COVID-19 – our top tips and learnings on remote working

Are you stuck at home as your office has temporarily closed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak? Or do you run a business and are considering remote working for your team?

Here at SkedGo our globally distributed team has been collaborating remotely and working with international clients for over ten years now, so nothing much has changed for us in this current crisis. Our work processes will continue to run smoothly, like before, since we have an established and robust decentralised business structure and remote working procedures and processes already in place. This enables us to continue to effectively function remotely on a global basis.

So how do we run a global, successful and fast-moving tech business remotely? 

We share our top tips on remote team work here:

1. Get the right tools, but not too many

A couple of years ago we did a review of the communication tools we use as a team and found there were too many channels running in parallel. If you have too many channels, it can lead to redundant, repetitive communication and inefficiencies.

Here’s how we do it:

Our primary internal comms channels are Slack (for day-to-day, announcements, short-lived comms) and Redmine (task list, issue tracker and tech knowledge base).

Supporting channels are email (mainly for external comms), Zoom (for team and client calls), Notion (for company manuals and general knowledge base) and GitHub/GitLab (for code review). We use Google Drive, docs, sheets & slides for collaborating on proposals and other items. 

For emergencies we use phone/SMS and when at events we often communicate via WhatsApp with attending colleagues. Otherwise these channels are discouraged.

2. Make meetings smart, not long

As with physical meetings, letting them run for too long doesn’t make for quality sessions or higher productivity. Our meetings usually take between 30 to 60 minutes and everyone makes an effort to get to the point as quickly as possible to not waste time.

It helps that we take notes of every meeting, together with action items and also deadlines. They are shared with the team in Notion or Slack. That way the next meeting can start with going through the action items, everyone is up to date and task owners are held accountable.

3. Make sure everyone gets heard (and add a bit of fun)

Some team members have a lot more team communication than others, depending on their roles. We want to make sure everyone in the team feels heard and valued so we set up a monthly team call with the whole team – across five time zones. Yes, that’s possible 🙂

Here we provide brief updates on business, tech and marketing and then move on to the fun part, where everyone shares a little about themselves. This is usually done as some kind of icebreaker, e.g. ‘which famous person would you want to have dinner with and why?’ or ‘what are you most excited about in the new year?’ That way we all find out something personal about each other, learn about our different cultures, preferences and hobbies – the kind of stuff you might otherwise talk about in the tea kitchen. Everyone gets one minute to talk, so even with 30 people on the call it’s not too long.

We also have very flat hierarchies and the executive team is accessible to everyone. That way communication paths are short and staff can raise issues quickly and efficiently.

4. Let’s be honest, not everyone is suited to remote working

Since we are a remote business, we hire people who are suited to this way of working. Not everyone has that luxury or feels comfortable to work alone, especially when you have to deal with an immediate crisis, like how to suddenly transition from an office environment to a work-from-home culture because of a looming pandemic like COVID-19. There’s no way around it, it requires discipline and self-motivation. 

Our team has collected a few words of wisdom to help:

Marjorie, our fabulous VA who is working from the Philippines, recommends setting yourself a work schedule, as though you were in the office. Sydney-based Tim Cooper, one of our founders and the algorithm brain behind TripGo, likes to call or IM colleagues, in order to stay connected. Aaron, one of our star developers, currently in China, suggests closing the door and using noise cancelling headphones to aid concentration. He also has some tough love to give out when motivation fails: “Remind yourself that you’re getting paid!” 

Sandra, our Head of Marketing who is working out of London likes to set up her work place the night before. “Make sure your desk is tidy, everything is set up, and there is no reason to procrastinate. If you need to work through a bigger task, something that requires a lot of focus or is just plain tedious, I found the pomodoro method works wonders. It mixes short distraction periods with 30 minute bursts of focus, which can be very productive (there is of course an app for that). Also, set yourself deadlines and share them with others so you’re accountable – that way you create the necessary pressure to get a job finished.” 

Matt, another member of our awesome developer team, and a Californian living and working in Nuremberg, Germany, finds creating the right mindset important: “I find it psychologically helpful to always get dressed as though I were going to an office before starting work in the morning, and to only work from my home office, not from the sofa or anywhere else.

Claus, co-founder and chairman, who mainly works out of his Sydney home, recommends: “I encourage the use of RescueTime to track productive time in the background. I use it myself. It learns which sites and tools are productive and which aren’t, records your time using each and calculates your productivity. It somewhat gamifies productivity and keeps you honest. If you have a tendency to get distracted RescueTime can even block distracting sites such as news or social networks during work hours.

Our CTO and co-founder Adrian Schoenig, who works from his Nuremberg home or co-working space, has a few more great tips: “Have a dedicated place and time to work. That also makes it easier when you have kids around; tell them when I’m in this location, treat me as if I wasn’t here at all. ” 

Only check your mails and respond to them at dedicated time slots; eg in the morning and post lunch. Get up and move. You won’t get your typical movement from going to work and going for a lunch break. If you feel unproductive or are stuck, go take a walk – especially do so while it’s still allowed in your country (but keep distance from people).” 

If you are stuck on a development problem, write it up – I find I often figure it out what’s wrong while writing it up – and, if not, colleagues can help. Use the #random channel in your Slack or similar, to chat with colleagues about non-work things and to lighten the mood.” 

Adrian also recommends this book on remote working.

Conclusion: Learn about available remote working and productivity strategies and then pick the ones that work best for you. As a team leader, present your team with a variety of options and techniques so they can choose according to their personal preferences.

5. Don’t neglect mental health

We humans are social creatures and it is normal to feel isolated at times, when working from home. Make sure to look after your mental as well as physical health.

  1. Talk to your colleagues if you feel lonely
  2. Go out for walks, for daylight and fresh air
  3. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet
  4. Stay hydrated and drink sufficient amounts of water
  5. Get up from your desk every now and then to stretch and move your eyes off the screen to look at something in the distance

Photo courtesy of Burst