Developer relations manager at Skyeng - EdTech company
Managing a remote team can be difficult, but if you do it correctly, your team can have an enjoyable and productive work-from-home life. My team is scattered all over the world. Sometimes I can be discussing a bug with a QA engineer who is 6,034 miles away from me, in the US, while I’m here in Siberia. But in just 20 minutes, we’ll find a solution and in a week, the bug will be fixed.
Before Skyeng, I managed projects in an office and got used to the fact that I can always come up to someone and discuss an issue in person. So I hesitated a bit before accepting the offer. For me, it meant just throwing away all the tools I used at work. I’m an extravert, and I really need to see people, talk to them, feel their moods, and manage a team face-to-face. But in only nine months, I discovered many perks of remote work — all thanks to these simple rules.
Clear routines, transparent processes, and personal contact are the main benefits of the office environment. An office gives you space for meetings, team building activities, and communication. At home, when you work alone and only see people in their profile pictures, it’s easy to lose touch with your team. The key to an efficient remote collaboration is the right environment.
1. Establish shared working hours
When you’re located in different time zones, it can be hard to work together. You may find it difficult to discuss issues, assign tasks, or collaborate with your team members, as well as other departments.
But it doesn't mean that you have to work according to one time zone. Just establish 4–5 hours that all team members share and can communicate within. For us, it’s 11 a.m. till 4 p.m.
2. Establish time limits for replying to messages
When I just started my work at Skyeng, I got very annoyed with people who didn’t reply straight away — I thought they were avoiding new tasks. But then I look at the situation from their perspective. They could be working on an issue, and my messages would be like someone yelling into their ear, “Reply! Reply now!”
So we agreed that we reply to messages in up to three hours. If someone’s working on a big task, they can put a status “Will reply after 5 p.m.” It sets clear expectations and makes everyone comfortable.
3. Aim for the result, not for the process
Let’s say, an employee finishes all their tasks — two hours before the end of their workday. The person gets anxiety: if I’m not doing anything, they’re gonna think I’m lazy and fire me. Their boss gets anxiety too: if I don’t watch employees, they don’t work.
Such a paradigm leads to pointless conflicts. To cut them off, we established that we judge each other’s work only by the results. For example, I promised my boss I’d finish this article in two weeks. Until then, no one’s gonna check on me or calculate my working hours. Completing the task and meeting the deadline are the only things that matter.
4. Give honest feedback
Honest doesn’t necessarily mean bad. When a team leader says “This could have been done better,” it may seem like they’re criticizing you. But the situation is more nuanced.
We believe in the “a bad decision, not a bad professional” principle. This puts things into perspective and helps you see that you’re not being criticized and that these people just want you to grow. Some negative feedback is inevitable, but in such cases, we always talk through video chat to have more context and see each other’s emotions.
At lunch, in the break room, over the water cooler — an office presents a lot of opportunities to talk about work. However, when you work remotely, you can plan these discussions and don’t get distracted during the day.
1. The person organizing a meeting is responsible for it. They add an event to the calendar, send invitations, prepare the agenda, and write the follow-up. By the way, most of our meetings last only 30 minutes.
2. Every meeting must have a goal, an agenda, and a follow-up. We always share a meeting agenda in advance. This way, we don’t waste 15–20 minutes just to set up the goal and background but dive right in.
In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why I should write down the follow-up for every meeting. Until I had a very unpleasant experience. In September 2019, we set up a process with another team. It worked well, but in December, just two days before my first vacation, something went wrong. I talked to that team saying something like, “But guys, we agreed on that.” But they didn’t recall anything. I scrolled back in the work chat only to realize that I didn't write down the results of that meeting in September and now nothing could prove my words. We had to set up a new process — much more urgently this time.
3. Turn your camera on. Emotions are the key to teamwork. Talking to a profile picture feels weird, while a video chat gives a sense of unity and cooperation.
Another thing is that it highlights problems people have with meetings. If someone turns their camera off to make a sandwich, maybe the meeting is not so important for them. Try to change the format to make it interesting and useful for every participant and not to waste anyone’s time.
4. Record meetings for future use. In March 2020, I came across a feature in a project that didn’t seem right. I couldn’t understand why it had been realized that way. I could go around and ask people about it. But luckily I had a recording of a meeting when that decision had been made. I listened to it a couple of times and got the idea. The problem was solved.
1. Short supportive meetings
Once, we worked on a large cross-team project. I was worried we wouldn’t meet the deadline because we were falling behind. Then, in just two weeks, my team completed their part and we finished on time. Trying to understand how they did it, I joined their retrospective meeting. Almost every team member noted that short stand-ups helped to sync, feel supported, and move forward faster.
2. Regular retrospectives
We hold retrospective meetings twice a week adjusting the agenda and format to the team’s needs. It boosts collaboration helping to make and realize decisions everyone supports and to achieve results that matter to each member.
3. Regular tech and business reviews
We hold two 45-minute long reviews a week.
At business reviews, we sync with our customers: product, marketing, and sales teams. We make sure that we understand the task and are going in the right direction. Tech reviews help to set rules and principles within the team, for example, how to migrate data from one CRM to another.
Regular reviews help to form a clear definition of done thus minimizing conflicts at the stage of development and time to market. The minimization of changes and corrections is another benefit.
Shared working space is the key to the success of such meetings. We use Miro for mind maps, Notion for project documentation, and Figma for mock-ups. These three tools are easy to use on any device; you don’t have to install Photoshop to open a .psd file a graphic designer sent you.
4. Public praise
Whenever one of my team members completes a cool project, I tag them in a work chat with a message “Look how cool! This person did great!” And if a data analyst finds numbers we didn’t know about that help us develop a project, I’ll praise them too.
Public praise works in two ways: it motivates the person while also giving the whole team a feeling that we’re working on something great.
5. Hobby clubs and speaking clubs
We have a Slack channel about workouts where people share their results and challenge each other. Seeing your colleagues achieve great results and knowing you could do the same ignites competition.
Coffee-buddies is another channel we have. It has a bot that automatically matches the members and suggests meeting for a cup of coffee or tea.
My team has a chat in the Telegram messenger. We share movie recommendations and set up offline meetings, for example, to go to an exhibition.
6. Online (and offline) parties
For each birthday in the team, we create a secret chat and choose a gift. Typically, it’s a gift certificate for books, sports equipment, escape rooms, or something else.
Skyeng also holds offline office parties several times a year with people coming from all over the globe. For the company’s birthday, parties are also organized by local communities all over the country.
Some teams get together once a year and go on a work trip — just for a change. In 2018, my team went to Abkhazia. Last year, we worked in Kazakhstan.
During quarantine, we started to meet online more often to support each other. This really helps to feel united and work as a team.
If you were forced to work remotely because of the lockdown, it can be hard to stay connected with your team — I feel you. Try doing something from these lists and soon you’ll feel better and find that inspiration to work again.
Article by Oleg Krasikov, Project Manager at Skyeng
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