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.
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?
- 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!
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.
There are a whole raft of useful collaborative tools available now, many of which are free. Google Docs (s goog) 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.