What you need to know about transitioning to remote work

Tools, tips, and surprising techniques from 8+ teams that know how it’s done, like Automattic, Buffer, InVision, and LifeLabs Learning.

We’ve heard from a lot of customers lately that are transitioning over to remote work. Transitioning the team to a different style of working is challenging under any circumstances, but making it happen overnight? We know it’s a big ask.

So we asked some of the teams that do it best for the tricks, tips, and tools they rely on the most for making remote work successful. Here’s what they shared.

How to communicate

“Over-communicate with your colleagues about your work and progress. Don’t forget your manners (example: Say ‘Good morning Mike! I hope you’re well.’) before making your ask via instant message. I personally like to throw in a lot of emojis too.” – Sadie Short, Senior Manager, Employee Experience at InVision

“I’d recommend other teams define what each communication channel is for, whether it’s Slack, email, Google Docs, etc.  Communication is key in a remote world and having clarity around what type of communication should go where makes a huge difference in lowering the mental gymnastics that needs to be done for folks to participate. Make it easy and obvious for folks to engage in the right ways so everyone has a more equal ability to contribute.” – Anne McCarthy, Happiness Engineer at Automattic

“Build a personal and team routine so there is a predictable cadence to the start/end of work as well as team connection and communication.” – Megan Wheeler, Leadership Trainer and Director of Recruiting at LifeLabs Learning

The importance of (virtual) face time

“Video on. It might seem basic, but you can’t believe how many people don’t make this a habit. Video👏on 👏every 👏time . Seeing each other’s faces is critical to communication when remote is primary.” – Josh Levine, Founder and Author of Great Mondays

“Our calendar system automatically adds a video conference link to every new calendar invite created. This saves a lot of time and scrambling at the time of the meeting and allows everyone to show up to the same, correct meeting. Spend some time on your home video-conferencing setup at home. Make sure that wherever you like to take meetings your video is clear and there isn’t annoying background noise. Be cognizant of the lighting. Use the phone call mechanism in Slack to quickly sync up when typing the conversation becomes too cumbersome or loses clarity.” – Jaclyn Spangler, Director of Corporate Operations, FullStory

“Most days one of us [on a remote team of 20-30] will start a Zoom room where we all hop on and work with our cameras on. Sometimes people take themselves off mute to ask a question or say something silly. It feels like we’re all in an office together.” – John Schnettgoecke, Director of Content Strategy, RevUnit

“The biggest pain point for most teams who are used to being connected in an office is the lack of face-time and impromptu chatter with teammates. There can be easy ways to solve for this, though! Encourage all virtual meetings to have cameras on, create collisions by using tools like Donut to pair folks up at random for quick chats, and set up virtual lunches or coffee breaks with your team.” – Megan

On creating a digital watercooler

“Setting up your Slack environment [for socializing] is key too – some of our most popular channels are #Gratitude, #Mistakes, #Water-Cooler, and #Pets 🙂 We also have channels for gardening and entertainment… anything folks are passionate about!” – Nicole Miller, Team Engagement Manager, Buffer

“We recommend reserving a few minutes of time for a little small talk to humanize each conference call.” – Sadie

“Try to video chat or telephone chat with your boss or co-workers at least several times a week to maintain that ‘walked up to the desk’ type of relationship.” – Jaclyn

Rituals that maintain community

“I’d recommend a remote friendly company/team weekly sync/demo. At Ada we do both of these. We have a bi-weekly team sync where we cover the status of our company goals, reiterate our mission, and make company announcements. On my team at Ada, we also do a weekly demo where we show off the stuff that we’ve been working on over the past week — it’s a really nice time for our team to come together to share with each other.” – Brandon Mowat, Engineering Manager, Ada

“For long-term remote work, we have found massive success with our peer mastermind program. It helps create someone to go to and keep connected with (isolation is a really big problem with remote work).” – Nicole

“Can’t live without them” tools

“With the premise that the key is always ‘find what works for you,’ one thing that I could suggest are text standups. My team uses Geekbot to ask a couple of questions about yesterday and today when they come online. These are particularly helpful because the ping is automated, and the questions help both shape the day and communicate to other people on the team. One additional benefit is that once someone posts it, the others know that person has arrived online, so it’s a very useful support tool for working across time zones.” – Erin Casali, Head of Design, Jetpack / Automattic

