Alex Aitken

@alexaitken

Being a Remote-Enabled Team

Being a remote-enabled team doesn’t mean you are remote-first. It means that you’re open to your colleagues occasionally working (or maybe full time) from home (or wherever). Today, I’m going to explain how my team at Careem is a remote-enabled team and what that means for our work and culture.

It’s scary

Having employees work remotely is scary for management. How can they trust you to do your work if they can’t see you? At Careem, we already have multiple offices that people work from. It’s, even more so, the case for my team, where the product manager and designer work out of Dubai, and the development team work out of Berlin.

We work on trust. We trust that we’ll produce the same output no matter where we are. We talked as a team — is it possible for some of us to work remotely (some of the time). The answer was a resounding “yes”! But — not everyone wants to work remotely. So, you can’t force remote-work on your colleagues.

As the leader of the team, I find that being so flexible has enabled my colleagues to make their own decisions and be owners of their time and space. It’s created an environment where people can asynchronously and synchronously work.

Tools

When working remotely, a lot of the time communication will be asynchronous. So, you need excellent communication tools to help facilitate the conversation.

At Careem, we use Slack. I know, I know, everyone uses Slack these days. Our email is only for “official” things like getting approvals or calendar invites. We don’t have too many rules around our slack culture. Most teams have a public and a private channel. There are channels for the regions (i.e. Berlin), and there are channels for announcements and IT chat and devops and help.

We also use a video meeting tool called Zoom. We have bi-weekly meetings with the entire Careem staff where we can hear business updates and cool things in tech or tech updates. My team also uses this for retrospectives, stand-ups, backlog grooming, and sprint planning. Video chat is much more real-time and energetic than just text.

The Careem for Business team has a shared (google) calendar where we put things like holidays and if someone is going to be remote for a longer period. It helps to know where and when people are.

Careem is also unique, in that we also have an internal CMS where news about Careem and announcements as well as stories are posted for all to read. I find that this helps me build a connection to the company even though my development team is not based in the middle east.

Communication

When we work remotely, we make sure that anyone on our team can easily contact us. That means, announcing in Slack, either the day before or on the day that you’re working from home. Making sure you attend all meetings (that you needs to — not all are required), including asking for a “Zoom” link when the team holds local meetings.

We also announce on slack when a pull request is ready to be reviewed. It’s just easier to find it because reviews are usually done when people are in-between tasks or out-of-flow state.

If you have a problem, and you’re working remotely, please do send someone (or your team) a slack message. Don’t just sit there playing with your thumbs. You wouldn’t do that in the office, so you don’t do it remotely either.

One thing you may have to watch out for is silos. You’ll find that overheard chat like two people discussing a code review in a room or general tech topics that randomly sprout up will be missed. The “water-cooler” banter will go missing too. It’s not all rosy!

Be Personal

Just because you’re a remote team, doesn’t mean you don’t need to know how someone is doing or what’s going on in their lives. Be personal and ask how was their day. Be a human and ask if everything is ok.

When someone is sick, the little things count. We usually send a quick slack saying we can’t make it. Send them your wishes back. It helps everyone feel like their not alone.

Meet up sometimes. Have a team lunch. Go for a coffee. It’ll help bond your team and build the trust for a remote-enabled team. Recently, our product manager visited our Berlin office. We went for lunch as a team twice that week. It’s fun and helps the connection.

Rules

There are no set rules for being remote-enabled or being a remote-only team. It really shouldn’t be decided at an organisational level; it should be decided at the team level.

Are you okay with your team members being occasionally away?

How would it work if they’re in a different time zone?

When should people be available?

Do you have on call?

Do you have VPNs?

There are a lot of questions and rules to decide before you embark on this as a team. But I think it’s an awesome privilege to have access to and it enables the team to take ownership of how they do their job.

TL;DR

Make sure you have trust in the team. It’s scary to allow your peers to work from somewhere other than the office, but it’ll be worth it.

Use the right tools for your jobs. Slack is great for asynchronous conversation. Video calling is great for synchronous. Shared calendars are useful for planning.

Keep all communication channels open. It’s better to over-communicate than have someone sitting a whole day doing nothing.

Be there for your colleagues. It makes the day a bit better if things are a little more personal.

Finally, make sure you set the grounds rules. There’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all, so make sure you cover the bases when someone is going to work remotely for a longer period.

Originally published at www.alexaitken.nz on September 17, 2018.

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