Lessons learnt from GitLab’s “How to Manage a Remote Team” online course.
Why Remote Work?
- It is possible to hire and work from all over the world.
- Workers gain the ability to work flexible hours. And flexibility is possible in times of crisis.
Remote Working Styles
The workers who alternate between home and office.
Workers who travel continuously and are without a home base.
Workers who travel often but have a home location to return to.
Create an Employee Handbook
- This should be a living document like a wiki that all employees can edit.
Encourage Informal Communication
- Create a video conference room for the team where team members can linger or come and go as they please.
Focus on Values, Not Culture Fit
- Focus on people who resonate with your team values.
- Team members shouldn’t fit in. They should add to your culture.
- Focus on self-motivation. Avoid micromanagers or people who will require micromanaging.
- During interviews, use the same method of communication that you would in the actual work environment, e.g. written messages and video calls.
- Avoid panel interviews and stick to 1:1 video calls.
- Prepare the interviewers and candidates for the interview.
- Excuse any non-ideal conditions the candidate may be in during the interview and focus on them, not their environment.
Rethinking the Workspace
Your office should:
- Be a designated space with a door that can close.
- Have decent noise control.
- Have appropriate equipment and natural light.
If your home workspace doesn’t provide what you need to work effectively, consider opting for a co-working space.
- Provide adequate onboarding time to new hires (1 to 2 weeks).
- Send equipment to the new hire before the first day.
- After the onboarding period, ask for feedback about the process.
- Encourage employees to reach out to others and begin conversations by themselves.
- Encourage employees to keep their webcams on.
- Encourage informal interactions during work time (coffee chats).
- Assign an onboarding buddy to answer questions, offer support and provide context.
Time Zones and Meetings
- Record all meetings so offline team members can review. Attendees should be allowed to RSVP “no” if the meeting is irrelevant to them or if it makes more sense for them to watch a recording.
- Every team member should have a weekly 1:1 with their supervisor.
- The team’s work preference can be between core working hours vs asynchronous schedules. Mention that in the handbook.
- Each meeting should have an agenda. People should be able to add points and questions to the agenda.
- During the meeting, take comprehensive notes in the agenda document.
- Allow multitasking during meetings. It's okay for people to work on other tasks if what was being discussed isn’t relevant to them. It's also okay for the same people to ask for something to be repeated.
- Cancel unnecessary recurring meetings.
- Avoid hybrid calls to create a unified communication experience.
- Minimize your tool stack and extract additional value from tools you already use.
- The lack of synchronous communication can slow down work. So, aim for incremental improvements instead of perfection.
- Use the time you spend waiting for a response from a team member by working on a slice of something else.
- In a remote environment, most of the communication tends to be written. This makes it challenging to communicate tone and emotions, and sometimes misunderstandings can happen. The rule of thumb here is to always to assume positive intent.
- Documentation can cause overhead and get outdated, but in a remote environment, they are vital.
- Documentation helps avoid miscommunications and delays.
- Be transparent as much as possible so that team members can find the information they need to do their job independently.
- In startups, it's tempting to forego documentation for direct meetings, Slack or email threads, but as time goes on and the team grows, not documenting can lead to delays and mistakes.
- All the conversations from meetings, Slack threads etc., should be redirected to a single source of truth.
If someone says a task is incomplete, it can sometimes take several communication cycles to provide context and assemble all the requirements. Always provide references and resources, e.g., a document link or a Jira ticket.
- Don’t measure success using metrics like attendance, number of emails sent, lines of code written etc.
- Use metrics like work getting done well, on time and relevant to business goals.
- In an international team, answer questions about the spoken language, core working hours (if any) and any others that might differ because team members belong to different nationalities and cultures.
- Burnout and overwork are more common in remote teams.
Establish a Set of Values
- Values should be actionable ideas that are easily tied to behaviours.
- Values will evolve as the company grows. React to feedback.
- The people team should arrange feedback and AMA sessions to go over the values.
- For example: Make helping others a higher priority.
Rolling out Values
- Don’t assume that you’ll be able to pick up minority opinions since in a remote environment, informal chatter doesn’t get overheard. Be proactive and collect feedback and do it anonymously.