With the recent outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantining of, well, everyone. A lot of people are now needing to work from home. Whilst some of us have been fortunate enough to have had the option and even done some remote working. This is the first time businesses have had to make a hard push towards pure remote working teams.
At Leet, we’ve been operating 90% remote since we started 5 years ago. In getting our remote working setup to operate as effectively as possible, I’ve done everything from buying generators and water tanks, moved our entire team to Macs (because they generally need less IT support), tested out virtually every piece of software out there, and played around with all kinds of headsets, webcams, and even sit/stand desks.
I may be biased, but I’d like to think that we operate pretty well as a team and that I now know a little bit about operating remote teams effectively. So, in the spirit of banding together to help us all get through this weird time in the world, I thought I’d share some of the tools, tips, and learnings we’ve gathered in building a remote team.
Let’s start with:
There are 4 main types of software we utilise daily, to help us get shit done.
Since you can no longer just lean over to chat with your workmate to ask a question, we need a solution to be able to keep the free-flowing of communications going. There are still obvious emails, but these suck for small things and inbox overload is real. We utilise a chat app to allow everyone to communicate within and across the team.
We used slack when we first started Leet Digital and it feels weird to say, but Slack is the incumbent in this space. The free plan is great and we’ve found it more than enough for our team of 15. There is a paid solution as well, with upgraded functionality. We’ve never found the video calling functionality to work well. However, Slack does the basics well and integrates with almost everything.
Microsoft’s solution to counter Slack. Microsoft Teams is relatively new and comes as part of the Office365 suite. I like that they keep adding functionality and improvements to the platform. Pretty much the go-to if you use Office365, as it integrates with the whole suite.
The up and comer. They say they’re like Slack, but better (their words). Slightly cheaper than Slack too if you’re after a paid solution with all the bells and whistles. I’ve tried it, it’s good, but we’re stuck on Slack so it’s not enough to get us to move.
Meetings, they’re always fun. Now you have to do them virtually! There are quite a few players in this space so I’ll only cover some of the main ones I’ve used. All these options also allow you to present and share your screen. Pants are optional for all virtual meetings, just keep the camera above the waist.
The Google option for virtual meetings. Some people hate it, some people love it. I find it works, is stable, and does everything you need. If you use Gsuite then this would be the go-to.
As a part of Microsoft Teams, you can do virtual meetings. Works pretty well and I believe it is free for up to 300 users. Again, if you use Office365 and Teams already, then it’d probably be worth sticking to this.
Join.me is a great virtual meeting tool and has both paid and free versions. There is also the functionality to ‘pass’ the presenter and have people annotate on your presentation which helps with brainstorming and collaboration
Probably the most reliable and refined solution out there. However, it is more costly. If you’ve got the budget and need the reliability, go here. To quote a mate “Zoom is the Toyota of meeting software”.
Project or Task Management
Now that we can talk to each other remotely, we need to be able to stay in sync to work towards outcomes and have clear accountabilities. Hence, writing down the things to do in a place everyone can access is essential. If you’re not already using some kind of shared project management tool to handle work, you should be. This is where project management tools come in. Like all tools, they will only work as well as you use them. However, if you adapt your workflow correctly and make the effort they can make the difference between doing the right things on time, or everybody wasting time. Our favourites are:
I’ve used most and I have to say that I think Asana is the best. Good free plan. Great paid plans. Simple to use, excellent functionality. It does get pricey as you need more functions and users, but well worth it.
Trello is probably the simplest of all the tools. Integrates with almost everything. Great free plan. Not too pricey on paid plans. If you’re after the simplest solution, go here.
Big fan of these guys and what they’ve done with such a lean team. Functional, simple, flat-rate pricing. If a price is a factor and you need more than a free solution offers, Basecamp is the one to go-to.
Cloud-Based Productivity Suite
It’s 2020, even if you’re not in a remote working situation you should be using a cloud-based productivity suite. With a few rare exceptions where you may need the full power of desktop-based software (and you would know who you are), your stuff should be in the cloud. There are 2 main options here, then there’s the rest.
Google’s productivity suite formally known as Google Apps. It covers 80-90% of office functionality and integrates with almost everything. We find it’s collaboration features to be the most powerful and they are constantly improving the product all round.
