Simple tips for taking your startup team remote

Over the last 6 years, Custos Media Technologies has been forced to turn their office remote or semi-remote at various times. If you’re non-remote, the company culture would have been built on in-person interactions. You need to make an effort to make sure you maintain your culture without face time. Based on what they have learned, Fred Lutz, COO and Co-Founder of Custos shares some simple tricks to make the transition easier:

 

Tools

Slack is great for text-communication and encourages people to use public channels. Move discussions from DMs to public channels when they become widely useful as early as possible. We also made an effort to create topical channels with topics like games, music, and books to encourage people to chat socially. Make sure that channels have clear topic descriptions and stay focused on that so that people can safely and accurately subscribe only to the channels they need. When you create a new channel, make sure to announce it somewhere with the intended topic. 

 

Zoom is amazing for video calls and screen sharing. We have tried a bunch of other products, and Zoom is definitely the best. 

 

Discord is a communication platform built for online gaming. We have an open Discord channel for the office for banter and casual conversation.   

 

Push Communication

If you were used to chatting over coffee or in-office banter, you need to make an effort to keep that going. Keep conversations on public channels as far as possible. Like Chris, one of our developers that works remotely puts it: 

 

“As a general rule, if any decisions are made, someone in that conversation has to be responsible for writing up the decision and the reasons for it on a relevant channel. Even better is to get into the habit of having such discussions on Slack, since that produces a written record that can be consulted later on.” 

 

Don’t rely on people asking for information, rather push it to the channels. As a Founder, make an effort to spark conversation on topics your team is interested in until the rest of the team starts doing it too. Err on the side of saying too much. 

 

Anchor Meetings

We hate meetings, but they become crucial when you go remote. A couple of regular structured calls allows the various teams to have space to discuss specific topics. You probably have these already, but if you are a smaller team, it might be the time to start. Always allow for 10-15 minutes before calls for everyone to come online. 

 

We had Tuesday as our topical day, with sales, sprint, and ops planning, and then Friday all-hands. We also did short daily standups in the sales team, only discussing blockers.   

 

Daily Updates

You probably do this already as well. Every morning everyone posts a bulleted list of what they did the day before and what they are doing today, and any struggles or blockers. Other than helping you stay abreast of everything that’s happening, we find it makes the people who are not used to working remotely, stop worrying that everyone else thinks they are slacking. Adding the blockers/struggles frequently sparks conversation and helps resolve issues quicker.   

 

Communicate Expectations

If you are in the office for eight hours, you are probably not doing more than four hours’ worth of deep work. When people start working from home, they sit down and attempt to do eight hours’ worth of deep work, and realise it takes them 12 hours. Make it clear to your team what you expect of them, and in particular, make it clear whether you consider formal and informal communication, bathroom breaks, lunchtime, thinking time, etc to be part of their working time if you feel this is fair. 

 

Also, it should be made clear what you expect in terms of communication. This is not something that can easily be enforced, but it goes a long way to make it clear what everyone in the team agrees on with regards to communication protocols, such as those mentioned above.   

 

Say Good Morning

This had a much bigger impact than I expected. If you start your day, say good morning to the rest of the team.   

 

Celebrate and Commiserate 

On a Friday afternoon, we have a reminder to post on Slack one success, one challenge, and one thing you are excited about. It’s open to anything in your life, not only work-related.   

 

1-1’s

One-on-ones are not only about managers and employees. Encourage teammates to have individual chats with each other as well. There are some tools available to help schedule these for you, but we rather just encouraged it than enforcing it. Some of our teammates had ‘coffee hours’ where they encouraged people to bother them.   

 

Activities

We really struggled with this, but it is super valuable. We’ve had a couple of multiplayer online games that we all play together in lieu of other team activities. I specifically like Dungeon Defenders and Civilisation 5. We also did a couple of DnD sessions with remote people joining. You can use Roll20.net to help you host a game. 

 

This blog is written by Fred Lutz