We work semi-remotely at LEAD. Here’s how we do it.

Working remotely is not a new concept. People from different industries and careers have been doing it for decades. 

At LEAD, we’re fortunate to be able to set up a team that works semi-remotely. In this post, we’re going to explain how we do it, the tools that we use and steps you can take to shoot up your productivity levels.

First, what’s semi-remote?

Working semi-remotely means while we have the luxury of working remotely, our team constantly comes together to work at the office. That means we don’t work 100% remotely.

There are many reasons why we still come together to work.

Firstly, it’s faster to work together when you can pinpoint things in person. Imagine working remotely with a designer and trying to point out parts to fix in a graphic image over Zoom. 

Secondly, nothing beats the human and emotional connection you get from showing up and interacting with your colleagues, face to face. This builds camaraderie and trust among our team.

That said, working remotely has its benefits too. Some of which are:

  • Less downtime with lengthy meetings, which could be done as an email.
  • Reduced water-cooler or pantry chit-chats that waste time.
  • Save time on commuting to the office.
  • A personal workspace that works.
  • Better cost savings – both for the company and the team members.

So when we embrace semi-remote working, we get the best of both worlds. And when the circumstances force us to work remotely, our team easily adapts to remote working. But how do you ensure the success of doing it? 

Must use software & tools for working remotely

1 – Slack is good. But not for project tracking.

Most modern companies and tech startups use Slack to communicate. This cuts down the need for hundreds of emails being sent to each other – as you can instantly get a response from your team members.

We too, use Slack for communication and to work together. Because we’ve built a habit of using Slack only for work, our team exclusively communicates in Slack only. 

Compared to organizations who constantly terrorize employees by sending them messages on instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp – we effectively separate work and personal time, by implementing a simple habit. 

But here’s what to note.

While Slack makes it easy to discuss work (it’s still an instant messaging platform) – it can quickly become a place for never-ending ad-hoc work requests and chats.

working remotely -Slack

Use Slack to communicate. But refrain from using it to provide updates on every project. 

Here’s the problem – when the typical user hears a *ding* or sees the red notification on Slack, he or she will have the urge to stop whatever they are doing and click to see.

working remotely

Tell me you don’t feel anxious seeing the number of notifications climb!

The red circle is created by design, as red is a colour that triggers attention.

These pulls are not good for productivity and focus, and among many factors, is one of the downsides to being productive on Slack.

Instead, for project tracking, use a tool such as Trello. We will explain using Trello in the next point. 

2 – Manage your projects with Trello

Because important messages get lost in a thread of messages on Slack, use something like Trello to keep your entire team on the same page. 

Here’s how we create effective boards: 

Create a mainboard 

working remotely - Trelle

This board acts as your company’s overview board – where you can see every top-level project and find access to certain company-wide resources. 

It’s also useful to label cards accordingly. This depends on how your company is structured, but the reason we do this is so that it’s easier to filter down to the cards you want to see as the board gets filled. 

Create task-force boards

working remotely - Trello

It’s a bad idea to chuck everything into a single board. That’s why we designed a workflow where we created boards for sub-projects and departments. 

For example, we have sub-boards for: 

  • Marketing plans and operations.
  • Sales and acquisition. 
  • Online course plan & progress.
  • Content management. 

Different departments will be handled by different key team-members. Think of different Trello boards as different departments within your company. 

So pull in the people who are in charge of the different boards. That said, what we found at LEAD is the success of using Trello comes down to the habit of updating and taking info from boards. Having a team member to continually enforce the habit of using Trello would definitely help. 

Don’t like Trello? Some alternatives (free & paid) includes:

  • Basecamp
  • Asana
  • Monday

3 – Storage and collaboration on Google Drive

working remotely - google drive

The winning cloud storage for our team is Google Drive. Sure, there are other platforms such as Dropbox and Onedrive. But one of the major reasons we chose to go with Google Drive to store and share files, is because the way it works with the other useful Google Suite apps such as Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. 

On syncing files, we’ve noted Dropbox to be much faster (mainly because it uses a block-syncing method), however Google Drive has bigger storage and the ability have links to apps like YouTube – giving us an advantage, as we create lots of video content. 

We’re on a paid version, however if you’re just starting out, Google Drive offers 15GB free space – much bigger than Dropbox, at only 2GB. 

