September 30, 2022

4 Lessons We Learned From The World’s Most Innovative Remote Companies (And How They Changed Our Work Style)

Going fully remote has its challenges. Charles goes through some of the new processes we’ve implemented to not only maintain but also improve our team’s productivity.

“There are two options: adapt or die”  - Andy Grove, Legendary CEO of Intel

The pandemic was an adapt-or-die moment for a lot of companies. 

Either we adjusted to a world that had gone fully remote, or we would lose clients, team members, and revenue. 

But even if we wanted to adjust, it wasn’t easy. 

Each day felt like a constant battle with Slacks pings, Zoom meeting fatigue, and trying to figure out how to build a community with people who’d never met each other in person. 

So, we looked to companies who had already gone through this challenge BEFORE the pandemic and built multi-billion dollar empires around remote work. 

Here are 4 of the most important changes we made to go from surviving to thriving in a remote-first world and the lessons you can use in your own teams. 

1. Moving From Daily Micro-Managing to Asynchronous Check-Ins

Imagine having a daily stand-up at noon, or a daily retro at 8 pm. Not ideal.

We wanted to be a company that accommodated flexible working hours, but we realized that having a set beginning and end time wasn't fair to everyone, especially since we were on separate coasts. The goal of working remote was to not disrupt people's flow, and yet we were doing that with these five to ten-minute check-ins that soon became fluff.

So what we did was shift to a written and recorded format, where team members would be able to note their priorities whenever they started their day. And as a result, the check-ins actually added more detail to daily conversations. Having Looms recorded helped give others a lot much more context on their priorities, and having things listed out in front at the end of the day really gave a better sense of where time was spent. You got a real indicator of how your day went and that was a huge improvement.

People now have flexibility, but can also take personal accountability into what actually needed to get done, and what didn’t get done. You really start to think, why are things delayed, how am I prioritizing my time, and what do I need to do to keep pushing things forward? All without needing to “be on” for a certain time.

To see what we mean, here’s the template that we use for check-ins across the team.

Cutting out the live component of these checkpoints then gave us a template to change our meetings too.

2. Cutting Our Meetings In Half Both in Terms of Time & Frequency

Nobody likes meetings. And we’re no different.

But, when you’re fully remote and you don't really get the opportunity to sit down in person, you overcompensate by just having a lot more meetings than you need to. And this really burned everyone out.

What we realized was that, even for a small team, not everyone needed to be on every meeting. And to make sure that those who weren’t on meetings didn’t miss the context, we added a lot more organization. Agendas are prepped a day in advance, with all important updates written out and commented on. Meeting times are strictly reserved for discussion and strategy. A post-meeting memo is shared with the whole team, and includes a recording of the discussion. 

Collectively, everyone now spends half the time they used to in meetings, but still get just as much out of them, if not more. Things are always moving, and if you miss a meeting, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t have to spend half your day on calls just to know what’s going on.

You can take a look at our meeting template here.

By cutting out the extra meeting time, we were able to create more time for team members to do more meaningful work, and really spend time doubling down on what’s valuable.

3. Taking Feedback from Something That Fell Through the Cracks to Something We Did Constantly 

Everybody wants to give feedback immediately when it’s top of mind, right? That was our mistake.

You know the drill: someone Slacks you something to review, you stop what you're doing, look at it, and respond. Then, they ask you to hop on a quick call. You go back and forth, resolve the task, and then try to return to what you were doing before. Just like that, your headspace has already shifted and your flow is gone. 

Because of that, we found ourselves context-switching A LOT. And a big reason for that was we didn’t have a good system in place for being deliberate with how and when we gave feedback. So we set new rules: we emphasized written feedback and Loom recordings, we set earlier internal deadlines, and we gave updates on instead of Slack. The point was feedback should be treated like any other task. It should be well-thought-out, organized, and planned into the workday. Not everything had to be done in the moment.

The best part about this was that our feedback improved. With time to respond, everyone was able to communicate their responses more clearly, and suggest tangible improvements. And, nothing ever gets missed or lost from context because there’s both written and recorded documentation. This ultimately also became the basis for a lot of our handoffs as well.

Learning how to give feedback async also sped up our individual learning a ton. You can always go back and re-read or re-watch something you missed.

4. Making Onboarding Not Suck For Us & The New Hire 

For the longest time, we thought our onboarding was pristine. That is, until we doubled our team in 3 months and had to do it all online.

Onboarding is incredibly important because it's the new hires’ first impression; you want them to start contributing immediately, but also don’t want to overwhelm them. Despite being a smaller team with relatively few processes, we used to spend weeks with new hires getting them adjusted and up to speed.

Being remote meant we no longer had hours each day to show each new hire the ropes live, which was already exhausting for both them and the trainer. So, instead of introducing a ton of information on calls on the first day, we packaged all our onboarding materials into a roadmap that we sent new hires PRIOR to starting. Not only do they get a head start, but they also have the time to learn at their own pace. There’s so much to absorb during the onboarding process, and we want to make sure they know what to expect.

To get a further idea, check out a sample of our onboarding template here.

Having the onboarding documents all in front of them meant that new hires could also come in on day one with questions. A ton of the prep work and set up is already done prior to their first day, so onboarding just becomes a ramp-up of projects. We make sure that new hires can come in and immediately contribute.

Nobody wants to come into a new company, sit around, and just do nothing. Async onboarding puts you in a position to add value from day one.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, we're an agency. And so we have to be incredibly efficient with our time. Being able to cut wasteful time where we can, only enhances our ability to do better work.

The more time that we're able to cut from responding to Slack or sitting on meetings, is time that we get to think strategically about our clients, and our business.

Obviously, we will never look to replace engaging with each other completely. Being able to have live conversations is crucial for culture and idea generation.

But, wherever we can eliminate the slog of inefficiency and replace it with productivity, gives us more time to focus on the things that really matter.

What about you? We’d love to hear about any remote strategies your company has tried. 

Give us a shout at - we’re always looking for new ways to improve our processes!

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