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9 Tools To Help Your Remote Team Stay Productive In 2019
Today we’re very lucky to bring you an interview with SelfKey’s Managing Director Cristiana Dutca. We talk about the challenges of managing a remote team and the productivity tools that help SelfKey execute quickly.
Introduction: About Our Remote Team
Our fully remote team has grown twice in size over the past year to 30 people. One critical remote team member that helped us scale our people, process, and product is our Director of Operations, Cristiana Dutca.
From onboarding new team members, ensuring projects stay on track, and helping us stay organized – she has been the linchpin that keeps it all together.
We recently sat down with her (virtually) to discuss the tools and applications that we use to run both SelfKey and KYC-Chain. If you’re already working on a remote team or starting one soon, these tools should be helpful for you down the line.
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Zoom: 1-on-1 Meetings, Team Calls, & User Testing
Compared to other video conferencing tools, Zoom is able to handle large teams in both video and audio without performance issues. For a remote team, it’s important to see each other on video since we aren’t in the same office.
Skype is more suited for friends and casual conversations, and there are limitations on how many people can be in a group call. We’ve found that experience on Zoom is very consistent across mobile, desktop, and tablet devices.
Whether it’s a 1-on-1 meeting or weekly team meeting with 25+ people, it works great in all shapes and sizes.
Some key features we like are being able to screen share, record a call, and have the meeting host mute participants. There are also icons that display if a participant has an audio or video camera connected in the call which can help troubleshoot technical issues.
The entire application can also go full screen without distracting sidebars or panels that take your focus away from the call.
Unlike Skype or Hangouts, there are no distracting filters or animated emojis which are not very useful in a professional environment.
Furthermore, our product and design teams also use Zoom to discuss ongoing development projects, workflows, or even conduct user test sessions. Zoom has a great feature that allows you to give a participant remote control of your machine, allowing the design team to test out wireframes or screens before being put into development.
This is a huge benefit for remote teams that cannot conduct test sessions within a physical office.
In addition, observers can also join the sessions and record them to share with the wider team. Learn more about Zoom here.
Asana: Task Management, Calendars, & Deliverables
It took some time for our team to get the most value out of Asana. During the first year with the company, there’s been a love and hate relationship with this tool because of its complexity and flexibility.
For example, you can have boards and lists for different projects, but which one should be used? How should different departments organize their tasks?
In the beginning, each team member had their own way of using the tool and it wasn’t consistent across the board to get high level visibility on projects. Once Cristiana joined and standardized some processes in how we used Asana, we were able to harness the full potential.
Choosing between boards and lists depends on your initiative. Boards are great for complexity where operations of different natures can be mixed together. In Cristiana’s case, she uses an Asana board that monitors tasks between finance, operations, and HR.
Each column represents a department, and she has individual tasks within each board. If she just used a list with tags, it wouldn’t be visually effective to see what needs to be done nor stay organized. Learn more about Asana here.
On the other hand, lists are great for conference call agenas, where each team member can add topics of discussion and assign an owner or due date after it’s done. There is also a dimension that maps all the task due dates against a calendar.
This has been quite useful for the marketing team, being able to see and plot out the upcoming content calendar and visualize the pipeline. On the other hand, this would be quite difficult as a list or board.
In the end, how you use Asana depends on your organization and how the departments are organized. For example, our developers mainly use Github for project management as its a better environment to do peer reviews, organize sprints, and track bug fixes. The rest of the company uses Asana since it suits their needs better.
Both tools provide a critical function – assigning an owner and due date for a specific task. It’s difficult to remember what you need to do by memory, let alone keep track of it with a large remote team.
Being able to quickly assign due dates and owners for specific tasks resolves this problem once it becomes a habit.
Confluence: Documentation, Roadmapping, & Onboarding
Recently, our entire company shifted off Google Drive and moved our documentation to Confluence. It’s much easier to organize under spaces, share with teams, and keeping everything transparent. We’ve found that Google Drive can get quite messy once you have many folders and documents.
It’s also difficult to get an overview on what the latest updates are across the entire document range. You also need to make sure the right people have proper sharing permissions to certain documents, or else it create an extra friction point for communications.
Confluence can do many of the same tasks that we need with a much better interface and structure.
The engineering team uses Confluence to flesh out ideas, solutions, and plans when it comes to tackling complex problems. When a feature is ready to be put into development, we move it to Github where epics, tasks, requirements, and assets are broken down and placed into sprints.
Afterwards, we put the documentation and other relevant information back into Confluence.
The marketing team uses Confluence to store keyword research data for SEO, content ideas, and collaborative documents such as content for a website redesign. Every 24 hours, Confluence also sends an email notification to team members on the latest updated documents so that everyone can stay informed.
When it comes to onboarding new team members, we also have a process that gets them started in Confluence. This document contains goals for their first week, who they should get in touch to learn about the product, and an introduction to the toolstack we use for finance, operations, and other tools.