4 – Leverage on Zoom for meetings & webinars

working remotely - Zoom

If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that we’re big on webinars. 

In fact, we run webinars on data science, web development and digital marketing, every single week – unless there is a major event on the particular week. 

While we initially used GotoWebinar and WebinarJam for webinars – we eventually found our preferred platform, Zoom – to be the most reliable and functional platform for large group video calls, webinars, or even online training that we conduct. 

Every Monday, we run meetings via Zoom – where we update each other on our goals and tasks for the week. 

Pro Tip: Get an external microphone for ANY online meetings. The quality of the audio is usually the deal-breaker for online meetings. That’s why we invest so much into microphones.

working remotely - Dr Lau Cher Han

Guess the mic that Dr. Lau uses in this picture here.

Some microphones we recommend: 

We have a weekly all-hands meeting in Zoom that’s essential to keep the team aligned and gives us a chance to just hang out a bit as a company virtually. And with any online meetings or webinars, be present at least 5 minutes before it starts – respecting the time of other people in the call with you. 

Some quick tips to online meetings.

Record your meetings.

To compensate for lack of face time and the different times that you team might have, it’s useful to record your meetings, if your organization allows it. This would be helpful, as team members who missed meetings can catch up later on. 

Get everyone to speak.

The biggest mistake people make with online meetings is turning it into a lecture. The key to an effective online meeting is to include everyone in the conversation. When we do this, it becomes a team effort rather than another dreadful Monday meeting.

Turning on the video.

Sight is probably the most powerful sense we have as a human. You see this in things such as data visualization, where when something is ‘visualizable’ it becomes believable. 

The same applies to online meetings. Turning on your video and allowing your team members to see your expressions and emotions, goes a long way towards an effective online meeting. 

5 – Automate anything that can be automated

working remotely - Zapier

As a lean team, we’re constantly on a lookout to automate things at LEAD. A key tool we use is Zapier

Zapier is an automation tool that helps you automate tasks, instead of having to wor kon them manually. And hey, we strongly believe in Zapier’s core value of “don’t be a robot, build the robot”.  

Here’s an example of how we use Zapier. 

Remove users from our email list when they become customers. 

We utilize quite a bit of email marketing and have multiple lists for different audiences. The only problem? As our list gets bigger, the cost also rises. 

One of the issues we had early on was having duplicate contacts in multiple lists, thus increasing the cost of our email marketing service. This resulted with us having to dig in our list and removing duplicates. 

working remotely- Mailchimp

This is where we used Zapier to remove duplicate contacts from our lists as they sign up into another list or become a customer at LEAD. You don’t have to be a developer or know how to code to start using Zapier. The interface is pretty simple and if you understand how if/else statements work – you are already halfway there.

The bottom line is to seek to automate repetitive tasks. Find out tasks that rob you from productive time and automate it. 

Don’t want to pay for Zapier? You can also automate tasks with Python. Check out our course and learn to program with Python

Tips to manage working remotely teams

Found yourself having to manage a team remotely? Here are some tips (from our experience) that will get you started the right way.

1 – Run virtual stand-up meetings.

working remotely - stand-up meetings

It’s usual to have a Monday morning meeting to get everyone aligned for the week. But guess what? Things usually fall apart and deadlines get missed as we move towards the end of the week. 

Managing a remote team means constantly checking in with your team. In a way to offer help and not to micromanage of course! 

This is where midweek stand-up meetings come in. Stand-up meetings don’t have to be lengthy. Rather, they are just rapid 15 minutes meetings meant to align team goals, where every team member shares the current tasks they are working on and if they need help from other team-members. 

The LEAD team does this every Wednesday, simply to check in with each other.

2 – Trust your team.

working remotely - trust your team
Do you trust your team mates fully?

Remote work is not for you if you can’t trust the person on the other end. You’ll find yourself worrying about what someone is doing. 

Rather than spending unnecessary time stressing on that, focus on revenue-generating activity. Trust is key when it comes to remote working.

If you’re a team leader, focus on providing clear direction and guidance on what needs to be done. After which, trust your team to work on the tasks and give constructive feedback when needed. 

And for that reason, we never believe in time-tracking tools and apps at LEAD.

