With the COVID-19 pandemic confining us to the safety of our homes, many businesses and many e-commerce merchants, including those using SmartrMail find themselves working from home and remotely as a team for the first time.
For our team at SmartrMail, we too find ourselves at home. However, the situation isn’t entirely new to most of our team of 14. Since launching in 2016, we’ve always been remote-friendly with team members in 4 different countries and speaking 6 different languages.
The benefits of remote working have been touted heavily in recent times, but working together remotely doesn’t come without its challenges. We’ve surely had to overcome a few ourselves! Given these uncertain times, we want to help our merchants through this new situation they might find themselves in by sharing some lessons we’ve learned the past 4 years building a remote team.
Communicate, but don’t over-communicate
For many working outside an office for the first time, it’ll be a significantly different experience working with your team remotely. For example, you won’t be able to have organic water cooler conversations or know when your colleague is deep into a project.
Many remote work articles will recommend over-communication, but from my own experience – those working remotely for the first time will tend to over rather than under-communicate.
Ensure that when you communicate with your team over communication like Slack, you’ve clearly thought through your questions and detailed them thoroughly. Without seeing your teammate in the office, you might not know what they’re working on and should be careful not to interrupt them. If things aren’t urgent, add a note such as “when you’ve got time” or “can be tomorrow morning” to ensure you can communicate priorities without the tone or context you may have during in-person conversations.
Also, don’t be afraid to get those water-cooler conversations happening virtually. Set up a #random Slack channel where your team can chat about non-work related topics, share memes and generally escape the loneliness that remote work can sometimes lead to. If you usually have a Friday lunch or after-work drinks host it over Zoom or Hangouts or on any other video calling app, with all the uncertainty in the world at the moment it’ll surely lift spirits and give everyone a (metaphorical) breath of fresh air.
Example #random channel on Slack
Use the Right Tools
I mentioned a few tools in the previous paragraph, but I can’t stress enough how important the tools we use today are in making a remote team effective. While tools like Slack have now become ubiquitous in the startup world when it comes to managing communication, it takes a lot more to work effectively in a remote setting.
If your project tracking takes place on a whiteboard or post-it notes in the office, you’ll need to move to project management tools to bring your task planning and tracking online. At SmartrMail we use Clubhouse. It’s a lightning-fast tool that grows with your business and can be used across different teams like engineering and marketing. Depending on the size of your team and needs different solutions might be better fits, but some of the most popular include Basecamp, Trello, Asana and Jira.
Moving to working remotely, you’ll find having detailed written processes is more important than ever. If your team is in different timezones this will only be compounded, but even in the same timezone, you’ll find it’s hard to have the quick conversations that you usually have in an office, especially for new team members. Tools like Notion make it dead easy for team members to quickly document processes in a neat and beautiful editing experience and share it across your team.
In addition, if your team has to work with independent contractors or freelancers, consider using a freelance management system to optimize operational effectiveness.
Example Knowledge Base on Notion
Share the Big Picture
None of us know how long this pandemic will last, it could be a couple of months or extend over the next year. If it does extend in the long term, you’ll find one of the things you’ll miss most from an in-person office setting is the informal conversations about strategy and priorities that really end up defining your team’s focus. As a remote team, these conversations are harder to have, and depending on the size of your team, some team members may be less vocally involved than others and not overhear the conversations when they are happening outside the office.
To keep your team motivated, ensure you’re keeping everyone across both your short term and long term goals as a team and your roadmap to get there. By doing this every team member will be motivated by knowing how the work they are doing contributes to your team’s efforts and how their output fits into the bigger picture.
Create a simple roadmap on Trello that you can share across the team, then at least every month discuss as a team how you’re tracking against the roadmap and what may need to change based on current progress.
Example roadmap on Trello
To wrap everything up into a few key takeaways here are some points we covered:
- Communicate clearly over Slack, to keep your team efficient
- Keep the social aspect of the office going with fun channels and hangouts
- Use project management tools to plan and track your tasks
- Write and share detailed processes on Notion
- Share a roadmap across your team and discuss it at least monthly
Hopefully the world comes together to pull together through this crisis and you won’t be confined to your home office for long. However, no matter how long you find yourself working remotely, we hope these lessons will help you be more effective as a team.