I’ve been working as a marketer for about 4 years now. Before working at Teamweek, I had a few normal 8 to 5 jobs at some local IT companies and agencies. The whole team was in the same office, we met daily for a team talks, and we occasionally went out for drinks in the evening.
At the beginning of this year, I started working remotely for Teamweek. The change was certainly abrupt, and it took me a couple of months to get used to it.
If you lack discipline, switching from an office job to a remote one and work with a distributed team can go two ways. It can either make you feel too comfortable and too tempted to slack, or it can pull you out from your comfort zone and make you a more disciplined person in time.
Since I started working here, I didn’t just get to work with an awesome team and for an awesome product, but I also developed new skills and most importantly, I became more disciplined and more organized.
I am not the only one working remotely at Teamweek. The whole team is distributed, and we are spread in about 9 countries.
Certainly, working with distributed teams has its perks, but it can also be incredibly challenging.
Today I want to talk about those challenges and give you a few ways you can tackle them.
Working remotely can be lonely. The idea of working from home may seem pretty glorious at first, but it can quickly become isolating, unmotivating, and quite frankly, a little depressing.
Working from home can get some boring sometimes if you have no one to talk to. It feels like everything that you do is getting more digitalized every day and the lack of human interaction can make you go nuts.
I had this problem at the beginning, but I found a few ways to get over it. Right now I’m working from our local tech hub where I met some great people who are now my friends. Working from a tech hub can give you access to expertise and most of the time you will find at least one developer or a marketer in there. Some tech hubs are super cheap. Right now I’m paying the whopping price of 20$/month for access to their offices. (If you are around, feel free to come over for some coffee)
If you don’t have a tech hub in your city, you can try working from a coffee shop from time to time where you will most likely meet other remote workers.
Communication can certainly be challenging. Of course, as most distributed teams do, we use Slack for communication, and we try to keep as active as possible. The lack of communication can make employees feel lonely and can cause delays or affect the product you are working on.
There are a few factors which lead to effective team communication. Geographical factors like different time zones can play a huge part, but we’re fighting that by scheduling meetings in such a way that everyone can join at an appropriate hour. Also, our main Teamweek meeting is recorded so if you couldn’t join it you can still watch it on YouTube.
Another huge factor is the personality of your employees. If you have some introverted people in your team, it can be pretty difficult to make them proactive with their communication. Also, some people don’t like to be distracted by the team chat, so they turn it off for a few hours until they get the work done. This can be fixed by setting up your notifications to go on only when the messages are directed to you.
Over-communicating is the way to go when working with a distributed team. I think that our CEO, Annika is doing an amazing job at keeping us accountable for the communication in the company. It’s crucial to talk about the things that you are working on, or the challenges that you are facing otherwise, the feeling of loneliness can overwhelm you.
This one goes hands in hands with the lack of communication and human interaction. I think that developers are more affected by this issue. If you are working remotely as a developer and you get stuck, you can just go and tap your fellow colleague on the shoulder and ask him/her to help you out. Also, since the technology is evolving and changing so rapidly in programming, developers are finding out about new changes from other colleagues, so networking is crucial.
These problems can be fixed by nurturing a company culture based on communication and encouraging people to help one another.
We use a really cool slack integration to show our gratitude for the help we get from our colleagues or to congratulate a colleague for an achievement. It’s pretty straightforward. Everyday you are granted 5 tacos that you can give away to your colleagues and the end of the quarter you get prizes for your tacos.
As I mentioned above, you can also get access to expertise by working in tech hub where people will be most likely to help you.
The best way to combat the lack of face to face planning is by using the incredible tools out there available for project managers. You can replace your post it notes with Trello, and you can visualize your tasks and long term plans in Teamweek.
Whether you work on small or big projects, I recommend having a visual team timeline that you can share with your team. This way, everyone is on board with the length of the project, what your start and finish dates and what are your milestones.
A few weeks ago we had our first (for some of us) team meetup in Lisbon. The coolest thing that we all experienced after the meetup was the whenever we were reading messages on Slack from our colleagues, you could visualize them talking, and you were reading the messages in their own voice.
When you are working with distributed teams not interacting with your coworkers face to face can make conversations less personal.
The strategy that most remote company’s approach is to have a major team meeting in a foreign country at least once a year. Teamweek has 2 official team gatherings, one in Tallinn where a big part of our company is located and one in a random country. We usually meet for one week, and we get to work on different features or really silly projects like our excuses generator.
Of course, these meetings can get pretty expensive. What you can do is to have smaller team meetings with people from the same country or really close to each other.