“But, how to do you know people are working?” That’s one of the most common reactions from people when I tell them Chargify is 100% distributed.
The short answer is trust and communication, but I think an underlying concern (and bigger issue) is how to successfully manage a remote team.
Chargify has been a distributed company since day one, and we think we’ve done a pretty good job of it (sure, we might be a bit biased).
Previously, we shared our own tips on how to be successful as a remote worker, but for this post we reached out to other companies rocking remote workforces and asked them:
What is your #1 tip for effectively managing a remote team?
As responses came in, some consistent themes emerged:
- Communication: Not being able to walk over to a coworkers desk to discuss something in-person creates some unique communication challenges. Successful managers of remote teams utilize tools and processes to ensure effective communication.
- Transparency: What are the company’s goals? What does success look like for the company? Transparency helps remote workers understand what they are working towards and how important they are to the company’s overall success.
- Positive work habits: Whether helping remote workers manage their time more efficiently or checking that they are maintaining work/life balance, it is clear that successful distributed companies make remote workers’ positive work habits a priority.
A big “thank you!” to everyone who took the time to share knowledge for this blog post.
Co-Founder & CEO
Since Zapier has always been a remote company, transparency has been essential to our team from the beginning. It shows in a number of ways, like keeping documentation of how we do things. No matter what questions team members might have, they can find the answers using our internal tools. Another way we stay transparent is avoiding discussions in private Slack channels: we want essential information to be out in the open, so the whole team is in the loop.
Head of Marketing
Hear each other’s voices every single day. Schedule a daily “huddle” where every team member shares what they did the day before, what they hope to accomplish today, and what blockers stand in their way. These huddles help us stay aligned and accountable to each other for making progress each day, and the culture benefits are massive; actually talking to each other every day (rather than just posting to Slack) really does help you build deeper relationships with everyone on your team, and teams that get along well move faster and do better work.
My number one tip for effectively managing a remote team is one of the pillars of our Culture Code at Formstack: communicate status. This means letting your team know when things are going well or when you run into barriers, asking for help when necessary, and seeking feedback often. Communicating your status, or the status of the team as a whole, helps you break down barriers, build trust, and keep individuals accountable.
In order to measure any sort of success, remote organizations must be intentional about establishing a system for communication. Define how you will collaborate and exchange information so that all team members stay in the loop and know how and when to communicate their status. This should be easy for everyone, regardless of where each team member is logging in. Laying the foundation for effective communication will help you build a team that is innovative, efficient, and results-driven.
Spend an inordinate amount of time equipping your team to work remotely. That doesn’t necessarily mean tools (though it can), but more than likely it means making sure everyone has healthy work habits and is taking care of themselves mentally and physically.
Every week ask each person on your team how they’re balancing work and their day-to-day life outside of work (hobbies, exercise, healthy eating, relationships), because every one of those things affects the work they do at work.
Make sure everyone is communicating in a deliberate, structured way. Non-remote companies are sometimes able to compensate for bad communication habits with the advantage of ad-hoc conversations and quickly looping everyone in because they’re in earshot.
As a manager, you can’t ever assume that you know what your team is working on, that everyone is on the same page about goals and priorities, or that critical problems are on your radar. These problems are magnified when you’re remote since it’s really easy to go days or weeks without getting that information.
So you have to get really good at deliberate, structured communication — making sure the team is checking in with each other daily, that you’re having productive one-on-ones, and that day-to-day goals are documented for everyone to see.
Director of Online Content
When managing a remote team, you really have to manage based on results and processes. You should spend a lot of time developing the right processes and laying a foundation so that remote workers can be successful. Proactive communication — where you are actively reaching out to at-home workers, can really help to develop a more transparent, open management process.
Head of People Ops
Transparency is fundamental to managing a remote team. By giving everyone access to the same information and designing processes accordingly, you eliminate the most common cause of remote team failure. Tools like Slack have made it easy to pipe company data into a place where everyone has access to it. At Help Scout we have a Slack room called #huddle, which is reserved for long-form updates about the business from different departments. It could include product release notes, metrics from last month, information about a new hire, or maybe just an update on a company policy. We also post a link to a weekly video update in Slack with any company news.
