14 min read
>stalk your future employer on LinkedIn
>see you’re going to have 8 new colleagues
>arrive at the office on your first day
>only find 3 smiling faces
The other 5 you’re going to meet in a video call because they’re not working in the same office as you.
That was my first glimpse of remote teams at Planable. I was very excited and very intrigued at the same time. I couldn’t understand how my CEO trusts her team so much that she doesn’t need to see them working every day.
But soon enough, I understood this is possible. It’s actually healthier than any other working formula out there. Here’s how I see things now:
What does having a remote team mean?
Disclaimer: we’re not working remotely per se. We have two teams and two different offices in different countries. But the challenges are the same. It’s two teams that need to stay close to one another, work together, without face-to-face interaction.
Remote teams are made of people with individual skills to achieve specific business goals, without working from the same location. Geographically, they are located in different cities, countries, or continents. Managing remote teams is a challenge most of this century’s leaders face. Fortunately, remote team leadership has become an indispensable skill that we get to learn on the go.
Remote team members work for the same business, are led by the same team leader, and share the same responsibilities regarding their day to day activities.
Why people at Planable are not working from the same office
We’re trying to bring top talent in the organization without interfering with their personal lives. After our co-founders took the journey of their experience all the way to San Francisco, they decided to settle where they felt like they’d find the most resources for their fresh start-up. And so the story of remote teams started at Planable. The business division (as we like to call it) moved to Bucharest, while the dev team started to grow at Chisinau. Since I started my journey here, the teams doubled (and only one year passed by). Is it hard to find people that feel comfortable working that way? Yes! Does it feel good to have the freedom to take care of your personal life? Hell yes!
How we enjoy the remote team advantages
Employee satisfaction increases. Remote work is the beginning of freedom for any employee that’s out there. When you work from wherever you feel most comfortable, you start experiencing satisfaction in everything you do. Because flexibility is just the beginning of privileges. Working hours, projects, and mindsets, they all change once you start working with people who feel as free as you do.
Meetings are more productive. Regular meetings can become an unnecessary burden. But transforming these meetings in videoconferences requires strong remote team collaboration. And collaboration leads to productivity. When you know you only have 30 minutes to discuss the agenda, you come prepared. You synthesize the information. You eliminate the fluff.
Every person is autonomous. For some, this can be a challenge. Working remotely implies you strive for the same goals as your coworkers. This doesn’t mean you’re alone in finding the means to reach your targets. If you’re a marketer, for example, your target can be bringing 1k leads in a quarter. From there, you have to find the right strategy to reach this goal. Being autonomous often implies you bring more results than questions to the table. Don’t get me wrong, we all get stuck sometimes. It’s just that independent employees find the answers to the questions on their own.
Co-workers are motivated to work hard and preserve their benefits. What makes remote teams work is trust. We trust each other that we’re doing our job. We trust each other that we’re not scrolling on our phones during calls. The business is healthy because it’s built on trust. It’s a loop that keeps the relationship going, and keeps everybody happy.
You can hire the best talent in the world. To be honest, I like to think we’re working in semi-remote teams. Because technically, we’re split in two. But in reality, our team members work from all over the world. Fully remote teams have the advantage of hiring the best talent in the world. Not being bound to an office, and not being forced to relocate are some of the best perks of digitized businesses.
Low turnover rate. A recent study shows that 95% of employers surveyed admit that remote work has a significant impact on employee retention. Remote work is only the tip of Maslow’s hierarchy of modern work life. Freedom surely makes a company desirable.
How we handle the remote team challenges
Company culture. When working in the same office, employees easily assimilate bits of company culture. But what happens when you work apart? In the end, company culture echoes in everything. From employer branding to the way your product and services are sold. Here’s how it works at Planable. We don’t simply enforce a culture that’s served on a plate. We continuously work on building our own culture. That’s right. From operations to tech, we all have a say in the way we see our growing community. What a time to be alive!
Communication bumps. Technology is a good ally in improving communication. And rules. Agreeing that we respect each other’s time is important. So we try and actually succeed in scheduling meetings. We all show up to meetings on time. This bottleneck only requires an extra pinch of goodwill and understanding from everybody. Now, our communication works better than I’ve seen at big corporations. And I’m sure it’s more about respect than about rules.
Team networking. I like to talk. A lot. I want to know all my colleagues. And I always find something we have in common – personal or professional. So from time to time, I find it hard not to be able to chat with them whenever I feel like. If you’re an extrovert, I so feel you. Take advantage of the meetings you have. Talk to your team when you meet live. You’ll always find a way to connect with them.
Different schedules. Luckily, our two teams have the same time zone. But we don’t have the same schedule. People work differently. They’re most productive at different hours. So what we do is focus on finding as much overlap as possible. To collaborate real-time. But what happens when team members work from different time zones? First of all, it’s mandatory to share your schedule. People must know when you work and when to count on you. Second of all, you’ll have to be more transparent about your work. Project statuses are not your boss’ way to check on you. They’re a way to show respect to your team. Let them know where you are, so there’s team transparency. Set the right expectations all the time. And when you feel like you had other expectations from your colleagues, give them the benefit of the doubt first.
