6 Comments

Summary:

ProofHQ has worked as a remote team since the company was founded two years ago. It’s a topic that we have much experience of and feel passionately about, so we wanted to share some of the lessons that we’ve learned along the way.

wfh

Remote working has never been a hotter topic. With the Net:Work conference happening in San Francisco this week, there’s much discussion its benefits.

ProofHQ has worked as a remote team since the company was founded two years ago, so it’s a topic that we have much experience of and feel passionately about. While there are many reasons to have a team working remotely, there are also a number of considerations that need to be taken into account to ensure your team is working as effectively as possible.

Why Remote?

When ProofHQ was founded, we decided that we wanted to bootstrap the company to build long-term sustainable growth. It was important for us to remain nimble and to make the way that we work as simple as possible, focusing on offering our users the best possible value for money. Building a remote team seemed the perfect solution to be able to deliver upon these goals and has played a critical role in the success of building our company to what it is today.

While remote working provides many benefits, we’ve found that for it to be fully effective takes concerted effort. Without careful management, for example, it can become easy for team members to become isolated and for communication to suffer. An example of this might be for a design piece to be delivered without having the designer walk you through the concepts, or some team members not being fully aware of a change in the direction of the business. However, we believe that the benefits of remote working outweigh the drawbacks, so we wanted to share some of the lessons that we’ve learned along the way.

How Do We Make It Work?

Communication

  • Chat rooms. Each day, every day, all members of the team are logged into a Skype chatroom where they can ask questions, share insights comment or just catch up with one another at any time.
  • Share successes. It can be easy for the development and marketing teams to lose sight of each other’s projects. It’s important for anyone looking after your marketing function to be kept up-to-date with developments to your application/site/product so that they can build them in to your company’s communications. Similarly, sharing links to user success stories and press coverage will help
    developers keep their focus on the bigger picture and the impact of their hard work.
  • Face-to-face. While remote working is great, there’s nothing like catching up in person: body language and hand gestures just can’t be conveyed over the Internet. We make sure that all of the team come together once a quarter which gives everybody an opportunity to bond and brainstorm. Everybody has a chance to have their say and discuss in person ideas and solutions — over a few beers, of course!

Structure

We’ve found that having regular structured meetings means that we don’t find ourselves too busy to make that call: the meeting is in the diary and so it happens. We have chosen to adopt the Agile methodology, which means that we have a scrum call at the beginning of every morning and a team meeting with the most senior members of the team once a week.

It’s also good to know in advance what subjects you’re going to be discussing as part of these calls to ensure that everyone is fully equipped and you can make the most efficient use of the time.

Structuring tasks is something that we rely on heavily at ProofHQ and is not restricted purely to developers. Experience has shown us that this helps each team member focus on what tasks they should be working on next and allows the whole team to see the progress of each project collectively. The result of this is that we’re able to release new features on a regular basis (a three-week cycle), constantly offering additional value to our users.

Tools

There are a whole raft of useful collaborative tools available now, many of which are free. Google Docs provides a great way of sharing documents and editing collectively, ensuring that everyone always has the latest version. Skype is great for calls and instant chat, while Yuuguu is awesome for conducting face-to-face meetings with video (assuming you’re out of your pajamas, of course!).

For project management, we all use Basecamp which gives us access to everyone’s task lists, while Zoho allows us to share contacts and account details, perfect for making sure we’re consistent in our messaging to customers.

Of course, when it comes to reviewing designs and marketing collateral we use ProofHQ, which allows us to collaboratively review, markup and approve work.

Mel Kirk is Head of Marketing at ProofHQ. You can follow her on Twitter @melkirk

Photo courtesy Flickr user eyeliam.

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. Hey Mel, great article. Although Skype is on the right track, there are a few things missing that would make it a lot better. We started HipChat to fix what was missing and specifically gear it towards companies like admin controls, chats and files are saved and searchable on our server, and desktop apps for Mac, Windows, Linux, a web app, and native iPhone coming soon.

    Obviously I have an interest in more people using HipChat, but as long as more teams use group chat, I’d consider it a victory. If anyone is interested in learning more about HipChat you can check it out at http://www.hipchat.com.

  2. I haven’t heard of Yuuguu until now, so thanks! I’ll see if that’s better than Skype. I believe nothing beats real-time human interaction and yet, working remotely can help your team become more productive — where hours spent on daily commute can be turned to working hours instead.

  3. Great article! It’s terrific to hear about more and more dispersed teams succeeding and thriving.

  4. Great points! Remote working can be fantastic (been doing it myself for about 1.5 years now), but only if you know what you’re getting into and prepare for it. Chat/IM and sharing successes is hugely important to avoid feeling as though you’re in solitary confinement. I think I could stand to work from home for a long time, but apparently it’s not for everyone — whenever my husband works from home for a day, he’s gone nuts by the end of it and can’t wait to get back in the office :)

  5. Great article, I´m preparing the path to our company to get in to the web work sales work, and this article was very helpfull.. We use here in Brazil more Live Messenger than Skype to contact clients and for call, we have skype plans.. The problem is the fixed telephone, who the stores and costumers call to get support for the products we distribute or some stores to buy over the phone.. This is our big point …

  6. John Rockefeller Thursday, December 9, 2010

    We work remotely at soma and have found immense success with it. I’d recommend it for many organizations as a great way to increase productivity (people work on their terms and are happier doing so) and to reduce costs. We meet every Friday afternoon at an optional get-together to close off the week and share stories :)

    We use Gtalk for our internal chat conversations, BaseCamp (amazing software-as-a-service) for project management, and Skype + VoIP PBX for when we need to dial out.

    Great article.

Comments have been disabled for this post