With the threat of COVID-19, many employers and teams around the world are braving the uncharted territory of doing their jobs from home. Our Web Chefs hail from 17 states and we have been fully remote, or distributed, for four years. In the time that we’ve been a distributed company, our team and clients have continuously touted how well we “do remote.” As experts in remote work, we’d like to share some of our preferred tools and best practices for working-from-home novices, along with tips for keeping your company culture intact when your team is dispersed.
Maintaining the human connection
At Four Kitchens, we use Zoom for team-wide meetings, quick chats, and demos with our clients. Need a phone line that isn’t hardwired? Zoom can do that, too, and you can toggle from phone to video and back as needed—all on your mobile device or desktop through the app. No matter what video conferencing tool you choose to use, encourage your team to turn their video on so that everyone stays engaged face-to-face.
Keep conversations organized
Slack is a tool you may already utilize at your organization, whether remote or not. We use Slack at Four Kitchens for more synchronous or timely communication. Think of it like tapping someone on the shoulder or stopping by someone’s desk. Team members can “pin” important items to the channel and thread underneath certain topics to keep the channels informative and less cluttered.
It’s probably good to note that Slack is a great place to start a conversation that might end with a meeting being scheduled or an impromptu Zoom call when the issue is too complex to be solved in chat-based communication.
Your filing cabinet in the cloud
In order to collaborate while in different locations, use tools like Google Drive or Dropbox. These cloud-based storage tools enable teams to live-edit and collaborate in documents, ensuring high productivity. Using cloud-based team storage also means you don’t have to save anything to your desktop, which can ensure that team members don’t get blocked in their work, wondering where to find a file. By implementing cloud storage, you will be able to let go of a lot of physical documents and you may find that you don’t need that old filing cabinet after all!
Caring is oversharing—use more words
Communicate, communicate, communicate! As a distributed team, there is no such thing as too much communication. One of our mottos at Four Kitchens is, “Say it seven times.” This is true when you are working together in the same location, but even more so working remotely. As a distributed team we apply this lesson by saying ‘it’ in different ways, using different modes of communication. Over time, you might learn that certain people respond better to different types of delivery. Company-wide announcements are often made in a Zoom call, an announcements channel via Slack, and also via email so that it is easy to refer back to and well-documented.
More so than in an office, a remote team member will be forced to ask if they’re not sure what the answer is to a question. Impress upon your team the importance of clarification without always having cues like tone and body language to interpret language.
Transparency is key
We encourage our team to use public channels instead of relying on direct messaging by championing transparency and emphasizing the importance of making sure all appropriate parties are in the loop. This practice ensures we’re all on the same page. Think of public channel usage as saying something to a group of people in an office, whereas a DM is behind closed doors.
Our team members are also encouraged to keep up-to-date and accurate calendars. We block our calendars for work meetings, personal appointments, and protected work time. Overcommunicating your availability promotes trust and ensures that you can address your priorities and meet your deadlines. When employees transparently reflect how they use their time, it promotes a culture of trust—something that we’ve learned to give and get in return.
One more thing you’ll need to be transparent about is your own experience. Unlike an office setting where you’ll be able to tell when someone is having a bad day and ask them to chat so you can help support them, your team will need to proactively and openly communicate regarding personal successes and challenges.
Don’t lose social interactions among the team
You might be asking yourself, “What will happen to our culture and rapport when we never see each other face to face anymore?” When you go remote, this is the first thing that goes, so you have to be proactive and block off time for socializing and team bonding. We have a team-wide meeting every Monday and a second small group call on Thursdays, with groups that are randomly assigned and shuffled each quarter. In the teamwide meeting, I’ll share announcements and celebrations, we all give kudos for things we’d like to recognize and share appreciation for, and if time permits, we’ll ask a question that folks can chime in and answer, like “What book are you reading right now?”
Since there’s no watercooler, make a virtual one! A short list of Slack channels to discuss interests, like families, pets, movies, and television, can help start the fun. Share photos from your day and short snippets, kind of like Instagram or Twitter, but just for your team. Sometimes it comes down to individual initiative as well. Encourage your team to schedule a coffee chat with a coworker or two in the morning. By leveraging business tools as social tools, you’ll feel more connected to one another—together even when apart.
Let us help you learn from our experience
At Four Kitchens, we’re committed to keeping up work with our clients, even if their offices need to close. We want to be good partners in helping them navigate how to work with us remotely. As open source contributors, we have always been compelled to share our tools with communities who could benefit and we hope these tips help someone put the right framework and perspective on the challenges ahead.