3 – Hire team members who can work without a social workplace

working remotely

It’s important to try to create some social aspects with a remote team if you’re fully remote. At LEAD, we’re a semi-remote team, hence we do have the opportunity to hang around and work together. 

If you’re part of a fully remote team, your teammates have to be ok with little to no social environment to work in and have their own social support system. 

How do you find people who can fit such working arrangements? One of the biggest factors we found with our limited hiring experience, is to set expectations early on. An individual who has never worked remotely might need some time to adapt to the working style and culture that you’re setting. 

Otherwise, some good questions to ask your next hire are:

  • Have you worked remotely before? 
  • What are some challenges you faced when you did?
  • Why do you want to work from home? 
  • How do you stay focused on your tasks?
  • How do you switch off from work?

Setting up good habits for working remotely.

Remember, being successful at remote working comes within. It’s your habits and behaviour that will determine how well you’re able to work remotely.

1 – Establish a system

working remotely - establish a system

Most of us are used to working in a controlled environment a.k.a an office with constraints and strict schedules. Meetings force us to respect time and schedules. 

So when you begin working remotely at home or as you travel – it becomes too easy to fall out of discipline with the many distractions we have. Hey, the sofa’s just over there. TV is just 5 feet away. Kitchen fridge is filled with food. 

Set up a system that you can follow.

  • What time do you start work? 
  • What time do you stop for lunch? 
  • How often and when should you take breaks? 
  • When do you work on certain tasks?

Implementing a system helps you to automatically set you up for success. Rather than relying on motivation to get to work, set up a system. Because no matter how energetic and positive you are, motivation is finite and would eventually die out. A system however, does not.

Want to learn how to implement better habits? Here’s a good read: Atomic Habits by James Clear

2 – Do what you can; be open when you can’t

working remotely

Personal accountability is everything especially when your team is fully remote. Working remotely can sound exciting but it’s a test of your conviction and discipline. It’s almost like being a freelancer, and motivational quotes alone won’t fuel you forever. 

You will need to take ownership, being in-charge to work and see through each workday, structuring your own schedule and getting important matters done.

There will be no manager or supervisor to tell you how or what to do in your job. With remote work, the only person telling you to work is you

Hence, it’s important to keep your daily priorities in check. You may have a long list of ‘to-dos’ and the tendency to procrastinate on tasks that you don’t enjoy doing increases, and gradually you will be overwhelmed.

Self-awareness is crucial and pausing to reflect would help.
– What are the urgent tasks to be done by today?
– What are the important tasks but it can wait?
– How do you break down a complex problem into simple doable steps?
– When do you ask for help? Are you able to achieve your set expectations?
– Is this task out of my capacity or capability to solve?

These honest self-reflection questions will enable you to uphold personal accountability consistently.  

3 – Remember to plug out

working remotely

Problem with working remotely is the lack of a signal or ‘trigger’ that says it’s time to go for lunch or to go home. So you end up continually working without a sense to stop. 

Our team finds this a challenge as well, where we are constantly working on the clock, even up to midnight at times. 

It’s vital to stick to a predetermined daily schedule and uphold habits not just working on your craft but for every other thing in life. Schedule downtime for yourself, it’ll be essential for your emotional and mental health in the long term.

Activities that help you to plug out even if you’re superbly busy.
– Walk the dog (well if you have one)
– Go for a jog at the nearest park
– Go for a quick lift or run at the gym
– Practice meditation

Basically, activities that would distract or lure your mind out of the ‘work mode’. That said, it’s usually easier said than done. 

Think about this, you can practically achieve the same number of tasks within a shorter period of time if you’re able to keep your energy high and be productive. 

However, it’s not always the case where you can keep the pace or productivity that you desire and most people including ourselves would seek out caffeine or energy drinks. 

Conclusion

Working remotely is an art and a skill that requires time to develop. Unfortunately, not many companies practice it, and due to the recent global pandemic, many individuals may not have the option but to do it.

So whether you’re just starting to work remotely for the first time or engage in full-time remote work, it takes time to get acclimatise to this new ‘lifestyle’ in which you’ll be surprised to discover it’s more of a challenge than a luxury. 

Ultimately, you will determine what to work on, when you work, how do you work, and the environment you work in. And importantly the outcome and deliverables you can achieve. It’s no doubt, it may put some weight onto you for a start but gradually you will readjust and adapt to get used to working remotely. 

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