4 Ways to Manage Remote Teams

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Building things at Tara AI. YCombinator W15 Alum. Forbes 30 under 30 Enterprise Tech. #legolife

It's a challenging time for teams and organizations that have suddenly jolted to working remotely. For startups and larger organizations, helping their teams with a generous dose of empathy, to enable productivity, is key.
Whether you're already a remote org or moving that way due to the current social climate, here are a few things we've done at Tara.AI to shift quickly into a high functioning remote team.

1. Support the WFH Life

Supporting your cross-functional teams during this trying time, is important. Find out where and when individuals need the most help and support. Are people having trouble finding or buying groceries? Can you create a quick google spreadsheet to share stores and outlets that are in stock at certain times? Is there a way to create a quick barter channel on slack to enable bartering of certain goods and items for local teams?
These are just a few things we've tried. Here's more:
I can't stress on this enough- in times like this- it's important to continuously over-communicate. Documentation of process and transparency across teams is important. One of the first things we did as a team, during our all-hands, was share a detailed COVID guide and remote productivity practices, alongside our current cash situation. It's important for the team to feel unified, and understand that leadership is continuing to #LFH (lead from home). Since the situation is ever-evolving, we continue to share updates daily, and weekly. Communicating solutions over issues is key.
Work stations at home
Enabling ergonomic work stations at home is helpful for your teams. Operations should be asking team members if they need desks, monitors or any other "gear" to effectively work from home. Being hunched over a dinner table can hurt- trust me on this one! Quick tip: Best buy is in stock for computer tables, monitors and more.
 David Keith- our lead engineer's WFH setup
Developing a remote culture
At Tara AI, we've set up a daily recurring "optional lunch room" on Zoom for team members to get together and discuss daily work life. More on this below.
Setting Expectations with Scrum Daily Standup
You need clear expectations about deadlines and daily work, especially if your team is scattered across the globe. Daily standup bots on slack can help with this. It may even be as simple as having each virtual team member answer questions like:
What did you do yesterday?
What are you working on today?
Do you have any roadblocks?
This can centralize information flow and highlight any shared issues or opportunities for stakeholders to align priorities each day.
Be Flexible
Part of the benefit of working from home is that your team can enjoy flexibility. This has pluses right now, during COVID-19 isolation, and for people who want unique schedules or accommodations, especially with schools out. Simple statuses on slack or google calendar availability allows everyone to know who is available when.

2. Work Structure for Virtual Teams

The right project management software will help you streamline this, but having a solid work structure is essential for virtual teams. Remote workers need to quickly be able to get in the loop on projects. Whether you’re creating an app, doing software development or programming, it’s vital that everyone’s on the same page. In addition to other things, this includes:
  • Naming systems
  • Documentation
  • Tagging
  • Workflow
It should be clear, at a glance, who’s working on what, who had it last, who’s getting it next and when it’s done.
 Daily dashboard to allow focus on specific tasks
Monthly milestones, weekly sprints and daily priorities
Starting with monthly milestones (set at the end of the prior month), we break down into weekly sprints. Sprints, are a recurring time boxed event that can be set up weekly, bi-weekly or monthly on Tara.ai, depending on your release cycle. We use our platform for weekly engineering and growth sprints, which allows for tasks and priorities to be set in a shorter time frame. In our case, going remote was easier than most, as we already had an ongoing cadence for monthly milestones and weekly sprints. With our dashboard, each team member has their priorities set up daily, due to ongoing tasks in a weekly sprint cycle. This also helps with daily stand-ups.

3. Pair Programming

Pair programming is an ideal process for virtual teams. Historically, pair programmers used one workstation. However, you can accomplish this classic, agile software development process at two different workstations by coding at the same time in a virtual environment through screen sharing. Many businesses see coding practices improve with this level of collaboration.
Virtual Pair Programming Options
There are several available platforms now for live, pair programming. You can use things like Microsoft’s Visual Studio Live Share, which uses a shared codebase with individual dev environments. All changes are seen in real time. Codeanywhere is another option that is browser-based and provides editing, revision tracking and instant link sharing, enabling distributed and collaborative programming.

4. Work Asynchronously: Reduce Isolation

One con for certain people who work remotely is the isolation. When the rest of your team is in different time zones and working on different projects, loneliness can be real. This dynamic has led to the rise of co-working spaces. There are things leaders can do to offset isolation.
Time Zone Issues for Virtual Teams
Working asynchronously across time zones simply means that the overlap is the focus. Whichever hours of the day everyone is online and active is the time that is used for collaboration and connection. Managers should optimize this time for both essential communication and team building. 

Tips for Distributed Teams

We actively cultivate a friendly, collaborative, communicative work environment. That doesn’t happen by accident, we put intent into doing our best for our team, no matter how far apart we are. There are specific things we choose to do and spend our time on that contribute to a healthy, virtual work environment. 
Effective daily standups
They’re fast, fun, and frequent. Daily standups provide a level set for all stakeholders in a project. A daily standup helps each virtual team member set their day with the right tasks. This may need to happen first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, depending on your time zones.
 15 minutes of Zoom time with the furbabies!
Furbaby fifteen
At Tara AI, our software facilitates things like release management for software engineers. We have the best and brightest work-from-homers killing it every day. High expectations deserve high enjoyment, right? So, we have fun sharing our lives.
One way we do this is by having our pets join us on a video call, because the best cameo is a furry one. Even from far away, we can see a slice of each other’s lives by sharing our family members.
Let’s do lunch
One thing that virtual teams miss out on is grabbing a bite to eat together. This downtime in between official work doesn’t have to be a missed opportunity for remote workers. We catch a meal and a chat together through virtual lunches. 
These video conferences are friendly and full of important connections and collaboration. There is no agenda or plan. We truly just have fun and get to know each other better when we connect “off hours” for a few minutes.
Our San Jose All-hands on Zoom
Workout Wednesdays and other fun stuff
A few things we do regularly:
  • Work out Wednesdays: because the teams who sweat together… get in shape. This includes HIIT Workouts, Zumba and Yoga. Just find your favorite workout on Youtube and enable 30 minutes on Zoom to work out together as a group.
  • Team member house tour to check out each others WFH lives
  • Showcase current work by featuring what we’re working on
  • Town Hall sessions with our Ops and HR team

Supporting Virtual Workers During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote workers face unique advantages. Because we already work remotely, we don’t have to cope with a transition. There are important ways that virtual teams can still support each other. At Tara AI, we’ve mobilized our team to connect on ways to get what they need, give back and get distracted as we face a season of quarantine:
  • #corona-food-swap channel on our digital messaging system. This helps local team members exchange groceries. 
  • Circulating a where-to-get-groceries spreadsheet and sharing it with all members.
  • Sharing volunteer/fostering/donation opportunities. 
  • Games (WFH during a global pandemic bingo, Skribbl.io, Runescape and more fun ideas)
These are a few of the things we've tried that have helped smooth the transition to being a fully remote team. Let me know what's worked for you by tweeting at me - I'm on @ibamasood.
Onwards and upwards!
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Building things at Tara AI. YCombinator W15 Alum. Forbes 30 under 30 Enterprise Tech. #legolife


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