How to make working remotely feel less remote.

Communication is the biggest challenge in remote teams, they say. Less so we discuss how to feel less lonely and remote when working in distributed teams. Here's what we do at Deekit about it.

Communication is the biggest challenge in remote teams, they say. Less so we discuss how to feel less lonely and remote when working in distributed teams.

We are mostly remote. In fact, there is almost no time when an entire team is in the office. There is always someone working elsewhere. Different city, work from home, different country.

A few months ago we were in London part of Techstars summer program. Part of our team moved to London for four months and rest of us worked from different locations in Estonia.

What others said to us:

You guys are crazy. You’re like doing remote work on steroids. I have no idea how you do it, but this is amazing!

If you are looking for a magical bullet list to solve all your problems, then you are doing it wrong. Remote work is about team culture and building culture takes time. A better way to say would be probably that it evolves and you can simply set directions.

The most important thing that I’ve found every team needs? The understanding that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

There is no “done” or finish line. You need to be constantly asking yourself and the team, is everything working out really well. Do we all feel good? What’s missing? When I work away from everyone for a week or month, do I feel left out?

So what do we do?

Daily standups

We have tried standups in different formats. Written notes in chat, automated notes in chat, face-to-face standups and so on. To be honest, the written things were never as effective for us. Instead, we meet over a call once a day to discuss what has happened and who is working on what.

The important thing is to choose the right time and timebox your standup meetings. Usually, we do standups before lunch time, but while in London this time just did not work out. Thus, we moved it around to fit the daily schedule. Be open to discussing what works and change the timing as needed.

Our standups last exactly 15 minutes (or less). We have a bot who shouts us when it is standup time and when the time is up. Simple as that.

Our regular daily standup

The format is simple, too. There are three things we keep in mind:

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What am I working on today?
  3. What are my impediments?

There’s no “I’ll try to work on a new blog post today” or “I’ll probably finish this feature development”. You either commit and do or you don’t. Language matters a lot.

Have a video bridge as often as possible

The connectivity isn’t always great to have a video bridge running in the background. But when possible, do it.

It’s not about having a constant conversation with the team. It’s about being present. Seeing the buzz, seeing the people. Being virtually in the same room.

Everywhere I went in London, we were really one of the few crazy ones to have the video bridge open.

You don’t need a fancy tech. If you can, have a TV show the video and proper AV setup. But if this is out of reach, any screen will do equally well.

Although for conversations it does matter if you have a proper microphone or not. I tend to use Jabra as it is small and easy to carry around. And the quality is great.

Discuss everything

Teamwork is not only about working together. Or sharing all information there is. It is about being there and also discussing everything. Honestly and openly. I think it is extremely important in every team.

Have you discussed with your co-founders what happens should one of you decide to leave? Or how would you help each other in case you see someone having a burnout? How much runway you personally have? What part of your business any of you are unwilling to change? What gets you excited? Why you work together?

Such conversations are important and should happen face-to-face either offline or online.

Use real-time tools

There is nothing worse than being on a call and watching powerpoint slides (or any other content really) over a screen share. Or actually there is one thing – being on a call and watching the slides on your device. And people going on the call “We’re on slide 10.”

You can read which tools we use here.

At Deekit, we use real-time tools that enable everyone to contribute. When we plan our week, there is not just one person writing the tasks and notes, but everyone is. Together. That is just one reason why we are building Deekit.

Have fun

We work together as a team. At the same time, we are all friends. The Deekit family.

So naturally, we would do remotely everything we would do when in the same location.

Celebrate

I had my 30th birthday during Techstars program in London. All the miles inbetween totally did not stop us celebrating it together. Curious why there’s so many devices on the picture? Well, there’s two different calls ongoing at the same time 🙂

Chat and have a drink

As a person, we need to have some time for random discussions, silly conversations and why not simply have a drink.

Remote movie night

Watch movies

It’s a bit difficult to go into movies while on video call together (at least the employees at movies might not be the happiest people you meet over there), but you totally can have a movie night together. Screensharing and video camera are amazing. And no, it’s not about the quality movie time. But really just to spend time together doing the usual things.

Cook and have a dinner

Used to do some crazy cooking together? Remote is not a problem there either. From London I spent most evenings cooking and having dinners over video.

Make surprises

Sometimes a funny or sweet surprise is the best thing you could ever get. I managed to get ill in London so team sent me a care package containing medicine, tons of candy and a teddy bear.

What are the things you do in order to make remote feel less remote? 🙂

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