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Three tools for managing a remote team

At WhatArmy we’ve come a long way over the past 7 years. We had an idea, pivoted, pivoted again, pivoted back to our original idea, then built around that business.

We had the inevitable discussions: “Is this going to work?”, “Should we keep going?”, “How do we make this work?” — usually followed by sleep-deprived nights (I didn’t actually know what sleep deprivation was until my wife and I had a baby), eventually gain some traction and figure out a way to make it all work.

We’ve gone from a company offering simple website updates to a company taking a stand and saying “These solutions are the best in class and we’re going to support only the best in class.”

That led to us rolling out WordPress Support Plans, adding a Shopify offering last year, and now offering SquareSpace site builds.

We’re constantly on the lookout for ways to add additional value to our current services, as well as to offer additional services that will help to make our customers look like rockstars.

At the beginning of the year, the management team evaluated everything we were doing: where we were, where we wanted to be, what we were good at, what we wanted to improve. It’s not an exciting exercise being brutally honest with yourself and where your business stinks.

But it’s necessary in order to improve.

People are what run any company (I guess…unless you’re run by some crazy AI-robot-drone built on blockchain, operated via IoT, manufactured by 3D printing, and powered by cannabis), so naturally we evaluated our team of humans and how we all contribute to the bigger picture.

We’re a fully remote company with an unlimited vacation policy. The great thing is that everyone takes advantage of these perks, while respecting the company. Of course we’ve run into the “rogue agent” who doesn’t fit with the rest of the team, but normally they’ll weed themselves out in short order.

Our team is scattered about, sometimes working from Chicago, sometimes working from a Harley dealership with oil-stained jeans while their motorcycle gets a new engine, and most of the time working with barking dogs in the background.

Communication is difficult in the first place (just ask my wife), however when you’re communicating across state borders, with the roar of a motorcycle on the open road, or a dog letting you know the UPS guy just made a delivery, communication proves more difficult.

We’ve curbed this by utilizing a few tools that enable us to effectively communicate even when one of said dogs sees a squirrel.

1. Slack

Slack is our number one resource for communication. We used to use GChat and Skype. They’re not terrible, but they’re not as expansive as Slack is.
We have specific channels for each department and then additional channels when there are projects or larger issues that we need to deal with.

Slack allows us to bring together everyone who needs to be included in a discussion to come up with a solution, rather than speaking in silos and having information fall through the cracks, which has happened plenty of times in the past few years.

When we first went remote a lot of our conversations were 1:1 in silos. We were wasting a ton of time going back and forth, verifying information, making mistakes, etc.

It’s easy to reach out to the one person you think has the answer, but when they have to go to a third person, it takes a while for person 2 to ask person 3, then relay that back to person 1…I’m exhausted just typing this, I can’t imagine reading it.

We quickly learned that group chats were the answer. Everyone who is involved in an issue needs to be involved in a discussion rather than playing telephone, where everyone walks away with a cloud over their head and no action items.

There’s also the issue where, when you do get a message, you get a little excited (unless it’s your boss — then the anxiety inevitably hits your blood flow) and you want to respond right away…which is great…until you get 12 messages in 10 seconds from 3 people who are trying to find out if a client paid their bill.

So the problem is that you want to respond right away, even when an issue isn’t urgent. To curb that instinct, which creates inefficiency by making people jump in and out of tasks, we implemented WhatArmy Slack Rules that empower people to go “offline” to concentrate on work and respond when they come back online. (In the event of an emergency, people quickly realize it when their Slack, email, and Presidential Alerts are all blowing up at the same time.)

Takeaway: Communication via chat is essential, but you have to make sure everyone who is responsible is included in the discussion.

2. Zoom

We have a weekly meeting with our entire company to get a pulse of the past week, the current week, and how we want to address any issues at hand.

Since we’re remote and don’t get the standard “water cooler talk,” or maybe it’s now called something new that I’m not hip to yet, whatever…we spend the first 15 minutes chatting about our weekends.

We’ve found out things like Nicole’s UPS driver has a bit of a temper and is not a fan of returns (I’m pretty sure he swore then kicked a 12 foot long area rug as he dragged it through the snow to his truck). Or that Chad built homemade stilts. And that Nekia has a lot of cats (the momma cat literally just had another litter over the weekend).

Regardless, our team uses this time to communicate any difficulties they’re having in their jobs, gain alignment as we close out a project, correct any client issues that have come up over the past week, or fix any broken internal processes.

We didn’t have a weekly meeting for the first 3 or 4 months after we went fully remote and it was very difficult to manage and run a company. We lacked interaction among the team and transparency fell off a ledge.

Instituting this weekly meeting helped across the board. It’s expensive to have everyone give up time on their Monday, but it’s an excellent use of everyone’s time.

Takeaway: As a remote company a weekly meeting is essential to make sure everyone is on the same page. these are some of the non-traditional expenses that you’ll need to account

3. Tettra

We have been building this out over the past year as our company-wide repository for our internal docs, processes, and resources; we should probably add a folder dedicated to the dogs and cats at this point.

Effectively, if you need information, you go to Tettra.

This is a really important resource for us to all be on the same page for policies, client questions, maintaining consistent messaging to our clients, etc.

Tettra is owned by one person, but anyone can submit documents to be added, changed, or removed if they’re no longer relevant.

This has proven to be the best way that we can all share knowledge across a remote company. Also, the search function is night and day compared to Google Drive, which we used to use for these things.

 

Takeaway: Having a one-stop-shop where remote employees can reference internal documents, processes, and resources is a key to ensuring transparency throughout the organization.

Overall being a remote company comes with its challenges, but having the right tools set up to maximize transparency and communication you can make the transition much easier.

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