Microsoft’s cloud-based office suite. I don’t find it as good in terms of raw functionality or collaboration features. However, if you do use the desktop-based Office, then this is probably the go-to. The other benefit of this suite is the more extensive inclusion of apps such as Teams. I’d say it’s better as an all-in-one solution but falls over in its collaboration power.
Zoho has a bunch of apps beyond the productivity suite – like, a lot – but our experience is its quantity over quality. It’s just another option that is worth exploring if you like or need their other software like accounting or CRM (which are all pretty average themselves).
Regardless of your software stack, good processes and management become even more critical in making sure things run well and outcomes are achieved in a remote environment. Whilst this may vary business-to-business, the most basic workflows we run are:
Daily Standups or Scrums
You may have been doing this face-to-face previously, you may have not. In a remote situation, these become even more important to sync the team-up. 10-15 minutes over your video meeting software first thing in the morning is all that should be needed. Cover the basics:
What did you do yesterday?
What will you do today?
Are there any impediments in your way?
It keeps everyone accountable and ensures that everyone can get on with their work.
You’ve got a project management tool now so it’s time to use it. Assigning a project manager usually helps to keep everyone accountable, but everyone should also spend a bit of time either at the end or beginning of the day to keep their tasks up to date.
Weekly retros and planning
Daily standups and scrums are great, however, once a week (or fortnight depending on how well your team is flowing) it’s time to do a retrospective and reflect. As well as start refocusing the work ahead. Again, cover the basics as a team on your video meeting:
What went well?
What didn’t go so well?
What did we learn?
How can we improve?
There are a few variations on these retrospective questions so find what yields the most benefit for you and your team.
For goodness sake use your calendar. It’s even easier to miss meetings and appointments virtually. I won’t get into the importance of time management, but if you’re not managing your time effectively, get out.
Managing the change
So far, I’ve given you the ‘what’ in terms of processes. But the ‘how’ is important as well. Give you and your team time to adapt and make a team effort to help everyone adjust and push for the change. It is hard to change. However, doing it together in a constructive yet accountable way helps make it easier for everyone. Keep a good feedback and growth loop as you and your team gradually adapt:
My personal favourite part of remote working, the toys! There’s nothing worse than when your tech kit doesn’t work properly so pick good gear so you can focus on the work.
Make sure everyone can see your pretty face. In most instances, any 720P webcam and up should be sufficient for everyone’s use. Logitech has always been old reliable in this department but there are several options. If you have a laptop then these all have a webcam built-in already.
You may be able to get by with your phone headset here. However, if there is any kind of significant background noise in your home or workspace, then invest in a decent headset. One with a boom mic. This helps reduce the background noise that is heard by the other participants on your call. It can get extremely frustrating very quickly when you can’t hear someone on your call or they can’t hear you properly. I’ve found the range from Plantronics or Jabra to be a solid pick.
A solid internet connection is critical when working remotely. Unfortunately, our internet in Australia sucks. Where possible try to aim for a plan with 50Mbs down/20Mbps and above. Go even higher if you’re working with larger files such as video or big design files. Do your research on which provider is best for you.
Working all day every day on your coffee table with a laptop is not going to be sustainable. Get a comfortable desk and chair and where possible, get an external monitor or laptop stand, with keyboard and mouse (if you have a laptop). Your body will thank you in the long-run. I have a sit-stand desk along with a good chair, and an external monitor setup with proper ergonomics. All standard good habits still apply, stand up regularly, don’t stare at the screen too long, etc.
The Human Part
The final consideration in remote work is the human part. It can become quite isolating to be working alone at home all the time. Whilst it’s a funny time in the world right now, where possible and if safe for you to do so (i.e. you’re not completely quarantined), get out of the house once in a while. Walk the dog, go for a run, exercise, whatever. All the apps above are on mobile so you’ll always be able to be reached (if that’s what you want). However things are for you and how things turn out over the next few months, be positive and embrace the change!
Lastly, if you or your team need a bit of help or want to chat further on how to transition to remote working more effectively, we’re currently running a complimentary 30-minute consultation to handle the change. Feel free to ping us here.