii) Puna Energy Resources, a energy market consultant Company, with a team distributed between San Francisco, Japan, and Argentina. Currently, he is a Director at YPF Ventures.
📚 Other resources/links
Notion — Remote Work Wiki
Basecamp — Remote: Office not required (Kindle book)
Zapier — Guide to working remotely
Gitlab — Remote Playbook
Stanford GSB — Working from home? Here’s how to be more effective
👩💻 Some final cybersecurity points While working remotely, we usually have less protection. That’s why it is key to adopt good practices. Some important points: