Tips for Working Remotely

Three ways to boost success when the workforce is dispersed

At Astound Commerce, my engineering team and I have been working remotely for years. This is increasingly common in our industry, and as a professional services organization specializing in digital transformations for global brands, we believe we can work anywhere while delivering everywhere. We do it every day.

Given the current state of affairs globally and the pandemic coronavirus COVID-19, many people find themselves—and their teams—working remotely by mandate rather than by choice. Here are three important tips for success.

1. Have meetings, and use your video camera.

Schedule regular meetings with your team, and turn that webcam on when you meet. There are many benefits to this approach.

  • Meetings go much more smoothly if attendees are able to see visual cues as to who has something to say, and when. Interruptions are far less frequent.
  • Even if some people are colocated in an office and others are remote, meetings are smoother if everyone joins in the same manner (by video, rather than with some gathered in a conference room while others dial in remotely). This lessens the inevitability of two simultaneous conversations during the meeting—one between conference-room attendees and one via phone.
  • Seeing people face to face in video meetings builds rapport and relationships much more effectively than talking to voices and dark screens while you multitask.
  • Finally—and I know my wife and daughter appreciate this—it encourages you to get dressed every day and be presentable. Members of my remote team, for example, never know when we might be asked to join a video conference call with a client, so it is wise to be prepared.

Establishing a “video on by default” practice helps in many, many ways. We don’t make this a hard-and-fast rule, but it is encouraged.

2. Learn and follow messaging etiquette.

The nature of asynchronous communication—be it via email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or another tool—is that there’s no guarantee someone will see your message when you want them to, as important as it might be to you, the sender.

First, as a manager, don’t be surprised if you need to repeat yourself, in multiple communication channels, regarding decisions or directions for your team. Not everyone manages email and messaging systems in the same way. If you have a weekly or biweekly team meeting, be prepared to review such announcements in that meeting. Some will have missed an announcement, and even those who have seen every message might appreciate an opportunity to ask questions about the item in real time.

Second, it’s important for everyone to have an understanding of good messaging etiquette. In the case of Slack, there are powerful shortcuts for “blasting” a message to multiple people by mentioning @here or @channel. My team’s etiquette is that these blasts should be avoided unless something is truly urgent. For messages that are important but can be seen anytime in the next day, I encourage my team to pin the message instead (which flags it as important), and optionally follow up with an email. This limits distractions and interruptions so we can hopefully achieve some amount of flow.

3. Use the cloud.

Finally, take advantage of cloud-based collaboration tools. Here are some of my favorites.

Google Docs: Being able to simultaneously edit and manage various documents is critical to many of our team processes.

Confluence: Confluence meeting notes are a great way to prepare for meetings, take notes, and capture action items.

Jira or Trello: With remote-first, online-only workstreams, it can be hard to visualize the pending work under discussion. That’s where task management software such as Jira and Trello come in. These tools are all about visualizing work. While the typical use case is for a software product or project management scenario, these tools can also be used to prioritize any set of tasks you and your team need to do. Don’t be afraid to spin up a Jira project or Trello board and get your work visually organized, even for non-software-related internal initiatives.

With the proper tools and communication, you can build and maintain a level of efficiency and trust that has your remote teams operating even more efficiently than colocated teams. That may be more important than ever in the days to come.

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Kyle Montgomery

Kyle Montgomery is vice president of engineering for Astound Commerce North America.

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