The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work for Startups
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and the subsequent quarantine period, companies working from offices were forced to adopt remote working overnight.
Even though some start-ups didn’t feel any difference as they had already adopted a remote-first culture prior to the lockdown, for a predominant majority of companies adopting remote work will be a bitter pill to swallow.
Remote working is way more than just leaving the office and working from home! For managers, the remote environment will require different skills and better communication – both spoken and written.
While making over 200 remote software development projects happen on five continents we have discovered approaches and strategies to help remote work succeed. In this article, we want to share with you the strategies that have worked in our team and the teams of our partners – a network of over 80 tech agencies.
In this article, we are focusing on these key domains of every tech company – software development, customer support, sales and marketing, and team and project management. Ready to discover how to implement remote work? Let’s get started!
Remote work and software development
When bringing a team of Polish developers to INTERMATE, the fastest-growing influencer marketing agency in Germany, remote work was still something relatively new over four years ago.
But over time INTERMATE and the remote team of developers became one team – their product owner communicates with the team directly – with no middlemen in place and they often meet for retreats to socialize.
There is really not a lot that makes them feel they work for two different companies now as these lines are hardly visible.
When moving to a remote space you will no longer summon your team around a whiteboard to brainstorm project ideas. However, you won’t be left on your own! There are multiple tools that will facilitate remote brainstorming such as Miro, Meistertask, or MindMeister. These are mind-mapping tools that will allow you and your team to meet in a remote environment and brainstorm ideas in real time.
We communicate over Slack 90% of the time. Every now and then we have a call if there is something more complicated to discuss. Every three months we meet in person and discuss new features, more complicated topics and we do some team building. Mirko Schneider Product Owner, Intermate
We have also brought remote work and team management to universities – helping the Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany) make progress with digitalization and creating three successful academic projects with a team of developers located in Eastern Europe.
The core point was communication. We used Slack for our informal quick communication, we tracked issues with Gitlab & Jira, and had calls to go through open questions. Responsiveness was great. Christian Stein Project Leader, Humboldt University
So how can you effectively manage your remote team of developers to create the feeling that they are in the same room as you?
When matching companies with the best tech agencies in Eastern Europe, they often tell us about their failed outsourcing experiments from the past. One of the most frequent reasons for an outsourcing project to fail is poor communication with a tech partner.
You can have a good communication flow with a selected team in the beginning (before the contract is signed), but later their responsiveness might not be that good.
We often make jokes by calling such a team ‘submarines’ – they rise for a short time, only to get drowned deep in water for the next few months. You don’t want to work with such teams, right?
So what is the key to effective communication with a remote tech team?
1. Set up daily standups and one-on-ones
Make sure you share regular updates with your team and that they keep you updated on their progress, and roadblocks and also ask questions.
When working remotely it is better to over-communicate and to ensure everyone is clear about the objectives than to have misunderstandings that lead to wasting time on unnecessary work.
That is why you should use every occasion to talk with your remote team! But don’t go too far – you don’t want to distract your developers too much. Just stick to predefined standup hours to keep your developers focused.
Check out Parabol, which is a free online standup tool, that helps get everyone on the same page without constantly having lengthy meetings.
2. Use the power of videoconferencing
Always turn on your camera when having video conferences. Video will help the understanding of non-verbal communication like emotions, facial movements, or gestures. They will bring you closer to the person behind the screen and help you understand their intentions and feelings better.
3. Agree on the definition of “done”
Often the definition of “done” among developers may differ from yours. “Done” can mean code review completed, deployed, Q&A performed, demo sent to the product owner, and demo approval.
Working remotely requires a very strict discipline of making sure everyone is on the same page.
What is the definition of “Done”?
According to the Agile methodology, the definition of “Done” or DoD means meeting all criteria or requirements of the task to be accepted by a user, team or customer. As a product owner (or manager) you should make sure that your remote team delivers all “done” according to how you see it.
4. Share extensive feedback
Give detailed feedback on completed tasks. The more specific you are, the better your developers will understand what you want to achieve.
Share feedback on ongoing tasks, things that went wrong, but also on things that went well – praise developers when praise is deserved as it will also give them more motivation to go on with your project.
5. Embrace asynchronous work
For offshore tech teams, this has always been the only way to make work efficient! However, even if you’re working together with someone in the same time zone, give asynchronous communication a try.
What is asynchronous and synchronous work?
Asynchronous communication is when you don’t require an immediate response when sending someone a message. Synchronous work, in turn, requires immediate processing of a delivered message by a recipient.
There are several aspects that make asynchronous work more efficient. One of them is keeping your developers more focused on tasks. With asynchronous communication, your developers don’t get notifications that usually distract them from a performed task. This type of communication is also less stressful as it reduces the fear of missing out.
6. Document the work
As text is a predominant way of keeping every team member informed about all developments, write things down in Google Docs or a wiki. This practice introduces more inclusion, as people not present at calls can get informed about the course of events. Documenting work will also help you improve your written skills and become a better communicator in a remote environment.