Google Suite is incredibly useful for remote work. Being able to collaborate with many people at once on Docs and Sheets, and the ability to leave comments is essential. And InVision’s Boards and Freehand whiteboarding tools, where colleagues and partners (whomever you choose) can collaborate creatively have been critical with nearly every project in my work.” – Sadie

“We use Zoom for video conferencing and have made it a ritual to include a Zoom link to every meeting. This ensures that if someone is working remotely, they are always able to attend meetings.” – Brandon

Being a good manager

“Post Weekly Notes: a document containing relevant meeting notes from the week prior. We use internal blogs heavily, so I publish Weekly Notes there and include a link to the previous one at the end of each one…Because much of what I do ends up in written form, and the notes from meetings I was in are often in other places, it’s an opportunity to tie all that together in a more coherent narrative. It’s also an opportunity to talk more about the why. Weekly Notes has become part of how I make my work visible to my team, and combined with skip-level 1:1s how I try to demonstrate approachability, accountability and transparency.” – Cate Huston, Automattic

“I tend to have very few ‘manager voice’ kind of rituals—I prefer to have shared moments that provide information. One mix of rituals and artifacts is my ‘Week in Design’ post. I have a template in a Google Doc which I copy-paste and tweak every week. This template is collaboratively written by everyone in the team during a weekly call, and contains a mix of project status updates, extra information across the company, away time, and open questions. The fact it’s both written and discussed within the call makes everyone aligned, and makes sure the information is not reinterpreted by me, but comes directly from the people on the team. This cuts also radically the time needed, because there are no intermediate artifacts (status updates, or others) and there’s zero time for me to collect and rewrite.” – Erin

“Show what good remote hygiene looks like. And be impeccable about it. Let team members know when you’ll be online and responding and when you won’t. Set your status frequently. As a leader or manager, any ideal behaviors should be modeled.” – Josh

Running successful remote Donut meetups

“It’s a tradition at RevUnit to post a selfie [screenshot of a Zoom meeting] and something you learned during your meeting in the channel afterwards. People get really creative in fun ways with selfies—if they don’t have coffee or tea, they’ll hold up random objects like Clorox Wipes or a stapler. Two people choreographed a high five.” – Zak Kurka, RevUnit

“The Google Calendar integration is amazing: it sorts out all the time zone stuff for you and suggests times that work for both of your schedules. Then we just jump on a Zoom call and hang out together!” – Sonja Beardsley, Director of Operations at Customer.io

“Due to our vast time zone differences, we do Donut meetups in a variety of ways from asynchronous chatter that folks respond to throughout their day to scheduled meeting times that work for both parties. In the last month, I’ve done both and have found they each lead to equally intentional connections. I think folks often overlook asynchronous connections, though, as there’s a pressure to respond NOW, particularly over Slack.  If you do opt for this kind of Donut chat, I encourage folks to adopt a “pen-pal” philosophy where responses come when they can, with built-in grace and thoughtfulness.” – Anne

“At the office, our Donut meetings usually happen in our kitchen or main communal space with couches and coffee. We encourage our remote meetups to be similarly casual. Bring your favorite beverage and find a cozy spot to get away from your home office. And it is always easy to get the conversation started by asking about your Donut buddy’s hometown!” – Jaclyn

“I’m in two Donut groups:

– A group of my peers in engineering leadership. It prompts us to make the “important but not urgent” time for one another.

– A group of our engineering leads. We have a channel for them and do regular calls. It helps me have adhoc 1:1s with engineering leads across the organization that I might not get to connect with otherwise. In the theme of ‘important but not urgent,’ often it prompts a topic of coaching or support that hadn’t felt ‘urgent’ enough to bring up yet.” – Cate

“We recommend discussion questions and topics about hobbies or family, etc. Another topic for discussion is how remote life is working out for each participant, and sharing struggles as well as what IS working.” – Sadie

The value of honesty

Lastly, if something isn’t working for you in this remote world, we suggest being direct and letting folks know—with compassionate candor (one of InVision’s  principles)—what the issue is. They will likely appreciate the feedback. – Sadie

Thank you to Sadie, Anne, Nicole, Josh, Jaclyn, Brandon, Sonja, Cate, Erin, John, Zak, and Megan for lending us their time and wisdom!

Have a remote work tip to contribute? Email us – we’d love to hear it, and share it with the world!

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