TEVI HIRSCHHORN | March 09, 2020
I’ve been working exclusively remote for more than 7 years. For me, it lets me live the life I want, hiking and drawing in the mornings and working a shifted schedule with the US (I’m 7 hours ahead of New York). I’ve worked as a consultant, and grown and managed distributed design and product teams. In this article, I won’t go into why a remote office environment is the future of work, and all the benefits and impact to companies and employees. For this article, I’ll share some of my tips for growing and managing a remote team.
Classical recruiting is fine — posting a job on your site and working with a recruiting firm will get you candidates. The problem with posting a job for a remote position is you’ll get hundreds, if not thousands of applicants. It’s very hard to sort through all those, putting a heavy burden on a remote company’s recruiting team.
I mentor at the online design bootcamp DesignLab. That’s given me access to great up-and-coming designers, and I’ve been able to coach and mentor them on their journey. Twice, I’ve hired new grads I previously mentored. They’ve been amazing!
Since you’re a remote company, you have access to Slack, Facebook and Twitter to scout for talent. I keep track of the young talent there, and when I post jobs to my networks there, I get a great stream of quality candidates.
For a remote job, your team absolutely needs to know your expectations and objectives. This is true of a co-located job, too. Because you’re all scattered across the world, it’s important to set the expectations and objectives in video meetings, so you can read body language and facial cues, but then you need to transfer those objectives to a tool everybody has access to. That could be something straightforward like a shared Google Sheet, Trello, Asana, or whatever project management your team uses.
There are lots of tools out there for remote work! Slack, Asana, Jira, Basecamp, Zoom and Hangout… Your company should all be using a standard set of tools to collaborate and communicate. If you’re in slack, and someone else is in email, it’s like being in the same building but on different floors. In the real world, you have the benefit of walking into the same room as someone else, so in a remote team, you need to be in the same tools.
The mandate for which tools to use should be enforced by leadership. And in the hiring process, it should be clear that candidates are comfortable using the tools you use.
I worked in a team where one member preferred phone calls. He was a bit old school. He started using Slack more, but it was clear he didn’t live in Slack for communication like the rest of us, so it sometimes felt like he wasn’t part of the team. This creates a fragmented culture.
The right tool for the job
Sometimes your company starts with one tool (let’s say Asana), and people discover another tool which might be better for their team (maybe Jira, for developers).
This is tricky.
I’m in favor of having as few tools as possible for the whole company to be on. If everyone’s on the same tools, it creates a more connected culture, and allows everybody to be in the loop on what’s going on company-wide. That’s important for company culture. Unless there’s a really strong, compelling reason to jump ship on a tool, I would favor using the tool that everybody uses, instead of using the perfect tool for a specific team.
As Nick Francis, CEO of HelpScout says, “A culture’s effectiveness revolves around how information flows. Everyone needs to feel like they have access to the same information.”
It’s important for you, as the team leader, to have weekly 1:1s with each member of your team. Turn on the video, so you can see each other. Let your direct report see your face and read your body language. Have your video on, first, to set the tone. Encourage your direct report to have her video on, too.
In a remote environment, direct reports might be communicating very well on projects and tasks with the rest of the team — and even with you, as their manager. But there can be a tendency for people to start to feel isolated.
One-on-ones are a place for them to discuss things that might not be directly related to a project, to bring up an issue, and make a personal connection. Seeing each other on video will help bridge the gap and help everybody feel connected by letting you all read each other’s non-verbal cues. Show that you’re giving your undivided attention.
One-on-ones are also a place to discuss performance, upcoming objectives, expectations, and more personal matters. Do not cancel these — they are probably the most important meetings you’ll have with your direct reports.
For each 1:1 and standing meeting, I have a google doc where anybody on the team can add agenda items. It’s linked in the repeating event description and allows you to look back and see what’s been discussed. This is also useful in peer review and leveling conversations.
In a distributed workforce, dailies can be hard to schedule since everybody is on a different schedule. I like using a dedicated daily channel in Slack for everybody to post their updates. People can write a threaded reply to specific dailies if there’s a question on something.