- Google Docs
7. Create a culture of meeting notes
Meetings kill productivity on remote teams, but most organizations treat meetings as unavoidable. It’s not true. Build a culture of meeting notes to enable only those who need to attend the meeting – to attend. This has a bunch of other benefits such as capturing a historical record of conversations for later reference and holding people accountable to action items and due dates. Learn how one founder created a culture of meeting notes from a founder who grew from 1 to 40 in 18 months.
Remote work and customer success
1. Hire the right people
A customer success manager is often a remote role. When hiring look for signs to help you understand if a candidate will fit into a remote work environment
Ask these questions: “Have you worked remotely before?” and “Have you been freelancing for some time or managed your own company before applying for this position?” People with previous experience working remotely as freelancers most probably have better discipline and are “doers” by nature.
But what if you had a customer success department sitting in the office and you have to move them to a remote environment right now?
2. Foster a sense of self-discipline
Self-discipline is an extremely important trait for a customer success manager as customers require a timely response and the remote work environment often creates more distractions. Set clear expectations for your team of client support agents. Take into account the criteria such as response time to messages, time for check-ins, and more – work out your procedures, unique for your business context.
Monitor all metrics above to get an understanding of how your team is performing.
3. Create incentives for discipline
Talk with your team about how they want to be rewarded for overachieving the key metrics. Once they overachieve their quotas – reward them for more effort! A “carrot” will drive your customer success agents to keep discipline.
Remote work and project management
1. Make sure everyone knows what to do
In my opinion, remote work is effective only when everyone in the team knows their exact responsibilities. To facilitate the work of your remote team, make sure that you set goals and key milestones together. Break down bigger goals into smaller pieces – milestones will become steps to the bigger goal. For example, Asana, a project management tool, will allow you to set up milestones in project dashboards. This is a pretty cool feature – give it a try!
2. Organize work in sprints
Keep yourself motivated with such tools as TomatoTimer (to apply the Pomodoro technique) or Be Focused (for Mac), setting up short work sprints and getting in a deep work mode. Seasoned developers like using it, but it is also applicable to almost any task. When needed, you can adjust the sprint lengths to your personal needs.
What is Pomodoro Technique?
Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s, this time management technique is used to boost productivity by setting up 25 minute work intervals. You can use various tools such as TomatoTimer to apply this technique.
3. Brainstorm online
When moving to a remote space you will no longer summon your team around a whiteboard to brainstorm project ideas. However, you won’t be left on your own! There are multiple tools that will facilitate remote brainstorming such as Miro, Meistertask, or MindMeister. These are mind-mapping tools that will allow you and your team to meet in a remote environment and brainstorm ideas in real-time.
4. Eliminate distractors
Block sites that would normally take your attention away when working from home. The browser extension RescueTime will block distracting websites such as Facebook, your mailbox, or news for a specific time when you want to keep your attention razor-focused. There are also applications such as Cold Turkey that you can consider using for the same goal.
5. Keep track of tasks
If you are not yet using project management tools for your whole team, compare a few and start using one! When working remotely, it gets difficult to keep track of not only your own tasks but also coordinate project timelines with your team. It is more difficult to track progress and achieve milestones when you can’t just approach your colleague at their desk. With a project management tool such as Todoist, Trello, Asana, or Monday you will help yourself and your team manage daily activities better and achieve project goals.
6. Keep track of team progress
Keep track of the progress your team makes – they should be logging time (Harvest or Clickify) and you should be able to access daily and weekly reports of each team member whenever you want to track project velocity and progress.
Remote work and sales and marketing
1. Well-configured CRM, with leaderboards and stats
Achieve more with the CRM you have been using so far. When moving to a written form of communication you will need to ensure that your message reaches your teammates and that they act on the assigned task.
This would normally be much easier in the office environment when you can approach your colleagues and remind them of their tasks. In a remote environment, your CRM will be a more frequent place to touch base than a water cooler or kitchen.
Keep track of lead status, assign new tasks, and, most importantly, create a more efficient reporting system.
If you haven’t yet, make sure to start synchronizing everyone’s inboxes with your CRM so you can get up-to-date with recent developments with a quick glance at any given deal.
Use video calling over phone calling and always turn on your video, even if just for the beginning of the conversation (internet connections can be bad). It sets a warmer tone for the conversation. If you end up calling without video anyway, use sounds that clearly communicate what you’re doing, like a laugh when you’re smiling, a “hmm” sound when you’re thinking, etc. to make a stronger connection. Use your tone of voice abundantly. Be yourself and a bit more informal than you’d be in a face-to-face meeting. Make a bit of time for small talk. It’s good to compensate a bit for the difficulties with creating a personal connection remotely. Jeroen Corthout Co-Founder, Salesflare.com
Worried about losing track of your leads when going remote? Make sure to stay on top of everything related to marketing and sales with the following tools:
2. Establish processes
When managing your sales department from the office you might have worked out “unwritten” procedures everyone in the team knows about.
Moving to remote working makes it difficult to keep everyone on the same page and at the same time pass over procedures to new hires. Put your “unwritten” procedures in one place where anyone from your team can check them out.
Create a remote sales handbook and define the key procedures applicable to your sales team. Include effective practices and other tips new team members will find useful. Describe everything – from demos to follow-ups and sales proposals.
