While many teams have been experimenting with remote workforces in recent years, few have taken the leap to go fully-distributed. As recent events have forced many organizations to take their teams remote, many of us are learning how to stay productive, stay in touch, and stay sane.
With over 14 years of remote work experience himself, Darren Murph now owns the process for the world’s largest all-remote organization as Head of Remote for GitLab. Last week Darren joined Heavybit for an online group session on how to foster remote fluency and build better distributed teams. Watch his presentation here:
Here are some of the lessons we learned from Darren on fostering a happy, effective remote team during the session:
Distributed work lends itself well to flexible work schedules, since the physical lines of being “at work” and “at home” are blurred. Embracing asynchronous work allows your team to design a work schedule that works best for them. This workflow is especially helpful for teams with children or other family members to care for right now. It can also be beneficial for night owls who tend to do their best thinking in later hours.
Since real-time interactions have to be a bit more intentional remote teams, it’s important to make sure that you’re making the most of the time that your team is working together. Setting agendas for meetings is a great forcing function for keeping meetings focused and cutting down on unnecessary sessions. Darren recommends keeping rolling agenda doc attached to recurring meeting invites to ensure that everyone involved can easily see what’s been discussed.
- Communicate your work hours to the team
- Set agendas for meetings and working sessions to keep them focused
An important aspect of asynchronous work is ensuring that every team member has the information they need without relying on their team members in realtime. One of the challenges of remote work is that information can easily become siloed, which is why one of GitLab’s core values is to write things down. Darren told us, “The way a GitLabber thinks is, if you get asked a question, you should be able to answer that question with a link. If you can’t, then you should document it as you answer it.” Baking documentation into your team’s workflow helps make information discoverable for whoever needs it, whenever they need it.
- Encourage teams to document everything on an ongoing basis
- Carve out time after every meeting to document
While your Slack might have been all work and no play before, for your remote team it will become the hub of social interactions. Create dedicated Slack channels to give folks a break from work-related conversations. The GitLab team has a number of different forms of informal communication to give the team opportunities to get to know each other better, connect beyond their shared work, and build an inclusive remote culture.
Darren also mentioned that he starts every 1-1 with a life update before diving into work details. Taking these pauses to connect with your coworkers on a personal level helps build strong connections that might be missing from a distributed team otherwise.
- Create Slack channels dedicated to non-work activities and topics
- Add life updates to 1:1 and team syncs
- Avoid celebrating long work hours
Ultimately, every team will go through a transition period as they figure out how to work remotely. Darren stresses that what works for one team, or one moment in time, might not work for another. Always be open to changing things up, experimenting with your processes, and communicating what’s working and what isn’t working with each other.
He also noted that it’s critical to have someone in charge of the remote experience — especially when external forces are pushing your organization into a remote team structure before you’re ready. “It’s important to establish a remote leadership team — it can be cross-functional, if you don’t have time to hire someone in. But there needs to be a task force focused on just getting the remote transition right,” said Darren.
- Designate a remote leadership team
- Create channels for offering feedback
- Continually look for opportunities to experiment
Taking your team remote is a challenge of workspace, communications, and mindset, and getting all the pieces in place doesn’t happen overnight. But the infrastructure you lay out now will have long-term benefits — whether you have a fully distributed team, employees spread out across a few floors or even just the occasional individual working from home.
If these takeaways have whetted your appetite for more, you’re in luck; Darren’s team at GitLab has documented their remote experience in detail. Check out GitLab’s Guide to Remote Work and their company Handbook for a deep dive into everything from the organization’s processes to how they’re building a strong remote culture.