March 24, 2020

Best Practices for Running Remote Teams

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Best Practices for Running Remote TeamsBest Practices for Running Remote Teams
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Editor's note: 
As companies around the world transition to fully remote teams in light of COVID-19, business leaders face new management challenges. We recently shared the below best practices for running remote teams with our portfolio founders to help them navigate their new norm.

Dear Unusual Founders,

Many of you are in the process of transitioning your companies to fully remote in light of COVID-19 and the CDC’s recommended social distancing. At Unusual, we are strongly recommending our own employees work from home. This is new to many of us and we wanted to share some resources that might be helpful as you adjust.

We interviewed founders from our community who have experience running remote companies and collected their advice for ensuring the transition is a smooth one. (Big thanks to Jason Dorfman at Orum which has been fully remote since its inception!)

Here are some of their tips for going fully remote:

  1. Designate clear leadership — When big changes like this happen, there’s often confusion about who is in charge of what and how decisions are made. Make sure there are clear lines of responsibility and accountability and encourage employees to ask questions if they are unsure. You might even designate a “Remote Leadership Team” to steward the adjustment. A core part of this team’s role will be to document challenges in real time, transparently prioritize those challenges, and assign DRIs (directly responsible individuals) to find solutions.
  2. Establish a remote work handbook — Creating a team wiki in Notion or Google Docs with WFH policies and available resources can help your team refer to “a single source of truth” to stay on the same page and keep everyone informed. Send it out via email and pin it in your team’s regular communication channels so it is easily accessible. Tracking a rolling list of updates in the doc or wiki can also be helpful. A task manager might also be helpful to reinforce accountability.
  3. Promote a remote culture — The biggest risks of remote work happen when a team doesn’t establish a clear remote culture around communication and accountability. Managers and direct reports should work together to come up with new OKR’s in light of any disruptions. Managers have to work hard to maintain great relationships with their teams. That may mean adopting a level of transparency that feels uncomfortable at first. It may help to mark your calendar when you are and are not available. Be explicit about time for deep work and when you don’t want to be disturbed.

    Remember that the majority of information needs to be written or recorded and available for people to consume it on their own time. People who aren’t excellent written communicators may struggle with this adjustment and need reinforcement to build it as a skill. Virtual team activities can help overcome the “water cooler gap,” where people build strong working relationships through shared bonding. Gitlab has virtual coffee breaks to recreate the water cooler. At Unusual, we’ve planned our own weekly virtual “lunch-in’s,” game night, and Team All-Hands.
  4. Take stock of your tech tools — This is an opportunity to take inventory of your team’s tech tools. One of the biggest challenges of remote work is when it’s not clear to employees which platforms or tools they should be using. Whether it’s Zoom, Google Docs, or Slack, make sure everyone has access and establish team norms for their use. Cut back where there are redundancies and upgrade or buy new software where needed.
  5. Make sure employees are set up to WFH — Employees who are thrust into remote work may be ill-prepared. Consider reimbursing expenses they might incur getting properly set up. That might include equipment, WiFi, or additional accommodations.
  6. Reevaluate workflows — This is an opportunity to be more intentional about how your company spends its time. Merely rescheduling planned office meetings to virtual meetings misses an opportunity to answer a fundamental question: Is there a better way to work than to have a meeting in the first place? Is that standup meeting really productive? Can status updates be shared more effectively another way? Reevaluate how your company shares information and gets its best work done.

    You might also shift your focus to online initiatives (digital marketing vs. event marketing) or things that can get done in the meantime until the coast is clear. For example, one of our portfolio companies Orum is shifting the focus from on-site POC’s to building their sales pipeline and designing a new website.
  7. Test if a remote workforce works long term — This can be an opportunity to see if a remote workforce is right for your company long term. Having a remote workforce can significantly expand your talent pool and save your company money. (It costs ~$11,000 per employee to keep a physical office.) Orum’s remote team has used funds that would’ve been spent on a physical office on destination team retreats and other employee perks, including upgraded equipment and more budget for business-related travel. Use this time to test out a remote model and see if your company has the infrastructure and processes to support a remote team in the future.

For more resources, you can check out this remote work wiki which includes published guides from fully-remote companies like Gitlab, Trello, Zapier, and more.

Additional Articles
- How We Use Video to Build Remote Culture
- How Our Remote Engineering Team Stays Agile
- Help Scout’s 12-Step Remote Hiring Process
- How Our Remote Support Team Collaborates
- How Our Remote Team Stays Aligned with “Town Hall” Meetings
- Lessons Learned from 6 Years of Working in My Pajamas

Let us know if you have any advice or tips to share from your own experience. We know remote work is a major adjustment. Remember that we’re here to help as you all make that change. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out directly.

Thank you and take care,
Team Unusual

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