May 24, 2019 · work remote

Keeping the human element in remote work

Being a remote, distributed team has its perks. Freedom to live where you want. Freedom to work the hours that make the most sense to you (as long as you're available to our clients and to the team). And the most obvious perk that I clearly abuse is the freedom to wear what you want to work (it's not uncommon to see me in a nice shirt and a pair of cut off shorts – conference call attire I call it).

But remote work does have its challenges. The feeling of losing touch with your team. The loss of watercooler chat. The ability to see that confused look on someone's face when you're explaining a difficult to grasp concept. And clearly having to dress like a responsible adult when you go to the office.

To offset those challenges, I abide by these 4 simple rules for managing a distributed team:  

  1. Slack (or "email" if you're an oldie) for the "what and when" questions. Video chat for EVERYTHING ELSE. Seeing another person's reactions, their facial expressions, etc is a critical piece to understanding what the other party is trying to communicate.
  2. Video chat with every (core) member of your team at least once a week. This is an easy one to overlook. When we first went distributed 15 months ago, I would have ad hoc meetings with our developers. Sometimes it was weekly but most often it was every 3-4 weeks. Then during a review, one of our devs said "TJ, it would be cool if we could chat with you on a scheduled basis". It was definitely an "aha" moment for me – and slightly embarrassing. I prided myself on staying in tune w/ our team needs but I'd clearly overlooked the most basic of needs: contact. I instituted a 15 minute checkin once a week with members of the team I wouldn't ordinarily talk to. And it's been a HUGE help in understanding where people are with their work load and how they're feeling about the company overall.
  3. Start, and end, each checkin with idle chit chat. What are you doing this week? How are the kids? Remote work tends to de-prioritize that human connection that makes work fun. Don't lose it! Stay connected to your team as teammates but also as humans.  
  4. Always end meetings with "how can i help you?" or "what roadblocks can I clear for you?" I'm a believer that as a leader of a small organization, I have two core jobs: 1. Cast the vision. Where are we going and how are we going to get there. And 2. Clearing roadblocks. If I can help make your job easier (either through making things more clear or through knocking down impediments) we will all win in the end.

That's it. 4 simple things. Did I miss anything?