EnjoyHQ has been fully remote since 2015. It has taken us a couple of iterations to get things right when it comes to online collaboration, but now we feel we have a resilient system that has proven effective, especially during this time of crisis around the world.
You’re probably familiar with some of these practices, but perhaps our contribution will arise from the details behind the execution.
Most software teams use some version of these practices on a regular basis. Yet, I have personally implemented them within engineering, design and marketing teams and I don’t see why they can’t work in any other type of team as well.
For context, we have team members working from Japan, different parts of Europe and in California; so these practices have been stress tested across multiple time zones.
As a general rule we favor asynchronous communication: comments on Trello, GitHub, Whimsical and Google Docs are always preferred over Slack or Zoom. If it’s not written, it’s gone. For a practical example, you can read about how we make architectural decisions asynchronously using our Request For Comments process.
That takes care of the getting things done part, however - it’s not enough! All of this communication is highly focused on the job at hand and doesn’t leave room for other things. That’s why we have implemented the following rituals:
Check-ins (2 min. every day)
We use StatusHero to run our daily check-ins. Every team member gets an email at the end of their day asking what they accomplished and what they are planning to do tomorrow. The next day everybody gets a summary of all the check-ins.
This helps everybody step back to record progress, set out goals for the next day and highlight any blockers. Having this format allows you to track issues over time and creates a moment of reflection at the end of the day.
This practice is more like a habit. If some team members forget to do it, you can ask them to adjust the email reminder delivery time or help you understand why there is resistance. It’s worth building this practice, especially as the team grows.
The reported benefits of doing Check-ins from our team members over the years have been:
- "Check-ins help me remember what I’ve done today and what is left to do tomorrow. It’s an easy way to feel continuity every day"
- "It helps me see what other people are doing without checking all of our other tools"
- "It helps me set up goals and feel a sense of progress"
Stand-ups (15 min. every day)
Every day the whole team gets together on a Zoom call. Some people join during their evenings, while for others it’s early morning. This is part of the sacrifices needed when working from home or anywhere else in the world.
Everybody has the option to leave a quick Loom video with their standup or a StatusHero check-in earlier if they can’t make the group standup. This call is an opportunity to catch up on what’s in progress. Here we discussed the challenges that we already mentioned in the Check-in.
For some teams, this may feel redundant since check-ins accomplish a similar goal. Trust me, they're not. On the calls, we focus the conversation on how we can help each other overcome those obstacles. We make decisions and also agree on how to move forward off-line.
Check-ins are for helping everyone have a focused standup call.
These calls last 15 min. max, and their outcome can dramatically affect productivity and direction for the day.
Tools: Zoom, Loom, Slack
One-on-ones (1 hour a month)
I heard many teams do weekly one-on-ones, but we do them monthly. We have enough communication during the day that it seems a bit of an overkill to do it weekly. Essentially, we book time with team members individually and discuss many topics depending on previous 1-1s.
The goal of these conversations is to get to know each other and understand the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the work that we are doing. We want to know what’s painful, what’s exciting, what’s causing friction when it comes to productivity; but also what we can do to make their life easier and more enjoyable.
The most important part is that people, not the managers, set the agenda for 1-1s - The focus of the conversation is the team member, not the manager.
Sometimes, these calls become an informal chat about anything and that’s also ok. It’s a time to bond, to have conversations you would normally not have during the day. The goal is to build a strong relationship and trust. Just make sure you leave the call knowing where you and the other person stand.
Tools: Google Calendar, Zoom.
Retrospectives (1 hour a month)
Every month we get together and discuss what went well and what went wrong. This is an opportunity for everybody to raise concerns, talk about what they learned and complain about anything.
We use it more like a group therapy practice. We build psychological safety every day with the small details and the way we talk to each other. The retrospectives help us get together and learn what’s challenging for each other, and we try to look for practical solutions.
I’m always surprised by what annoys and pleases people. Often, we take things for granted because we don’t have the time to talk about them. This meeting helps us identify interesting dynamics between team members, their expectations and understanding of the business and goals.
Retrospectives are also a wonderful opportunity to reinforce our values and clarify anything that may be getting in the way of making good decisions.
Tools: Retrium, Zoom.
Small Things that Help Prevent Delays and Misunderstandings
We have an always evolving on-boarding Google doc that we share with new team members. It has all the info about how we work and the tools we use. Below is an extract of that document.
These practices have been extremely helpful in setting the ground rules for communication - both internal and external.
Some General Rules
- Over Communicate - provide as much context as possible whenever communicating in writing (e.g. in Trello, Slack, GitHub, Google Docs) - even if it feels like too much detail, do it regardless - we all need to make sure we’re always on the same page.
- If you spend more than 5 min on Slack explaining something, jump on a call! It will be faster.
- If a decision was made in a call - write it down immediately.
- There are no wrong/stupid questions - when in doubt, ask!
- Make it happen - don’t count hours, count outcomes.
- Be yourself, you are part of this team because you are talented, interesting and we all think you have the potential to make a huge impact on the product, the business, and our culture. We are here to help you have the best team and work experience possible.
- Be curious, learn how other parts of the business work, all you need to do is ask.
- Be honest and kind, If you don’t like something or think something is wrong, speak!
- Always start with the users and their experience. Everything can be worked out from there.
- Forget about your job description. Do the right things even if it doesn’t belong to your core capabilities/responsibilities.
- You are the master of your future. You decide how this experience is going to be.
- Help others by listening. You are a rubber duck 🐥
- How you do one thing is how you do everything. Focus on the details. Make it great. Make it better.
- You are EnjoyHQ, the brand, the emotional connection, the reason why people will become customers and the reason why other people will want to join the team.
- If you ever feel scared, confused, angry or upset talk to us. We are here to help.
Last but not Least, The Weekly Emails (2-min. read each email)
On top of the above mentioned, we send two emails every week to the whole team. This is optional, but we continue to do it because it helps us reflect on the journey and the challenges ahead.
Weekly Business Update Email
This is a short email that covers weekly progress in the business/team. We share revenue growth, new customers, product releases, good news, delays, and marketing activities.
I use this email to remind everybody that even when we feel stuck we are still making progress and offering visibility into other areas of the business that people may not normally have access to. This is sent on Friday or Sunday evening.
Weekly Engineering Planning Email
Our CTO Lukasz sets the goals for the coming week based on the roadmap, previous work week and progress of all the projects we’re working on. Everyone knows what they’ll be working on, what we want to achieve as a team and what will be shipped next week. This is sent on Friday or Sunday evening.
Tools: Internal Google Groups
We’re constantly challenging these rituals. In our retrospectives, we often talk about whether or not they are still working. Over the years we have changed frequency, times and content of the email and meetings - however, the core remained more or less the same. The above is the latest iteration and it seems to be working well.
Some teams may think we’re overdoing it, and others would probably do a lot more than we do. But, the truth is you have to start somewhere and continue to improve the collaboration process with everyone’s input.
All together these rituals take over 3-5 hours a month to do, but they can save you weeks of headaches, delays and miscommunication.
Deciding to work remotely and being a fully distributed team is one of the best decisions we made for our team and the business. The challenges will never overshadow the benefits.
Happy remote working!