How to make your team still feel like a team while being remote
April 16, 2020 · 6 minute read
We're all in this together, here are some tips for doing it well
Written by Eric Silverman
Co-founder & CEO
Well, we’re just over a month into shelter in place and it’s it’s starting to feel like the initial panic of “well, what do we do?” has worn off a bit. Teams are meeting regularly on Zoom, but a new set of challenges exist.
We don’t know how long this will last, and even once sheltering in place is over, life most likely won’t go back to normal for quite some time, or possibly ever. The norm has changed and the past month has definitely shown that more teams will go fully remote in the future, pandemic or not.
This pandemic has proven that remote work isn’t just the way of the future. It’s happening now, and there are plenty of positives. Technology has made it easier to connect, and educational programs are adapting. The world has changed, and it will never fully go back the way it was, nor should it just return to the status quo.
At first glance, it might seem like teams have it figured out. Sure, you use Zoom for team meetings, and your team is still producing solid work, but how about the things that you can’t measure? How does your team feel? Are ideas still free flowing between team members? How is company culture maintaining or changing?
Here are some ideas that have helped me and my team still feel like a team while staying remote.
Zoom has had a massive increase in popularity over the past month and for good reason. However, with teams scrambling to maximize video conferencing, they can quickly become counterproductive if no thought is put into best practices.
Save Zoom meetings for presentations or information distribution meetings, and don’t feel the need to have every meeting be an all-hands video call. It’s also important to not expect your team to spend all day on Zoom. If your team didn’t spend their whole day in the office in meetings, don’t expect them to be on a Zoom call all day. People still want to put their headphones on and be left alone sometimes. The idea that an teammate has a camera on most of the time doesn’t promote autonomy or personal ownership, and can show a lack of trust.
Nothing will ever replace getting in the same room and jamming on an idea, but there are some great tools that are helping to bridge that gap without just being a video conference platform.
Here’s how we do it at Feature Peek.
- Tandem - great app for workspace sharing. easy to jump into a spontaneous chat
- Slack - Pro tip, make specific channels for work and non work conversations. #project-chat, #water-cooler, etc
- Slite - Great for building a library of onboarding documents, better than a team wiki, great for collaboration.
- Miro - Digital whiteboard for brainstorming
- There.pm - Simple way to keep track of your teammate’s timezones
- Donut - Slack add on to make team bonding easier
- Zync - Avoid calendar Tetris by having Zync intelligently schedule meetings.
- FeaturePeek - Great for front end feedback and collaboration (shameless plug)
If you ask my team, I probably use the Rubber duck debugging method more than anyone else at FeaturePeek. Being at home has made that slightly more difficult, but making yourself available for a quick 5 minute chat can unblock you technically, and maintain the feeling of team collaboration and spontaneity.
My favorite debugging tool
Daily stand up meetings to identify priorities, dependency conflicts, or areas of collaboration can be highly effective when run well. In my experience, however, they sometimes tend to devolve into an uninspiring summary of the current sprint board. And with quarantine inevitably making the days and weeks blend together, it’s even harder to make a daily stand up meeting worthwhile.
Adding a framework to your daily standup can keep it interesting and not just make it about what bugs you fixed yesterday. At FeaturePeek, our daily stand ups have every team member answering these questions:
- What are your top priorities today?
- Did you discover anything interesting or unexpected yesterday?
- What challenges or roadblocks do you need help with?
With this simple framework, our stand-ups keep us all on the same page, and start the day with good jumping off points for collaboration and areas we know we should focus on.
It’s becoming clear that being in the office is less about the work and more about the things you get for free. I’m not talking about the granola bars and La Croix — I’m talking about the personal moments of asking how someone is doing to understand what’s happening in their world, in their heart. Sure, this is important for building good team dynamics, but more importantly, it’s a major aspect of life that everyone is missing right now.
1-1’s are more important now than ever. Don’t neglect them and do what you can to make the most of them. Rather than being stuck at my desk like an ordinary Zoom conference, I’ve found that I am more present in my 1-1s if I take them while on a walk around the neighborhood or the park. Getting outside and making that intentional time is crucial to connect with your team. And when you are in your 1-1, treat it like you would if you were in person. Sure, you should acknowledge how weird this is and the news of the day, but don’t forget to still manage performance, give feedback, and most importantly manage career growth. Just because the world feels like it’s on pause doesn’t mean your employees’ career goals are, and yours shouldn’t be either.
This situation isn’t normal, so don’t act like it is. Everyone is experiencing their own emotions, sense of loss, fear, and anxiety. Everyone is adjusting to a work/life balance that all just became one bowl of soup that you eat on your couch while wearing the same sweatpants for 3 days. Take it slow and be kind. Not everyone is going to adjust as quickly as you may expect, so don’t expect 100 percent productivity from your team. This is definitely a time where it’s more about quality over quantity. So make sure to focus on finding the humanity in this situation we are all in, and bring that energy to your team.
You put the time and intention into building your team and company culture, now is the time to use it or lose it.
Keep doing the things that make your team unique. All the funny, silly, and unique touches go a long way and are important to remember. For example, at FeaturePeek we name all of our releases after Nicolas Cage movies, and watch the trailers before we plan our sprints. We still watch them before the meeting, but just independently on our own machines rather than in one room together. We still make sure to save a few minutes to laugh about it together before jumping back into the meeting.
Find a good way for your team to give a demo of what they are working on. Having an ‘over the shoulder’ review is vital to the dev cycle. Screen sharing or collaborating within a FeaturePeek environment can make for a smoother transition to virtual frontend review. Try an end of the week demo where everyone gets a turn showing off their work. It’s a great opportunity for your team to feel rewarded for their efforts.