10 Keys for Productive Remote Slack Teams

At 14 years old, I started a gaming company that was 100% remote and generated more than $1M a year in revenue by the time I was 18. Back then, Slack was not around, and working remotely was still fairly uncommon, but since I grew up on the computer, everyone working remotely and finding talent through the internet came (and does still come) as second nature to me. Since then, I’ve been able to work in different teams, both distributed and non-distributed.

In fact, yes we are!

Our current team spans over 5 vastly different time zones, and it has worked incredibly well. Today, I’m going to try to explain what makes remote teams work. We are about to ship a massive game (Get Wrecked) that we’ve been working on for 2 years with 20+ people, and so I feel compelled to write about how we did it now that it’s still fresh.

☕️ Daily standup call with the whole team is key.

One of the downsides of remote teams is that it’s harder to express emotion to the rest of your team, and social interaction is key to having a good and effective team that trusts each other. We do a daily standup every morning at 9 AM in order to sync up, get on the same page about priorities that day, and start (or end) the day with our goals and achievements. We also have a slack channel dedicated to #meetingnotes where people can read back the meeting in case they missed it.

📣 A daily #standup channel with lots of GIFs and videos.

Motivation is key in a remote team. As a manager, I’ve found it incredibly hard to motivate people remotely, because you can’t interact with them in person. Motivation has to be evident from your other team members as much as it has to come from the managers. What has worked incredibly well for us is a daily #standup channel in Slack, everyone post the things they’ve just finished or achieved. It also sparks an instant discussion on feature feedback, and keeps people motivated throughout the day. This was one that was posted today. We even use a IFTTT integration to remind people to post in standup each day. Also, it’s important to let people know it’s encouraged to share unfinished work also. The #1 drive in motivation for our team was probably our concept artist posting updates on what he was envisioning for the game.

🏁 Extremely clear roadmaps and sprint deadlines, with a manager that checks in daily on progress and identifies risks.

On Monday we set weekly goals that need to be met. We also let our engineers and designers plan out their own time allocations in the sprints for the work that needs to be completed. You want to make sure that each member of the team plans roughly 5 full days of work each week. It is their responsibility to get it done before the next week. We use a google spreadsheet to estimate time spent on features, that looks a little bit like this:

🔦 Keep focus teams small with clear responsibility

Remote work management is a lot of work, and so having 1 manager responsible for the entire team is not really effective in our case. We have 1 person who is responsible for keeping track of team statuses and identifies deadline risks, as well as making sure everyone does their #standup post and attends meetings, but the team leads are generally responsible for deadlines and then delegate down to their team members. I’ve found that managing more than 6 people remotely becomes incredibly overwhelming, so generally we try to assign 1 team lead per 6 people who share responsibility.

🏄🏻 Encourage a healthy work/life balance

Unless it’s an emergency, don’t plan more than 5 workdays of work in on the planning. Working remotely is generally less socially engaging, and so encouraging team members to have a really healthy work/life balance is key to keeping them productive and engaged. You want them to get excited to start work in the morning, not dread it. If you hire the right team, they will feel responsible to make sure their planned items get done in time.

📽 Share the laughs

One of the things remote work misses is sharing special moments with your colleagues. It’s important that you share laughs with your team. That cool viral video you saw today? Post it, have a laugh about it with your team over chat, and move on. It’s incredibly how much common interests and laughs (even remotely) connect people.

🖥 Solve hard problems together

Wherever you are, you want to feel like you are learning at your job. This is important to build up a sense of teamwork, as well as to learn from each other. Regularly attacking hard problems together while sharing your screen with the rest of the team creates this sense of teamwork and learning within your team, and makes it easier to solve these hard problems. Even if you are not screen sharing — if you just solved a really hard challenge, let your team know how you did it and they will hopefully feel like they learned something new, or feel passionate to contribute to feedback on your solution.

🎎 Lots of 1 on 1 meetings

Have 1-on-1 meetings with your team more frequently. It’s important to know what is going on in people’s lives so you can plan accordingly and help out wherever necessary.

📝 Documentation and decision-making documents

Nothing demotivates more than feeling like your input is not well appreciated. Before we code large projects- we design solutions and share them with our team for discussion, and open it up for feedback. This makes it possible for our team to familiarize them with different sections while also learning a lot from other people’s design decisions. This counts for business decisions, art decisions, and dev decisions. Documenting decision-making processes is a good idea anyways so you can always go back and look at why you made a certain decision. One thing that also should be noted here is that your developers should also put extra effort into documenting their code (Especially when it comes to API documentation).

✈️ Meet up regularly

While working remotely can be good for your business, in-person communication is still incredibly valuable. We try to go to conferences together once or twice a quarter. This was our trip to Google’s SF office.

Got anything to add or have questions? Reply to the post and I’ll try to answer a much as I can!

PS: Thanks Slack for making my life a billion times easier.

All the best,

Pim

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