10 Ways to Keep Remote Teams Engaged

Dave shares 10 ways to keep remote team members engaged.


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Dave Look: That's part of the joys of working from home or doing remote work, is that we can make our espresso and americano to start our day, so cheers. Today, we're going to talk a little bit about ways to keep remote workers engaged in this current climate that we're in, either you are a fully distributed company already, or perhaps you are experiencing this phenomenon of having to work from home.

Chromatic is a fully distributed team. We've never had an office. This was a bit kind of by accident actually. When we first started, we really didn't have the money to have an office, so we said, "Hey, we have the technology. Bandwidth is accessible. We can work from home." Then we just happened to grow the company over the years in a way that was entirely built around this idea of not having an office. From that over the last 14 years, we've definitely developed a lot of experience in not having an office and working remotely.

Today, we're going to share a handful of those tips and things that we have learned over the years in a way that, hopefully, we can help you with wherever you're at in your journey in this current climate. First up, we highly recommend that you have a regular team call. At Chromatic, we get the whole team together twice a week, as an opportunity to connect and as an opportunity to share the things that we are working on across the organization. We are small. We're relatively small. We're 17 people, so we can still get everyone together at the same time and everyone has an opportunity to share.

We find that this is a great opportunity for everyone to be engaged as part of the team and to really feel that connection of all being on the same team, all pulling on the same end of the rope. We get to share what we did over the weekend or what we're working on this week. We get to share, from leadership of the company gets to share opportunities that we're pursuing, whether that's biz dev or new benefits or anything related to the company. It's a great connection point for everyone to get together and be part of the team.

That brings me to the next point, which is to be flexible. We found that running a fully remote company, flexibility is a huge benefit that we can give to the people that are on our team that are part of this company. In that, we might get up early in the morning and work and then take off early in the afternoon, or if need be, you have a personal thing, you need to drop your kids off at school in the morning and start a little later and work into the evening, that's no problem. We've also got a running joke at Chromatic that Tuesdays are errand Tuesday because everybody runs errands in the afternoon on Tuesdays, which is what I'm doing right now.

We find that that flexibility is a huge benefit to the team. It's a benefit to us mentally. We all can stay a little sharper. We all feel better that we know that if we have something to take care of during the day, it's not a problem to work a little later in the evening or make up that time somewhere else. Flexibility is the key and the takeaway to this point for running a remote team and keeping everybody engaged.

If you've ever heard Chris, Mark, or I, the three owners of Chromatic talk about being a distributed or remote team before, you have probably heard us say, "You need to be remote-first." The emphasis there is that, if you have anyone on your team that is remote, you need to treat everyone on the team as if you're remote. You can't have half of your conversations happening in-person and then not communicating or documenting those for your team that is not there physically.

That could be if you're in a conference room and you're saying, "Hey, we're going to draw some stuff on the whiteboard." Make sure that that gets captured either via video in real-time or via any other technology that you can, to share with that person that isn't in the room with you. That can extend across any type of conversation that you're having across the company. If anyone on the team is remote, treat everyone on the team as if they're remote.

We can't recommend enough doing a team retreat. Once a year, Chromatic tries to get everyone in the company together into the same place physically to be able to have a retreat together. During this time, we're able to do a state of Chromatic and share the vision of the company for where we are headed in the future and recap where we have been, and sharing successes. We get to break bread together. Usually, we try to get outside and enjoy nature together, but it is just a wonderful time to get the entire team together and get to share the success of the company physically in the same place.

We can't recommend it enough. If you are a distributed team, that you try to get your entire team together once in a while for the camaraderie building and the rejuvenation that you get by being together in one place.

Next on the list is boundaries. Where do you differentiate the line between being at work and being at home? This is something that we all have to address and something that we definitely recommend you take some time to think about if you are going to work at home, or you're going to move into the remote working environment for your company. Carving out a place in your home is important to say, "This is where I do my work and this is where I'm home."

This will vary by person to person, and obviously, the amount of space that you have and the amount of people in your home might impact this. For some people, they're able to sit and work on the couch. Some people, they really need to differentiate where home and relaxation time is and where work time is. We definitely recommend that if you can, you carve out a specific place in your home that is where you do your work. When you are going to go to work, you go to that place to do the work. We find, for all of us, that it really helps differentiate work from home and we're able to focus better and more effectively on the work when we go to the designated place to do work.

Another opportunity for your team to stay engaged is to use conferences as a force multiplier. If you get the opportunity to attend a conference in person and you were sending a handful of people, it might be an opportunity to send a few other members of your team to be able to get that in-person connection. We find at Chromatic that the more we can get together in person, even though we are a remote company, it helps us build rapport with one another and have a deeper level of trust and a higher level of engagement with everybody on the team. Use conferences as a force multiplier.

Having proper tools in place for your team to collaborate remotely is also very important. At Chromatic, we use Slack, we use Zoom, we use Google Docs, we use Harvest for time tracking. The point isn't the exact tools that we use, but you need to put tools in place to allow your team to collaborate in a remote or distributed environment. There are countless tools out there and there are many ways that you can help implement these things for your team, but they are business-critical to work in this environment.

I'm going to go ahead and group the last three items that we have on our list. The first one of those is one-on-one meetings. This is something that you should be doing, whether you are a remote team, or you have people working from home or not. One-on-one meetings with someone in leadership is an excellent way to keep people on your team engaged and give them an opportunity to pass feedback along to anyone else in the company that they might need to.

The next one is manufacturing the water cooler. In the remote environment, we don't have that opportunity to pass someone in the hallway. How can we create some serendipity and moments to see one another? Two of the ideas that we have implemented are the coffee Zoom and Zoom happy hour. A lot of people today in 2020 are doing Zoom happy hours because that's the nature of how we can have social interactions, but it is a great way for us to connect outside of work hours.

Then the coffee Zoom is something that Chromatic has implemented. We typically do this on Friday mornings and sometimes other times like Wednesday afternoon or something else. That is someone will just open a Zoom meeting and anyone that's around is free to jump in or jump out, and we have discussions around work or life, or whatever topic is burning the hottest on that day. Sometimes it's just 10 people sitting there writing code and not talking, but we're all there and we're hanging out together.

Then the last one I'm calling fun ways to connect and that is, figure out something that is unique to your team and implement it in a way that creates connection points. For example, at Chromatic, we do a secret Santa gift exchange at the end of every year, and Chromatic sponsors this. We give everyone a budget and they get to- and then we assign names to everyone in the company and you get to send them a gift. The gift arrives and then we schedule a coffee Zoom or I guess I shouldn't say coffee Zoom, it's a secret Santa zoom and on that Zoom, everybody goes around like a team call and we open up our gifts and guess who had us as their secret Santa.

That's one additional way that we are able to connect as a team. That's all I have for my talk today. Thank you very much for joining. I hope you are well and staying healthy in this season. If you have a complex web challenge that you would like help solving, please feel free to reach out to Chromatic. We'd be happy to talk to you about that and if you are looking to join a team of skilled strategists, designers, and developers, we are hiring. Please go to chromatichq.com and check out our careers page. Have a wonderful day.

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