Having the daily in a channel in Slack saves the half hour and scheduling issues, and works just as well.
It’s important for you to be clear with your team where they stand now, and where you’d like them to be. They should know what they’re working towards, for the company, and personally in their career. Make sure in your weekly one-on-ones, quarterly reviews, and annually, that you review with your DRs their progress on leveling.
Keep track on your own in Evernote, Sheets, or wherever you choose while work is ongoing and during one-on-ones to make sure you’re really tracking progress. Don’t wait for quarterly or annual reviews to try and remember where your direct reports are are holding.
If you’re doing proper dailies and one-on-ones, you don’t need time tracking. You should already know what your team is working on. Time tracking is a crutch for agencies and out of touch management. It’s better to report on your team’s output rather than time usage.
Use tools that enhance collaboration and remove communication lag. You want to remove as much friction from communication as possible. I use Figma, Google Docs, Asana and Slack, because if we’re in a meeting together, we can make and see changes happening live, while we watch. That makes the communication happen in real time.
Set and respect working hours. If you work in a team that spans many time zones, it could be helpful to set certain times and days of the week where everybody agrees there’s a certain amount of overlap. That allows everybody the ability to communicate, and provides a level of confidence that the communication will happen. Slack and email is great, but you still need live communication.
At the same time, if somebody is out at certain hours, try to respect those hours and only meet during the committed overlap times. There is no reason you need more than a couple hours of overlap to schedule meetings.
Try to give feedback via video, as much as possible! If somebody is having a bad day, even the most innocuous feedback could sound angry in their head when they read it. You never know what “tone” your feedback will be perceived!
Also, make sure all negative feedback comes with genuine positive feedback. Positive feedback could, and should be shared publicly in your company’s communication tools. Set goals for yourself as a leader on how frequently you give public praise to members of your team.
I am putting this separate from “feedback” because praise should not be directed (only) at the praised. You need to praise your team and individuals in public, privately to leadership, and to other teams. This should happen in a co-located company, too, but in a remote environment, it’s even easier for quiet introverts to go unnoticed and slip under the radar.
In a remote environment, it’s easy for people to feel lonely or isolated. Public praise in front of the company on main Slack channels, email announcements, or intranet is a great way to make members of your team feel valued and appreciated.
Don’t let praise only go to the loud visible extroverts! Proactively stick up for the introverts, too. This should be easy if you’re in touch with progress and communicate frequently. And with your one-on-ones and daily logs, you have all the notes you need.
Working with Leadership
Leadership needs to know what your team is up to, of course. They’re also usually very busy and don’t want too much detail. Aside from giving the summary view of project progress and successes, make a point of mentioning your direct reports by name, and what they’ve accomplished.
Again, it’s easy for the quiet introverts to slip under the radar. And even the folks who are visible on slack may not be communicating in the slack channels the C-suite lives in. Don’t take for granted that leadership Read More
TEVI HIRSCHHORN | June 19, 2019
I used to do the regular office life. I did the daily grind schlepping in to work, wasting 3 hours a day commuting, for years. Commuting saps my energy, and I find that I max out at 8 or 9 hours when I have to come in to an office. Not to mention the constant interruptions, time-leaks going to and from conference rooms, going out to get food, and the negotiations and collaborations to build a group lunch order. I probably only do like 4 hours of work at an office.
Working from home, I’ve embraced the lifestyle and can keep my energy up all day, and work 16 hours straight if I have to. No, it’s not a good thing to work 16 hours straight, and I don’t do it all the time, but the point is, I can keep my energy high all day long, and still spend time with my family and friends. I’m orders of magnitude more productive working from home.
There are lots of articles and tips about working from home, like this one in Fast Company, featuring Jason Fried of Basecamp, Clark Valberg of InVision, Sara Sutton of FlexJobs, and Zack Onisko of Dribbble. Yes, as they say, have a separate space to do your work, with a door that closes. Make sure you have tools and space to work productively. But beyond that, here are some of my own tips, after working in a remote or distributed team for 7 years how I stay focused, productive and keep my energy level high.
