Hello new remote workers and managers!
There will be a before and an after COVID-19… this crisis that is turning us upside down, both in our personal and professional lives. We are having to adapt, change our behaviour, take care of loved ones, reassure ourselves and, in terms of work, some of us are having to learn to work from home, to manage a team remotely, to collaborate whilst staying productive and motivated. Not easy - but we can help you!
At Smily and BookingSync, a technology company that builds software for managing seasonal rentals, we have a 100% remote working model, meaning that everybody has been working remotely every day (from home or from a coworking space) ever since the company launched in 2014.
There are 40 of us working for the company, distributed across 17 countries.
So working remotely and being productive (even more so), motivated and collaborative with colleagues or managing teams without seeing each other is possible!
There’s no doubt that moving to a 100% remote team from one day to the next is a huge challenge. That is why we would like to share with you the tools that we use, our best practises and the things that we have learnt from working as a remote team for the last 6 years.
Of course, all of these recommendations depend on your industry, role, business, etc… but there are certainly possible actions that can be taken to ensure that your company can continue to complete its work remotely and as a team!
The tools that we use:
- Slack for communicating with the team. Free and unlimited for small teams, then from 6.25€ per month per user for small and medium-sized businesses.
- Zoom for meetings and screen sharing (free for up to 10 participants for 40 minute meetings > then possible to recreate a link for a new meeting if you need more than 40 mins).
- Aircall for calling clients (and for receiving calls for our sales team)
- Google docs and sheets in order to be able to work collaboratively and to make documents available to everybody.
- HelloSign for signing contracts/official documents online (no need for a printer or paper)
- Gmail as part of Google Suite (in order to have professional email addresses @your-company.com) for sending emails to external parties and for dealing with complex subjects which require a written record that can then be archived. Otherwise, we prefer to use chat ;)
- CloudApp for creating screenshots and recording videos of your screen activity
- Loom also enables you to quickly send videos of yourself and your screen (particularly useful for demos or to explain an issue/a situation where you are stuck)
- LastPass for storing passwords securely
- Calendly to enable colleagues and clients to reserve a spot on your calendar
- Hubspot as a CRM for managing leads, clients and partners
- Jira for managing technical support tickets
- Productboard for the product team to plan product development
- Zendesk for customer support
- BambooHR for managing HR (for example to schedule time off)
- Typeform for collecting data (questionnaires, tasks to manage)
- Zapier for creating integrations and automation between applications
Our best practises (for you):
- To get the best Wifi connection, put the router in an open space that is situated in the middle of your home (if there are several people using the connection), make sure that the source of your Wifi is positioned away from electronic devices such as the microwave or landline phone.
- Have a morning routine, just like if you were going to work (have a shower, have breakfast, get dressed). Leave some time between getting up and starting work. This will only improve your state of mind for starting the day in front of your computer.
- Prepare an ergonomic work space for yourself, especially for the long term > mouse, separate keyboard, laptop stand, headset/headphones. And don’t forget to get up and stretch!
- Share information and ask questions to the right people at the right time > avoid staying blocked on something just because it isn’t possible to see colleagues for an informal discussion during a coffee break- remember that they are still there ️;)
- At the same time, avoid endless written discussions. After the first few days of lots of, probably excessive, chat, your conversations should start to become more stable as you get used to using your (new) communication tools and to working “alone”. Prioritise having a short call as well to move forward in certain situations.
- Is there really an emergency which requires you to reply immediately? If not, go ahead and mark yourself as busy or deactivate your notifications to avoid being distracted and to let yourself focus on a task. You will respond to your colleagues and to your emails once you’re satisfied that you’ve accomplished your mission and are free.
- Speaking of focus… if you are faced with lots of external distractions, you could try the Pomodoro technique to be more productive. This technique invites you to work for 25 minutes then to take a 5 minute break. You then repeat this rhythm throughout your working hours. It is really liberating and satisfying to manage to complete tasks and you will soon see that the hardest part is actually taking the 5 minute break! ;)
- Let your colleagues know your working hours/when you are available (even when working remotely, you have the right to have a break!)
- If your children are there with you, work in a dedicated room (and ideally one that can be closed), avoid going backwards and forwards to the rooms where the children are, keep a working routine of fixed days/hours (“mum/dad works from 9:00-12:30 and from 13:30-18:00 - during these hours, I’m not allowed to distract them”). If they come into the office during a video-conference, it’s best to let them say what they have to say - often after a “hello” to the camera, they are satisfied and will leave of their own accord, without making a fuss. It’s also good to explain to your kids why work is important and why we spend so much time on it. You can also involve your child by taking them onto your knee and explaining what you are doing to them (after a few minutes in front of an Excel spreadsheet, they will go back to doing something more interesting ;). You could also lend them a switched-off computer to play at working like mum or dad > advice from our 12 parent team-members ;)
Our best practises (for your business):
- ”Stand-up” > Each member of the team is invited to write down their objectives for the day, what they achieved on the previous day and anything which is blocking their progress (a summary for the manager and for the rest of the team). It’s good for everybody to see what others are working on and for managers to complete the “stand-up” as well. Transparency is key when working remotely.
