by Ryan Merket
I want to tell you the story of how one of Silicon Valley’s biggest/high-flying startups started allowing remote employees.
During my time at one of my previous Silicon Valley-based employers we had an amazing senior engineer who was crucial to our Ads product — let’s call him Jeff. Jeff had moved to the Bay Area to work at this top tier social network and eventually settled in Rockridge, a gentrified neighborhood in Oakland, known for its College Ave restaurants and shops.
After a few months, Jeff started coming to work with stories about his neighbors being mugged, or worse, falling victim to one of the home-invasion robberies plaguing Oakland at the time. I could tell Jeff and his girlfriend were at their wits-end with living in Oakland but what came next was pretty crazy — even for Bay Area stories.
After going to Lake Tahoe for a weekend getaway, Jeff and his girlfriend came back to town on Sunday and spent all day Monday packing up his Rockridge duplex. By Tuesday they were living in a Lake Tahoe rental he signed the lease of over the weekend (he told me this in confidence on Tuesday over Slack).
He then emailed his Engineering Manager and VP of Engineering and told them that he would be working remotely if they wished to keep him at the company. He was open to contract, but preferred full-time employment.
Don’t let this happen to your company. Remote work is not going anywhere. Some of the best engineers in the world don’t perform well working in large collaborative offices. They need solitude and environments that are conducive to hyperfocus, and for many that is their home offices. Even though remote work is inevitable, as the CEO or board director, you should bring about the policy on your terms.
As CEOs and leaders, we shouldn’t be pushing against this trend, we should be embracing it by putting in processes and tactics that enable our teams to get the most productivity possible out of their working hours, while allowing the work-life balance remote work often encourages.
I’m going to share a couple tactics that I’ve deployed to help manage remote teams and a few from my Twitter followers in hopes that it will help you demystify how remote cultures operate and maybe give you a couple arrows for your remote team quiver.
Daily Stand-up via Slack
In addition to the traditional standup, we ask a how are YOU doing on a scale of 0-3. It opens up more intimate and personal discussions and let’s the team in on energy levels, emotional bandwidth, and general wellbeing. It has helped build empathy and support.
— Ashley Colpaart (@ashleyrdtx) May 6, 2019
We get asked a lot to do standups in person. I prefer the slack version for a number of reasons, async, allows me to review later, non-interrupting to name a few
— Miles Wright (@miles_wright) May 6, 2019
Moving your daily stand up to Slack allows your remote teams to participate and follow along with what the HQ is cooking up. It also makes writing updates asynchronous, as Miles mentioned, allowing the remote team to enter their updates on their own time and gives the employees more time for in-depth updates.
I also really liked Ashley’s idea of asking how are ‘YOU’ doing? Remote employees don’t have the ability to have hallway conversations or the ability to dip into a conference room to have a quick personal update with their managers or peers, so having an outlet in the standups, allows for more personal connection and intimacy to take place.
• Daily slack standup – what you did, what’s next, blocker(s)?
• Weekly roundup sent to mailing list (so ppl can subscribe & lurk) – this is v impactful
• Occasional coffee chat instead of traditional Hangout/Zoom
• be open abt boundaries for “work hours” (is Do Not Disturb)
— Connor Montgomery (@Connor) May 6, 2019
Connor, who was one of the first engineers at Pinterest and is still there working remotely out of Kansas City, shared some of his best practices. The central theme that comes to mind is transparency. Daily standups are sent to everyone, weekly roundups that anyone can subscribe to and follow along with, open and clear about work hours.
One tactic I thought of and used while at Amazon in my remote BD role mentoring startups for AWS, was creating a spreadsheet where I would list my top priorities for the month, in alphabetical order, and then I ranked those items by what I thought their important was and hid the column so it wasn’t readily visible after someone opened the spreadsheet.
Then, during my monthly 1 on 1, I sent this sheet to my manager (who I could tell was getting a little frustrated by my lack of communication at times) and asked them to rank my priorities by where THEY thought I should be spending my time.
Next, I had them send me the spreadsheet back (we don’t use certain web-based spreadsheets at Amazon), and we both unveiled my hidden column and compared my ranked priorities to their ranked priorities, which usually was the start of some amusing conversations about where I should be spending my time.
If you have a remote team or maybe you’re an employee and you want to work remotely, you have to be willing to be transparent about what you’re working on, why you’re working on it, and when it will be done. If you want to have a successful remote team, you first need to adopt a culture of transparency based on trust.
I’d suggest start by moving your team to Slack, online stand ups, an internal Wiki for tracking teams and releases, and allow anyone in the company to subscribe and follow along to team updates. That should start ironing any potential wrinkles that might surface in your move to remote.
Once you have these processes in place, it will be much easier to extend your team remotely.
Ryan Merket is a Partner at Firebrand Ventures, a seed stage VC; serial entrepreneur, and angel investor who previously had stints at Facebook, Reddit, and Amazon.