1. I wear long pants, collared shirt and shoes every day. No lazy pajama days for me. Seems like a crazy waste of work-from-home benefits, right? Dressing like I’m going to work puts me in a serious frame of mind and keeps me focused. I only switch to shorts or flip-flops if it’s later in the evening. Then, instead of feeling tired like the day won’t end, I get a little burst of energy and actually relax. I may even join a late call with a glass of Anejo Tequilla or brandy.
2. I often have back-to-back meetings with people from Israel, UK, NY and California — a 10 time-zone spread. I have an elliptical in front of my desk to keep me moving on those meetings where I may be doing more listening than talking. I’m not trying to set any records, but I try to do 2 to 5 kilometers a day. That’s “free exercise” which takes nothing out of my calendar, keeps me healthy, and keeps my energy level up.
3. When I need to do a solid think session while trying to crack some difficult problem, I’ll cook myself a fancy lunch. It’s the best way to get the creative juices flowing! Sometimes I’ll just take a hot shower — nothing like a midday shower to clear your head and think. Neither of these are available options for the standard workplace.
4. Adjustable height desk and ergonomic Steelcase chair makes my office more comfortable than any WeWork in the world. I can sit (or stand) at my desk all day, and my chair is easily my most-used work tool. My only regret about spending $1,000 on my chair was not doing it sooner! I used to have to lie on the tile floor to relieve back pain. My Steelcase saved my back!
5. Have a library. I take the time to read every day, but even just having a nice collection of books — on topics like business, art and design — keeps me focused, relaxed and inspired, and sets a good environment. I have a collection of Veranda and Communication Arts magazines, as well. Flipping through those for a few minutes always gives me a shot of creativity and inspiration.
6. It’s easy to be at my desk 16 hours straight on hectic days. Although I work from home, work can creep up and I end up missing dinners and bed time with my kids. Yea, sad. So, I schedule “out of office meetings” to automatically decline meetings from others at certain times, to make sure I spend time with my family. Sometimes that hour and a half is a morning hike with my wife, sometimes it’s game night with the kids.
7. Turn on the video when conferencing with coworkers. It closes the distance and let’s you have an authentic interaction. You won’t always look your best. That’s the authenticity you’re trying to communicate.
8. Get a fast internet connection and a good headset. Remove as much friction as possible from communication and collaboration.
9. Get a marker board. I think some people aren’t prepared to work from home. They have their laptop, pens and notebooks but then they sit at their desk all day. I have a big marker board for standing up and sketching out ideas. It makes my workday more mobile and active, and keeps the juices flowing.
10. Business socializing. As someone who does business remotely, “networking” is important, since most of my time is spent by myself in my private home office. I personally hate the word “networking”: it feels cold and robotic. I value authentic friendships and prefer to work with people I know and like. I go to conferences and local events from time to time, but I really love to throw a barbecue. I’ll usually invite a handful of people I know well, and a handful of people I don’t; or I’ll ask a guest to bring someone who they think I should know. Lots of great ideas and conversations flow at these gatherings, and worse case scenario, everybody enjoys a cold beer and char-broiled burger — or fish or vegan options, as have been requested once in a while. My barbecues have become somewhat legendary with some high-tech stars dropping in on occasion, and the relationships made while having a good time, eating and relaxing are much more authentic than a 30 minute coffee meeting. I’ve become very close friends with many people who’ve shown up on my patio who I didn’t know before, and learned a lot relating to management, business, marketing and investing.
By curating a group of like-minded peers who share my work ethic and business values, and rotating in new faces, I maintain a better business social life than I’d get in an office.
11. Make time for other outlets and social life. Working from home can sometimes feel isolating, even with a bi-monthly barbecue. The remote life means you also never leave your office, so your hours could run late into the evening, especially in a global team. Make sure you get out there in the world, and spend time with friends and family. Don’t become a hermit!
12. Don’t forget to utilize the perks of working from-home-life! My kids benefit from access to top of the line hardware and software for creatives. I make sure to teach them how to use my tools, and hopefully they have an appreciation — and maybe even an interest — in what I do. Read More