- Structure the sharing of information > it is important that messages are correctly communicated, to ensure that the recipients quickly understand the message, the question or the action required. On our communication tool, Slack, we have created “channels” according to subject and team in order to avoid overwhelming team members with information. If a member of the team doesn’t need to know a particular piece of information, they don’t even need to be able to read it.
- Add emojis or GIFs to messages in order to communicate emotions (only 7% of communication is verbal, so we don’t hold back from using these little “smileys” to show our state of mind or to react to a message with an “OK” when it’s been read)
- Plan your meetings > be on time and don’t run over the allotted time scheduled (just like at the office;)). Reduce the number of meetings (try to make each member of the team more autonomous in their work). If a meeting is essential, limit the number of participants in order to avoid it taking too much time (participants can pass on important information to those not taking part in the call, if necessary)
- “Weekly demo” > each team records a 5 minute video every Monday to share KPIs, present what they have completed in the last week and what they will be working on during the coming week. This video is shared with the whole company and is a great way to see what others are working on (also a real gold mine of information which then avoids certain questions later and distracting colleagues). We prepare a few slides in order to have a visual presentation as well (a bubble with our faces in it appears on the presentation so that our colleagues can see us - this is possible with CloudApp). These slides also mean that we can keep a written record of the Weekly demos to go back to later if a member of the team wants to quickly take a look at the presentation without watching the video. We really recommend doing a video though, in order to keep some human contact with colleagues and to share emotions. To achieve this, we also switch on our webcams as much as possible when we have calls.
- Share knowledge - thanks to a “Knowledge database” > an internal document where we can add information about processes, the functionality of our software, contact information etc.
- Put a security checklist in place and invite all employees to use anti-virus software, VPNs and other tools if necessary
Feedback from our experience:
Our team has grown from 4 to 40 people in the last 6 years with this remote working model. Here’s some of our remarks from along the way:
Productivity > even though we are thousands of kilometers apart, we manage to think and create together. We gain efficiency by having very focused meetings (once the call has finished, there is no more chit chat! The decisions that have been made are written down and put into place). From a more personal point of view, each member of the team is more or less able to work at the times when they are most productive. The fact that we’re not sitting next to our colleagues allows us to be more focused on the mission that we’re undertaking (vs. open space offices where it is not unusual to be interrupted)
Ability to communicate and collaborate > this has become very natural thanks to the tools and best practises in place. We often hear people say “I work with a team, I couldn’t work remotely”. Now you can see that this argument isn’t valid ;) Don’t forget that videos are a great tool for exchanging as though you were together with your team.
Reactivity > with an international team, it’s true that different time zones can be an issue, but with a remote model, team members are willing to be flexible (we have the freedom to be wherever we like and to better align personal and work life, we’re willing to get up early or go to bed late if we need to have a meeting with colleagues on the other side of the world to progress with our work). Having a distributed team also allows the company to operate more or less 24hrs a day. For example, we offer customer support which covers the working day in Asia, Europe and America. If there is an emergency, a member of the team will always be there to respond, react or send an alert if needed. Also, as all we need is a basic Wifi connection to be able to do our work, we can quickly open up the computer and resolve a situation which might have usually required going back into the office (be careful to stick to your working hours though, YOU don’t need to be available 24hrs a day:))
Solidarity > a lot of discussions take place in writing and for all to see, so if one of us isn’t available to reply or react, one of our colleagues who can help can take over for us! We try not to leave somebody blocked in a situation. We make sure that the information has been understood and if it hasn’t, we’ll have a quick call.
Taking initiative > we work alone at our computer and this makes us more autonomous and creative for taking action.
A more fulfilling personal and professional life > we are freer in our work and in organising our personal lives (family, hobbies...). 12 of our team members are parents and many sportsmen (kitesurfers, divers, boxers, skiers, surfers, snowboarders, hikers ...) and artists (singers, guitarists, choristers, dancers ...) who can enjoy their activity thanks to the freedom to be where they want! Some of our youngest employees are also “Digital Nomads” who benefit from being able to work and travel at the same time.
Feeling of belonging > even though we can’t see our colleagues, we have a real feeling of belonging to a team. We see each other once or twice a year to make stronger connections; the rest of the time our collaboration, vision and values bring us together and ensure that we all feel like members of the BookingSync and Smily family <3
Changing your way of working is a challenge, especially during this time of uncertainty for our businesses and our personal lives. We hope that these few words are encouraging for you. We are here to help with this if you need us > firstname.lastname@example.org
All our best wishes for success and take care of yourself,
The Smily and BookingSync team