You will thank yourself for putting in a bit of time and effort, with new hires receiving more efficient coaching and starting to perform tasks faster from the very beginning.
If you don’t have a wiki – using a Google Doc is totally fine. Make sure to link it somewhere prominent so that everyone keeps it in mind!
3. Organise daily and weekly reviews
Use Zoom or another video conferencing tool for daily updates (standups, especially when it comes to hiring software developers) to discuss what each team member did yesterday and what they are planning to do today. This routine will keep everyone on your team accountable.
While daily standups are already a part of most tech teams’ routines, you might not feel a need to do it on video. In this case, opt for short text updates on a dedicated channel that would substitute video standup.
However, we do recommend video over text or voice only at any time.
During your weekly review go through the pipeline to check on the lead status, resolve any issues that have arisen during the week and just meet your team in person.
4. Use video to build trust with prospects
When holding remote calls instead of in-person meetings, your sales team might struggle to retain the same quality of communication with prospects (if they previously did in-person sales).
To move sales online, encourage your team to use video conferencing tools more often and turn on the camera whenever possible to establish better contact with prospects.
Ask every sales rep to find a quiet place with a tidy background. Investing in a high-speed internet connection and better video/audio gear for your reps will make you look more professional than your competitors.
At Trustshoring, we use Whereby for video sales. Our camera is the Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam and we use a Blue Snowball Mic for audio. To make our environment look more professional, we printed a large backdrop with our logo, as you normally see at conferences.
5. Manage meeting scheduling
Avoid sending back-and-forth emails to your prospects trying to arrange a time that would fit you both. Instead, utilize tools that sync with your calendar and help a prospective client book a meeting with you or your sales reps in a few clicks.
Remote work and team management
When working remotely, team members can easily lose their connection with colleagues. Normally, they would be chatting in the office every day. The remote environment is indeed a little bit less social than office work and, as a manager, you should create the right environment for your team to socialize online. So how can you foster a healthy team spirit remotely?
1. Celebrate successes more often
Praising small successes is a good part of team building. You might want to dedicate a separate chat or thread in your communication tool where you share successes.
Stanwood, a German-based development company, has a gratitude channel where everyone thanks each other even for small things. Integrating gratitude is important to keep everyone motivated.
In an office environment, everyone notices when you celebrate a new client with the sales team. Remotely, nobody else might notice. That’s why it’s important to share such wins company-wide, otherwise, you may end up with isolated teams who haven’t hear any good news in a long time.
2. Trust your employees
This is easier said than done. When working remotely you might have doubts about whether your team is really working. However, if you want remote work to succeed, trust should be mutual, so start first!
There is no place for micromanagement and excessive control in a remote space. When giving people a bit more freedom you will see them taking more ownership over projects. Set clear guidelines on how performance is reported and focus on developing your business – on your product and clients.
Please don’t suggest using tools that record your team’s screens, or take regular screenshots. This is a great way to destroy team morale and make your teammates feel like they’re living in a dictatorship.
3. Set up work procedures
Set up guidelines on productivity, teamwork, and accountability. Provide a clear vision for the product by giving more details. When having daily calls, define who should write a summary and take notes of new goals.
4. Delegate work
Working from home and being less interrupted, you may be tempted to just dive into your work and do everything yourself. However, it’s important to focus on the most crucial things that will result in your company’s growth – your customers and product. Delegate smaller things to virtual assistants. Start with calculating how much time you are using on low-value tasks every week that could be easily substituted by a virtual assistant. Use this calculator>>
5. Create a virtual water cooler
Create separate channels where your co-workers can socialize and have some breaks from work. These are spaces where they can share funny moments, and personal interests and just laugh. However, make sure you don’t accumulate too many of such channels over time – as they will get messy and clutter your team’s digital space.
6. For teams that need Constant Communication
While one benefit of remote working is uninterrupted work, some teams need constant communication and suffer from the added hassle of scheduling calls or typing out questions to teammates. This may be the case in consulting, where teams actively work together on complex solutions – like lawyers for example.
In this case, instead of Slack and Skype, I recommend the software TeamSpeak. Originally popular with gamers, it established a constant voice chat room. However, you can only be heard if you press a certain keyboard shortcut – imagine it as a walkie-talkie.
The benefit is that you can raise an issue or a question at any time and immerse yourself in a discussion just as if you were in the same room as your teammates. At the same time, the sound streaming is selective, so there are no annoying background noises when nobody is speaking.
However, first, be sure that this is the kind of communication you really need within your team because it can become terribly unproductive if used wrongly.
To sum up…
To sum up, a remote environment requires a different set of rules than those that would normally apply in the office environment.
I hope that the remote work strategies described here will help you switch to a 100 percent remote work mode more easily and that the recommended tools will facilitate the process.
To share your thoughts on this article or get matched with over 80 vetted tech agencies in Eastern Europe, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply:
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Remote software engineering expert with CS and engineering management background, having built remote product teams for 10 years.
Author of the Complete Outsourcing Playbook and podcast host.
CEO of Trustshoring.