5 Tips and Tools that Make Remote Work Actually Work
Written by Drew Barontini on July 17, 2020
We have 25 employees spread across the country. Half of our company is based out of Cincinnati (our company headquarters), with the other half spanning from Florida to Oregon, Las Vegas to New York, and multiple states in between (Brett asks that we don’t mention Oklahoma).
We care deeply about the tools and technologies we use, particularly focusing on the ones that help us effectively work remotely with our client partners. With an influx of people new to working remotely, we want to share our experience as a digital-product agency working remotely for the last several years.
We’ve used Basecamp since the beginning of 2018, and it has become the essential hub for our teams, projects, and company-wide communications. Basecamp keeps us organized, making relevant information easily accessible to our team and the client partners we work with.
The "Differential HQ" is where we post company announcements, answer automatic check-ins like "What are you working on this week?" and "Read any good books lately?", and collect documentation like our core values and policy information.
Each of our teams — Leadership, Growth, Finance & Admin, and Delivery — have their own "Team" in Basecamp (which is separate from a "Project"). Here we organize team-level discussions, to-dos, and information relevant outside of projects.
All product teams and internal projects have their own project to bring the team together (including our client partners), organizing discussions, to-dos, schedules, and documents and files.
Prefer asynchronous communication
When it comes to working remotely, we prefer asynchronous communication, and encourage long-form writing to develop ideas, cultivate thoughtful communication, and transparently share information across the team. This is where Basecamp excels.
While we prefer asynchronous communication — even attempting, at one point, to drop Slack in favor of Basecamp's real-time chat feature — we value Slack as a means to communicate socially. We also appreciate the ability to communicate in real-time when necessary.
We have channels set up for the company (#general, #random, #design, #development, etc.) and channels set up for each of our projects. These are public channels that anyone can join.
Prefer team-level discussions vs. direct messages
Unless it's a truly private conversation, we opt for team-level discussions in the channel vs. 1:1 direct messages. Questions that appear relevant to only a select few are, more often than not, relevant to the whole team. We encourage transparent communication in line with our "Ego-Free Communication" Core Value.
3. Video Calls
We want to know each other beyond our avatars in Basecamp and Slack. We want to connect outside of the static page. Video calls are a great way to see someone's face, hear their voice, and push past the limitations of text-based communication. And while it's not a replacement for live, in-person connection, it's a more-than-suitable alternative in a remote culture.
It's not just about work
We use video calls with our client partners and internal teams, but we also use video calls to connect with one another beyond just work. Every Friday, we hold a team meeting where we share company updates, give shout-outs to one another, and, occasionally, partake in fun games like Drawful 2. And whenever a new hire joins the Differential team, we make sure they set up 1:1 video calls with everyone on the team to get to know one another on a personal level.
4. Craft Collaboration
We have an incredible group of designers and developers, working together to write code and craft visual designs for digital products. To make our collaboration as seamless and efficient in our remote culture, we leverage two tools, each dedicated to their respective craft.
All of our design work is done in Figma, a cross-platform design tool that promotes working together through organizational tools for projects, commenting, and real-time collaboration.
We collaborate on code in GitHub, a development platform to host, review, and manage software. GitHub provides outstanding code-review tools that make working asynchronously seamless.
You can use all the tools in the world as a remote team, but none of it matters without trust. You have to trust your team, and your team has to trust you. This is built on a foundation of communication, transparency, and accountability.
Give your team control of their own time
We don't track hours, count completed to-dos, or expect anyone to be constantly online and available. An enormous benefit of remote work is the affordance of time — the ability to perform focused work for an uninterrupted stretch of time. Use that to your advantage, and give your team the ability to control how they use their time.
Build for the unexpected
We have a "Flex Time" policy where, within a given week, a team member can choose to "flex" time they missed on a different day/time. If something unexpected comes up and I lose a few hours of work, I can make it up that night or later in the week. And if I can't, we have an unlimited vacation policy. Alleviate the anxiety of “life stuff” popping up by building for the unexpected. This is never more important than right now, so make it a part of your (remote work) culture.
Build a culture of trust, communication, transparency, accountability, and find the right tools for your team to do its best work. And keep iterating. A remote-work culture is an endless pursuit of continual experimentation. If it works, keep it. If it doesn't work, drop it and find something better. And you'll be well on your way to making remote work actually work for you.
If you have any questions, please ask! You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.