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Posted by: David Spinks - 23 June 2010 / 11:08
“What is it like to work with a remote team?” It’s a question that I get asked all the time. It’s a relatively new movement that is growing exponentially as a model for business teams. It seems like every day a new tool comes out that allows people to connect and communicate in new ways, recreationally and professionally.
Our entire team at Scribnia works remotely. We don’t have an office and we’re scattered across the globe from NY, to Montreal, to Romania, Ukraine, Dominican Republic and back to New Jersey. So we know a thing or two about working remotely and I’d like to share some of our experiences and tips with you.
First the tools. Here’s what we use:
Yammer and email are used pretty interchangeable for us. We try to use Yammer as much as possible though, so that the entire team can follow along with what everyone is working on. We use it regularly to share and provide feedback on new projects and ideas.
We have team meetings as well as meetings with others on skype. Conference calls are a lifesaver for us. Skype is also the little bit of pseudo face to face interaction we get thanks to video chat.
All new projects are added as tasks to Jira and assigned to specific members of the team. It is our organization and reporting tool to make sure projects are on track.
4. Google Wave
This tool is still experimental for us. I’ve started to create new waves for individual projects so that we can organize new mockups and feedback coming in throughout the course of each project.
There are tons of tools out there that may work better for you. I hope you’ll share some in the comments if you know of any.
So what is it like have a full team working remotely? Is it beneficial or detrimental? I’ll break it down for you.
- Flexibility. We can all work from home. My boss can spend time with his new born baby in Montreal while I get to stick around in NY and do my thing. The freedom of working from home and not having to relocate is definitely a plus.
- Dollah Dollah billz yall. It saves a lot of money not having to pay for an office space, for the commute, and we can outsource a lot of work.
- Access to more communities. Big blogging event going down in Montreal? We’re covered. One in New York (like every day)? We’re still covered.
- Experience. Since businesses love to save money, and running a remote team saves a lot of money, it’s pretty clear to me that more and more teams are going to go virtual. Better to get the experience now of working with a remote team and learn how to use the tools efficiently.
- Mobility. Many of the tools we use are available as mobile apps as well. Since our entire team is using these apps, as long as I can access them from my phone, it’s not that different from working at my desk. It allows me to attend events, and be on the move, while still staying on track with my team. With a team that works in an office, odds are they don’t work primarily on applications that you can access from your phone.
- Team collaboration. It’s much harder to collaborate with your team members when you’re not collaborating in person…for a few reasons.
- You can’t see a persons face, which means you can’t fully understand their reactions and emotions in a conversation.
- Quick and easy tasks are no longer quick or easy. It’s much easier for me to walk over 5 feet, point something out on a screen to my colleague, and have them fix it up really quick. When working remotely, you have to get in touch with them, set up a time to meet and discuss, and use a screenshare to explain what you mean.
- When you’re surrounded by your coworkers, you’re more motivated. Surrounding yourself with other motivated and energetic people will inspire you. Sitting by yourself in your bedroom, not so much.
- Time zone issues. My colleagues in Romania probably hate me for all the late night messages I send them. ”The sun is still shining in NY!” They get me back by waking me up nice and early on occasion.
- Office relationships. I don’t know about you, but I’m the type that really appreciates being able to go out and grab a beer with my team after a long hard day of work. Getting to know your colleagues on a personal level is a lot harder with a remote team.
So like everything else…it’s a trade off.
Here are some tips for staying efficient:
- Meet with at least one person on your team every day.
- Have a weekly team meeting with as many of your team members as possible.
- Have a home base tool where everyone can see what other employees are working on. As I mentioned, we use Yammer.
- Use project management tools to keep all your projects on time and on track. We use Jira.
- Try to maintain as much personal interaction as possible. When we write out emails, they tend to lack emotion. So, use skype’s video chat whenever possible, or have actual phone calls.
- Establish an efficient recording and reporting structure. Your boss isn’t there with you, so it’s important that they’re aware of what you’re working on.
It’s been an iterative process for us. It’s not something you can just implement and see the same kind of efficiency you had with an office. It’s a learning experience and we’re getting more efficient over time.
It’s up to the managers to keep the team on track and maintain ongoing communication. It’s up to the employees to stay motivated and get their job done without a manager looking over their shoulder.
Do you work on a virtual team? What tools do you use? What has your experience been?
More resources for remote teams: