At WORK[etc] we have a team of 12, all working remote from the USA, Canada, Australia,New Zealand, United Kingdom, China and Bulgaria. In fact no more than two people are even in the same city.
This structure was always intentional. WORK[etc] is an international business and we need to be available 24hrs a day. We could have gone down the route of building a single office and requiring people to work all hours, but I don’t consider that fair. No one can perform to their best at 4am in the morning besides which shift work just screws with people’s lives.
The standout opportunity is being able to better manage support. We have customers using WORK[etc], 24/7. Having support spread across different time zones means we have coverage without anyone ever having to work a graveyardshift. Another strength is super-efficient 24 hour project management; cycling between scoping, coding, managing and testing.
And then we have the challenges.
Collaboration isn’t so much of an issue, after all we use WORK[etc] to manage our own business. Rather the challenge is with the more intangible aspects of company culture – forming, norming and performing teams. It’s not like we can easily grab a coffee or bump into each other at the water cooler. Without a casual sharing of information it becomes harder to build connections.
Remote teams have to go the extra effort to connect and stay connected.
We approached this by literally requiring a sort of daily reflection exercise. At the end of each person’s day, they allocate five minutes to answer the following four questions and share with a team email address:
1. What did I work on today?
2. What were the challenges I encountered?
3. How I overcame those challenges
4. What I am working on tomorrow
Responding with bullet points or simple paragraph, it takes no longer than 5 minutes at the end of the day. And it doesn’t always need to be about work. Recently one of the team was having a few personal challenges with their young son and someone else was able to jump in with some ideas.
This has become such an embedded part of our company that it is even written into every employment agreement. And I know from experience that if a new hire systematically fails to do this, or answers with a single line response, then they are not going to work out long term.
The hard part can actually rolling this out to start with, especially with existing employees. Some will embrace the concept, others will fight and challenge it. You need to explain why it is important, that it isn’t being used to assess performance and then continuously make sure it is received until it becomes a universal habit. If you let even one missed report slip by, then you’re sending the message that you don’t really care about it your team will just let it fade off.
And having talked with a few customers recently, the same four questions bring as much value to internal teams. For example, John, the owner of a search marketing firm, was complaining that the six people on his sales team are not always across changes in Google’s search algorithm because the project guys just don’t share information. It’s not that the project guys intentionally don’t share. Its just that they forget to do so. Implementing the four questions in their organization has meant that the sales and projects teams are more in touch with what is going on, day-to-day.
Thinking about how we are always improving WORK[etc], there is a nice idea around building a dashboard widget in WORK[etc] to get this information out of email and into the product.