by Aleksey Kataev, leads the development team at Skyeng company
At the moment due to coronavirus, all Skyeng teams work from home. For us, the shift to remote work was much easier than for many teams who are used to the office environment. At Skyeng, 90% of employees and contractors have been working remotely since their first day.
With seven years of experience, we’re now experts in productive remote collaborations. Here are 6 key tips for those who are new to working from home.
Live communication is the key to productivity. When you cannot talk face to face, use video chat. At Skyeng, we try to talk through video to everyone we work with. We use video chat to make an offer, to onboard a new hire and then every day at work. We ask people to use real photos for profile pictures in all messengers. This makes communication more personal.
For important calls, we make records and share them with colleagues who couldn't come to the meeting. Team leaders use those records to assess new employees after some months at the company. Or, if an applicant would be a good fit for a different job at the company, a team leader can send a recorded interview to another team.
We even have informal gathering via video chat. Teams choose a topic and exchange opinions on it. That’s how we get to know each other.
Some teams meet offline, for example at a bar. For those who achieve their KPI targets, offline trips are paid by the company. People are usually very surprised when they see their co-workers for the first time, very often about the hight. “Oh, I didn’t know you’re this tall!” It’s great to meet people you work with in real life. Hopefully, the pandemic won’t last forever, and we will go back to this practice.
Sometimes we hire people who have never worked from home. For them, the shift can be hard — with all the agendas and meeting notes, planning and always being online. To make their life easier, we created a simple onboarding process. We explain how to get access to all the services or find Slack channels they’ll need.
The work routine can be very different depending on a team: marketing, partnerships projects, content lab or tech support. But all new hires go through a well-defined onboarding process. First, they get to know Skyeng’s mission, then learn about our processes and meet their teammates. Then they do their first assignments and get into the workflow.
We store all our guides and instructions in Notion and update them regularly. It helps us scale up our processes easily.
We try to give our employees as much freedom as possible. They can work on their own schedule and pace as long as the job is done. But it’s important to keep in mind that remote work is not the same as freelance work. That’s why we make our processes transparent — when anyone can see what is being done at the moment. This way people know when a task will be completed and can plan their day accordingly.
Some managers may still have doubts that people will work productively from home. How to control them? There are some extreme methods like daily standups or screen tracking. But at Skyeng, we don’t use them.
To make their workflow transparent, our developers keep work logs, our designers use sprints and track their work time in Trello. We also set targets and plan our work for the next month, quarter and year. Targets are then split into projects, projects are split into steps and steps are split into concrete tasks. That’s how at any moment we can estimate the progress and make adjustments.
Remote work has many pluses like no commute or never being late or an opportunity to travel more. But there are also some downsides. People who are used to working in an office 9 to 5 may find it harder to concentrate at home. Sometimes people have trouble separating work from personal life and find themselves not leaving their home for several days in a row.
To make the shift to remote work easier, we created online courses on time management and organizing your working routine. We explain that it’s better not to start your day by checking Trello notifications in bed and that it’s a good idea to set time when you stop working.
When team members don’t see each other, it’s very important to highlight how they affect the result of a team and the company. When setting a task, explain why it’s important for target metrics. Don’t give out tasks with unclear goals like “move this button to the left” or “create a text for a landing page.”
When working with production teams, people usually come to a team leader or product manager first. They fill out a task request together and define the job to be done and the expected result. It doesn’t work out perfectly every time but helps set more clear goals in most cases.
When you start working from home, it might find it hard to manage a team and keep up with your co-workers. How do you motivate people not just to do their job but to go beyond?
At Skyeng, we value feedback — from our students and teachers and from our colleagues. It helps up become better. Every team holds retrospective meetings and discusses their achievements and fails. We analyze what we do and make adjustments if necessary.
We also host George Live — an online meeting with our CEO George Soloviev where he shares strategic plans and talks about new prospects for the company. This helps teams set their goals and plan their work according to the company’s strategy.
These tips are taken from Skyeng’s experience and books on business process management and can be applied to any workflow, remote or in an office. Even after the coronavirus pandemic is over, they will be a good addition to your work routine.