At the end of 2017, Contentools faced quite a few challenges. Hiring new talents compatible with Contentools’ culture and rhythm, expanding our operations worldwide and reaching the entire globe with content made through Contentools made us reconsider our current working model and try to come up with another way to do things.
That was when we found out that becoming remote was a matter of survival for us. We knew we couldn’t get all we needed just staying where we were and doing what we always did, so we decided to do whatever we had to do in order to keep growing and expanding in this fast-paced environment.
Of course, going remote has its pros and cons. It might be easier to hire talent from around the globe because you get rid of the geographical barriers. But at the same time, it takes way more effort to make those people engage with Contentools’ purpose. It might also be better to expand our operations and make new connections and partnerships, but harder to manage a team that should be heading toward the same goal.
Still, with the right amount of effort and planning, we knew that the trade-off would be worth it. So we decided to invest our energy on improving our processes in 2018 so that we could become remote by 2019.
Because of that, I decided to share this experience, as it might be useful to other companies willing to get there. Also, although we are doing this in order to become remote, everything suggested in this content could also benefit non-remote companies. Once it is all about improving internal processes and communication, you could apply this even if you are not considering going remote.
Here is our secret “Remote Agenda”!
1) Making implicit communication explicit
One of the main challenges of managing a remote team is making sure that everything that has to be said will be said. It’s common for people working in the same office to assume that their colleagues will just ask if they have any doubts about their work. However, that just doesn’t work in a remote scenario. If you expect people to do that spontaneously without other people around, you are likely to end up with conflicts caused by miscommunication.
When going remote, you should design your processes and the digital environment in a way that people can think strategically about how they communicate with each other. To do that, there are three crucial aspects:
Firstly, you should teach them what to communicate. Everyone needs to know specifically exactly what information about their work has to be shared with others.
Do your activities have to be reported to someone else? Communicate. What you just did have changed a process? Communicate. Did you get information that has to be shared with the team? Communicate. The important thing is to notice that whenever you have something to share, you have to make sure your recipients get it and understand.
Another aspect to consider in this scenario is how to communicate. You can create your own rules on which channel should people use depending on the type of information they want to share. Here at Contentools the rule goes like this:
- What you want to communicate is time-dependent? Use slack.
- Should people read it within one day? Use e-mail.
- Is it information you should save? Use Google Drive or ContentWiki.
- Is it unchanging or regarding a process? Google Drive or ContentWiki.
Third and last, you should make sure people know how to communicate efficiently. After reading this HBR article about how to write e-mails with military precision I understood the importance of taking the time to write proper e-mails – and the enormous amount of time you save by doing that. Though we don’t really need to write as precisely as military people do, it’s worth to point out that your e-mails always need a context (in which you explain your topic and why you are bringing it up) so people in completely different places know what are you talking about, you main information (which is basically why you are writing that e-mail) and final deliberations (clearly stating what actions you expect people to make with that information).
In a remote environment, you have to write more and read more in order to keep the whole team updated on what is going on. For that reason, you have to plan activities knowing that people will spend more time doing that. Besides, it’s very important to make sure you hire people with great written communication skills.
2) Adapt your processes to remote mode
Many processes have to be adapted or created to fit in the remote model. Hiring interviews, for example, are now all done online.
Another important factor is having very precise job descriptions. If you are from a physical company, especially a small one, it’s very common to have people working on tasks that are not necessarily in their job descriptions. Some of those tasks might even be crucial to the functioning of the company. In a remote environment, it might not work, because people tend to do activities that are precisely described as their job responsibilities. So you ought to have formal functional diagrams about the information flux and the functions involved in it.
Also, to save time and effort, I strongly suggest companies keeping their activity reports stored in a cloud, accessible to everyone. And there are many tools out there to help you organize such information. Here at Contentools we update information on a weekly basis – and we plan to do that more often when we go fully remote. And we use our own software to do that!
Besides making sure every important piece of information is stored on our drive, we also have weekly 1h meetings in which we give important updates, share knowledge and discuss important topics. A moment like this is very important to make people understand how their work is related to others’. Once a month, the leader of each team presents their results to the whole company in that same meeting. Having to share results in front of everyone creates a sense of social recognition, and makes people feel the urge to perform well. In a remote environment, that is an important stimulus to have.
3) Being empathetic is a must (even through a screen)
When your work environment consists of you, your computer, a chair and a table, it’s easy to forget that you work with people and for people. Therefore, it’s always important to have a personal touch in everything you do, so you can remind the team that they are not alone. One way of doing that is using gifs and fun communication to bring the team together.
You should do your best to make people feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Some companies use weekly 1-1’s with their team leaders, others make small team meetings in which everyone says what they will do during the week. So it’s really up to you to find out what better fits your team – our product team, for example, holds a sprint every morning, and it works great for them! The important thing is to keep in touch with everyone and make sure your team is aligned with the company’s purpose.
Also, if you decide to hold online meetings, make sure there is one person per computer. This is an important rule because if you have a meeting in which there is a group of people in the same room using one computer for connecting with those who are remote, those who are behind the screen might feel segregated and not be able to collaborate as much. Also, when you have a group of people in a room, it might be hard to resist the temptation to talk directly to them instead of participating in the call conference. But if you let that happen, you’ll create a parallel interaction that might make people feel like they are not part of the meeting and feel less encouraged to participate. So stick to the one person per computer rule.
4) Guarantee their workspace
This is the last part of the process. Once your team is ready to work from other places, you have to guarantee that their workspace is suitable for the work they do. In a traditional office, you would invest in infrastructure and supplies. So it might be interesting to reallocate those resources into making the remote experience better for everyone! You could, for example, provide ergonomic chairs and tables, high-speed internet, and good working computers for the whole team.
Beyond the basics, you could create some personal experience for the people. In their birthdays, for example, you could send the team a cake! I know it’s not the same as celebrating your birthday with your coworkers, but it’s a nice reminder and a great opportunity to make the person feel part of the organization.
We haven’t got to this phase just yet, but this will surely be another challenge that we are already anticipating.
I hope you could learn something useful for you and your company by learning how we are consistently planning to go remote. As I said, you don’t have to adopt these changes only when going remote; they will benefit your company communication as well in many ways!
If you have tried any of such suggestions, please comment and share your experience! I look forward to hearing and learning from you.