Having a standardized process creates a better experience for new team members, and allows them to contribute to the team much faster. Learn more about Confluence here.
Pingboard: Organization Chart, Time Off, & Anniversaries
To keep track of holidays, time off, and our organization chart we use a tool called Pingboard. This is a place where you can mark certain days off and it automatically notifies the entire team. It’s sort of our HR assistant that automatically does this for us instead of manually tracking vacation time via email, a spreadsheet, or other manual processes.
Everyone is responsible for their own scheduling and it’s easy to stay up to date with a summary every week via email on who will be out of office. Pingboard also helps us set birthdays, work anniversaries, and much more since we are a remote team and can’t celebrate in person. Learn more about Pingboard here.
Mattermost: Team Chat & Department Channels
Instead of Slack, we use a self-hosted alternative called Mattermost that has better data privacy. It essentially does the same job, but allows us more privacy over the data we communicate with on a day to day basis. Mattermost doesn’t have call functionality that Slack does, but it’s unreliable at best.
Plus we already use Zoom, so that’s taken care of. If there is one tool that we cannot live without a day, it would be Mattermost. This is where you can chat with team members whether it’s 1-on-1 or within a dedicated department channel.
When it comes to remote teams, choosing your right communication channel and its intent is critical.
We’ve found that it’s often better to communicate in the department channels, as 1-on-1 discussions often stay siloed and you spend more time later updating everyone what happened. Being remote and in different timezones, this can create communication friction if everyone is not on the same page.
In particular for engineering issues that require real-time collaboration, it’s important to keep the communications within a channel that others can tune in later and get caught up.
Bonding is also a critical part of remote teams that gets facilitated through Mattermost. We have dedicated channels #Random and #YourLifeInPhotos for team members to share interesting articles from the industry, memes, and the occasional picture of their remote office whether it’s a coffee shop, home office, or out by the beach on a weekend.
The flexibility is what draws us to remote work, and we want to be able to share and bond with team members on what it’s like where they are working. Learn more about Mattermost here.
Google Slides: Presentations & Sales Decks
We’ve moved away from Google Drive, but still use Google Slides for presentations, speaking events, and pitch decks. We’ve tried some other tools, but there’s always a compatibility problem between different versions and keeping everything in the cloud.
Slides allows everyone to collaborate on a presentation, and we often pass drafts around the company for reviews before going live at a conference.
It’s also platform agnostic between browsers and operating systems, making it a flexible solution no matter what devices your team members are using. Compared to 15 years ago, you were really limited by options and probably had to use Powerpoint – but not so much anymore.
Time Doctor: Time Tracking & Resource Allocation
Since we all work remote, we need to track our time in order for the company to measure inputs and outputs. Time Doctor gives us information on how team capacity is being deployed to projects, and how we can better optimize that based on the business goals we have.
This helps us decide if we should continue, pause, or launch new initiatives. It also helps team members separate personal time from work time, as often this can get blurry when you are working remote.
Many of the team members break their day into smaller pieces, sometimes choosing to overlap with a timezone that has more people online to collaborate. Other times, we’ll choose to do work on weekends where there are less distractions and notifications trying to get your attention.
It’s all flexible based on your preference as long as you can deliver what you need to when it comes to your work.
Inside Time Doctor, we have pre-listed tasks based on department. For example, the marketing team has tasks such as content creation, planning and priorities, internal calls, support, or social media.
By tracking where time is being allocated to each task (as best as possible), we can see what inputs and driving which outputs in the company. This makes the information actionable, usable, and consistent to make better decisions. Learn more about Time Doctor here.
HelloSign: Contracts, Partnerships, & New Team Members
For all contract related matters with sales, partnerships, and new team members we use HelloSign to do the heavy lifting of signing contracts. HelloSign also lets you upload templates, making it easy to send out documents within minutes.
Whenever we sign a new deal, we can just send it from HelloSign, monitor the progress (open, click, signed) and quickly keep the relevant team members updated on the status. There’s no need to print, sign, and scan anything and saves a lot of time and paperwork. Learn more about HelloSign here.
AHA: Product Management, Vision, Competitors, Personas
When it comes to long-term planning for the products, we use a tool called AHA!. Within AHA!, you can specify releases, features, or even have an idea portal that your community can submit and upvote the good ones. After they are submitted, the product team can review them as individual tickets and forward it to Github or JIRA via the API integration.
AHA is much more of a strategic tool whereas Github/JIRA are operational tools. Both have their purpose when it comes to the 10,000 foot view and working within 10 feet of the product.To keep track of competitors and the general market, we also have profiles for each one that details their website, sales strategy, a feature comparison, and more.
We also build user personas that the design and product team uses to guide certain decisions, and allows the company to remain informed on what segments of users we have across the applications. Learn more about Aha here.
We hope our experience with these tools can help you run a more effective remote team, and look forward to sharing our findings again in the future as both KYC-Chain and SelfKey keep growing. Thank you and let us know if you have any feedback.