We knew from the very beginning that we wanted to be a remote team, at least partially. It was important for us to attract a wide variety of top talent no matter where they’re located, and we didn’t want to exclude people outside of big cities.
I’ve been working remotely for more than three years now and have watched remote work become almost standard in the startup world. Through my experiences, I’ve learned different tactics to work effectively and efficiently while maintaining reasonable hours that I’ve been able to apply to the Waldo team.
Fortunately, many of our team members at Waldo have worked remotely before. But, of course, it’s always a different experience when you bring a new team together. Here are the remote work tips that have worked best for us that will also provide some insight into our core values.
This is the big one when it comes to remote work and, honestly, is the key ingredient to the rest of the tricks below. The concept of over-communicating may sound annoying – and it can be at first – but it’s an essential element of effective and operational remote work.
When working remotely, you can’t interrupt a coworker at their desk in the middle of the day (thank goodness, amiright?). Instead, you have to set up systems that allow for frequent communication.
At Waldo, this means quick daily syncs that take place the morning for the east coast team members and afternoon for us here in Europe. It also means keeping notes of all calls and anything we agree on while chatting via Slack.
Information is often lost on calls and lengthy Slack chats. I like to have a record of every conversation to point to. It helps to quickly resolve a miscommunication and serves as a simple reminder of what was agreed on later.
Make sure everyone on the team knows that over-communicating is your team’s motto. That way, they won’t be taken back if you do need to ping them or ask for clarification on something.
On the flip side, it’s important to maintain respect for your coworkers’ time. Try batching requests or questions to limit the number of back-and-forth communications.
“If it’s not on GitHub, it doesn’t exist”
At Waldo, every single task that results from a call or Slack conversation becomes an issue on GitHub. This way, everyone on the team knows exactly what everyone is working on. It provides a centralized place to assign each other tasks, ask questions, seek and provide feedback, etc.
GitHub allows us to see what big projects are a priority. As a developer, if I’m waiting for code review, I can look in GitHub and understand my teammate is working on something huge or urgent.
I also sometimes just ask the person rather than waiting around. They may have been too busy to update GitHub or to let you know. Never hesitate to reach out to your team members and make yourself available within reason.
Create a collaborative sprint board
We use the ZenHub integration with GitHub to implement the Kanban method of tracking tasks based on their status. Many companies organize their tasks into columns labeled “to-do, doing, done, backlog” or something to that effect. We organize ours a bit differently with:
Backlog: a place to put ideas or low-priority tasks
Week+1: tasks that need to get done next week
This week: what needs to get done this week
In progress: what’s being worked on
Review/QA: what’s been submitted for review and is now reliant on another team member to move forward on
Closed: what’s done and shipped
Here’s an example of one of our overview team sprint boards on Zenhub:
We like GitHub because it’s where we manage our code. Any submitted changes to our codebase (via Pull Requests) are carefully reviewed and tested. We make sure everyone on the team is aware of the changes and that relevant team members review the code to make sure it’s the best it can be. The Zenhub integration is especially useful because it gathers in one view, all the repos / areas of work, making it simple for a small team like us to use it as a collective sprint board.
Project management on GitHub isn’t limited to only our product team or engineers, though. Our marketing team also uses it to manage their tasks and editorial calendar for the blog.
Other popular alternatives to GitHub for pure project management (outside of also managing code) are Trello, Asana, and JIRA.
Plan across time zones
It’s a manager’s job to ensure their employees know what work is most critical and what comes next. But it doesn’t always work that way in a startup, especially when given autonomy. Sometimes team members need to ‘manage up’ and bring their list of tasks to a manager to ask for help prioritizing.
When working across time zones, you may hit a roadblock in a task and have questions. After prioritizing, I like to look at my next few tasks to make sure I understand what’s needed. That way, I have time to get questions answered before diving in. Otherwise, I could have nothing to work on and my team members wouldn’t have what they need when they start working.
It’s helpful to be able to see what time it is in your teammate’s location before pinging them on Slack or asking for a call.
Be objective-based, not hour-based
At Waldo, we don’t care how long it takes you to do something or when you do it, as long as it gets done by its deadline. Some objectives may take 30 minutes to accomplish, others will take eight hours. It’s up to you to balance those so that you’re working reasonable hours.
Our team works together to make sure that happens. But no one submits hours or shares every step of how they’re completing a task. We just want to see what each other is working on, how we can help, and that it’s done.
Some teams will need to be in the same location
For me, it’s helpful to be in the same office as our product designer, Adrien. Some of our engineering team also work together in Brooklyn and others in Paris. Being together, we get things done a bit quicker and ensure there aren’t gaps in our work.
It’s still crucial, however, that we inform each other of our progress and what we’re focused on across teams. Everyone has access to our product pipeline, timeline, and access to each other’s GitHub repositories.
Keep your feedback loop tight
According to this article in The Cut, “research has shown that a lack of clear feedback from supervisors can have debilitating effects for workers.”
You shouldn’t have to guess what your boss or other team members are thinking. It’s important to over-communicate (surely, you saw that coming), and also maintain tight feedback loops.
At waldo, we do this by having weekly 1:1s with our managers. This is a great opportunity to get feedback on our specific work, which isn’t always relevant to the entire team during daily syncs. We use this time to ask questions about this week’s tasks, and the following so we can plan ahead. We break down roadblocks and make sure each department is on the same page and in sync with the rest of the team.
Building culture naturally
We’re lucky that building and sharing our culture across team members has come naturally. Perhaps because we’re still small at eight people and young at less than a year old.
We have had a team off-site with everyone, which helped. But that was before some of our newer team members joined. Yet, they’ve adapted to our culture just fine. I think the trick lies in the way we communicate, how we make ourselves accessible to one another, and that none of us take ourselves too seriously. Oh, and that we over-communicate.
Our remote work tool-kit
Here are the tools that help keep our remote machine running smoothly:
Zenhub for creating sprint boards and editorial calendars
Google Hangouts for daily syncs and quick calls
Slack for most of our group and 1:1 communication, and quick calls
Timezone.io for keeping track of where our teammates are
Come work with us
Although we work remotely as a team, we do have offices in New York City, Paris, and Lisbon. If you find yourself in those areas, drop by and say hi. We’re hiring and would love to tell you about our open positions that are totally remote-friendly.