Work evaluation. Evaluating work can be hard at times. Not having the team in the same space can literally come with a mindset shift. That everybody does its part and business goes on. But even when everybody does their part, the outcome is not always the one we expect. So what we find useful is to work with OKRs. When teams work remotely, what’s essential is respecting deadlines and targets, and not if you worked 8 or 10 hours a day. If you’re just starting, here’s my humble advice: don’t track the hours, focus on results.
How we managed to find our workflow
We got lucky. We started fresh. From the very beginning, we had an environment that encourages growth and experiments. That also means we fail at times. Failure is the only way you know you’re growing. In terms of finding our workflow, we’re still adapting. We’ll probably never stop improving. Who knows. What did we learn so far?
What works for others might not work for you. So I’m not the one to give you the successful formula. I’ll try to describe how we do it instead and hope it’ll help. We always look at bigger companies and see if what they’re doing would fitour culture. But more often, we tailor our workflow to every employee’s needs. As we grow, we’ll have to go with bespoke versions. For now, we’re still enjoying the made to measure workflow in everything we do.
Talking about parts of a workflow, keep in mind that it is not an A to B journey. What we found works for us is more of a hand on the torch approach. We’re equal in responsibility and everybody has ownership of something. This way, we make sure every part of the workflow is the best we can get.
Experiments are also important. We’re not afraid to bring new ideas to the table, and we’re not afraid to admit mistakes. We’re also not (so) clingy when it comes to letting things go. If something doesn’t work, we don’t reiterate endlessly just because others do it.
Who is the right match for a remote team
Looking to hire people that’ll work remotely? Not everybody’s fit for this kind of role. Here are four common traits I find useful for remote workers:
They have a “Yes, I can” mindset
Doers will always find a way even though they don’t have all the resources they need. They find things to do even when they don’t have an assigned task. Their work is often excellent because they don’t settle for average.
Of course, they still need guidance from time to time. We all do. For big projects or new types of tasks, everybody needs to learn from their colleagues. What’s different is they get the information from one go.
They can be trusted
Yes, all employees should have this trait. But the ones working remotely should have it more than anybody else. The advantage of remote work stops when you no longer trust your employees. If you feel like you need to check on them all the time, then you should move to an office. Trust will make space and let you focus on your own work.
They can write
Not everybody should be a Cannes Lions level copywriter, but when you all work from the same office, a lot of communication happens in person. This changes when working remotely. Almost everything becomes written communication. As communication is key, you need people that know how to express things right.
Top three tools we use for our remote team collaboration
This is not yet another blog post with a list of tools to use when you work remotely. Tools, though, are very important and should be used efficiently. Tech plays a great role in enabling teams to work together even when apart. For my team and me, there are three tools we use daily.
Slack is the primary communication tool that lets us drop a line whenever we need to share something. A joke we found on Reddit. Important announcements. We’re mastering the benefits of channels and threads. We’re now up to date with everything happening in the company. Pro tip: Slack threads have a major impact on the way you spam your colleagues. It also helps you keep every conversation organized.
My Slack notifications are on, but if you really need something, don’t hesitate to @ me. That’s the way I know it is crucial.
For me, our tool helps me and my team most. It cuts other ineffective tools out of our lives. Spreadsheets, PPTs, emails – stress disappeared once I started using Planable. FOMO is now a distant memory. For social media, Planable is the best tool that lets you create, edit, get feedback and approval, and schedule your content. All on the same page. Name a feature you need, and it most probably already has it. It’s so neat and friendly.
It’s the fastest way to jump on a call whenever I need to discuss something that can’t be addressed on Slack. It’s designed to accommodate both quick one to one interactions and weekly meetings with big teams. We even hosted one of our quarterly planning sessions on Zoom. We spent five days in virtual meetings, following a predefined agenda.
I want to leave you with few of our rules
It’s ironic, I know. Talking about rules when working remotely means freedom. It’s more about common sense and respect each other’s time and resources. So here are some unwritten guidelines we follow at Planable.
Be transparent. Head to bottom, and bottom to head, be open with your work and decisions. Let people know where you are and what you plan.
Arrive on time. Whenever we have a meeting, the rule is to arrive on time. If you’re not there, we’re starting without you, no matter who you are.
Set clear expectations. Tell your team members how you see things, what you want to happen, or what you want to stop. Make yourself feel comfortable while working remotely.
Respect your meetings. Even though you work apart and sometimes feel you’re working on your own projects, don’t ditch the regular meetings. Keeping everybody updated with your work will make you feel proud.
Count results, not hours. Focus your energy on the outcome of your work, not on the hours you spend working. When you work remotely, especially when you work from home, productivity changes. Make sure you adapt to these changes.
This is just a glimpse of how we make remote teams work at Planable. So far, we’re really thrilled with what we have, and our employee retention rate speaks for itself. In one year at Planable, I found that giving people freedom is what makes them want to stay.