Co-Founder & CEO
- Communication suddenly becomes not just important, but a pro-active necessity. Everyone has to communicate via cloud tools so everyone can access what is happening in the company at any point and nobody feels cut off from the ‘conversation.’ So if any of us are together and have face-to-face chats, we capture the points and immediately share via hipchat or a confluence page so the rest of the team can follow. We use zoom.us and all have our own ‘boxes’ even if some of us are in the same office.
- Hire people who have worked remotely before and thrive on the concept. Remote is not the same thing as ‘working from home’ where people might feel they can run side projects while doing a bit of work. We expect (and get) amazing professionals who are dedicated and thrive on being left alone to do their work. It’s not a second best to being in the office (where I actually think productivity can go down because of too many meetings).
- Do face-to-face meetups on a regular basis. This means there is no ‘cost saving’ to working remote, as we pay for everyone to fly in regularly to work alongside each other — sometimes in small groups, sometimes the whole team comes together for a week. We don’t confirm hires until we’ve met someone and worked with them face-to-face, and we use those opportunities for bonding and professional development (and fun!).
Co-Founder & CEO
My favorite remote team management tip is to have a healthy balance between three communication modalities:
- write liberally
- meet frequently
- congregate occasionally
(coined by Lullabot guys and derived from the best open source practices)
Spend time with your team to set the correct priorities and communicate 3 month goals.
In a remote team it’s very easy for employees to be working on objectives that management thinks are trivial. When this happens it’s generally because the employee is getting stuck by the many things going on during the day, but the big goal (the hardest thing to accomplish) isn’t getting attention.
Management looks from a top down approach and wonders why the employee isn’t making progress, but usually it’s because it wasn’t clear to the employee what that big goal for the quarter was in the first place. What is going to define their success over the quarter? Management needs to make this crystal clear going in, and it will be much easier for the employee to then push other things aside and drive that one big goal to the finish line.
Rhythms are at the heart of a highly capable distributed team. Every time we win or lose, I can narrow down the cause to the management of expectations and the rhythm of communication.
You can help maintain rhythm by:
- creating regular habits
- running a regular standup meeting
- making sure everything has an owner
- providing clear & consistent feedback
- helping people with their time management
With fully remote teams, even more so than with co-located teams, you have to lean on transparency in your communication, your decision-making, and in every part of your job. This is even more true when your team is widespread globally, and you have to do the tricky time-zone dance. You have to default to transparency. You need to share everything you can with your team, because that’s how they’re going to understand your decisions, and how they can best add value to the team and the company and the customer.
An excellent remote leader has to put communication and transparency first – keeping something from your team should be the exception, and should only happen when you have a very good reason.
P.S. We’re hiring!
VP of Customer Success
Be overly transparent.
In an asynchronous world, being explicit is king. If you don’t clearly express what you’re doing or miss out on giving feedback, you’ll lose the benefits of being in a collaborative team all together. You don’t want to be distributed in thought, just in proximity.
At Chargify, communication and transparency are paramount to our success as a distributed company. Here’s what those look like for us:
- Daily standups on Jell reviewed face-to-face via Zoom
- Monthly “all-hands” (full company) video call
- Persistent communication throughout the day on company-wide and team-specific Slack channels
- Open communication policies and processes to address questions, concerns, issues, requests, and feedback
We believe everyone should always know what the whole company, teams, and even individuals are working on and towards. This includes how success is defined for the quarter, year, and beyond.
One of our developers, Marcelo De Polli, nailed it in the remote work tips blog when he said: “Just be open and communicate. If you have to choose between being annoying and not being transparent, be annoying. Be mercilessly transparent. All the time.”
Communication and transparency go hand-in-hand. To further both, we make sure the entire company meets up in-person at least once a year. Remote teams need to spend time together in-person in order to be successful! In addition to our annual company meetup, Chargify teams may also meet up during the year.
While having a remote team does present some unique challenges, it is possible to thrive with the right processes and tools in place.
Did we miss anything? Share your tips for rocking a remote team in the comments below!