How we make remote and distributed teams effectivePosted on by Raimon Lapuente
For the last ten months I’ve been working in Skyscanner as a distributed (remote) member and I couldn’t be happier. Although Skyscanner has offices all around the world and regular communication between them, distributed/remote teams are less common.
The TravelPro (corporate travel planning tool) mobile team is one such distributed team: it’s made up of colleagues in the London, Budapest, Edinburgh and Barcelona offices, and that’s just Dev. and Design. Fair, that’s just one timezone difference and we almost always work from an office, but the fact remains that most challenges related with distributed/remote teams apply to us.
But what is the difference between remote and distributed? In my mind, distributed teams work on the same product, collaborating to achieve a goal, but from various different offices or locations. In my case I’m the only person of my team in Barcelona, so I consider myself remote.
Since there’s an element of scepticism in the sector around remote working, I’d like to add my take.
Common problems and worries
I’ve read many posts on remote working. Buffer has a bunch of them. Highlighted problems and worries tend to be the same, roughly as follows:
Company/manager: communication, productivity, management issues.
Personal: communication, loneliness, time management.
Honestly, I had never thought about the problems of working remotely. To me, the challenges detailed above can be overcome by a singular principle: communication.
Clearly communication has the potential to be a real weakness for distributed teams. We at Skyscanner flipped this problem on its head – communication is now a strength. We’ve created processes around the streams of information which makes almost any discussion available to read at any time:
– Slack is the common place to leave thoughts or have discussions (so much so that some of us are creating ‘dark hours’ to avoid distraction)
– Skype is the way to talk face to face, either as a ‘standup’ or when writing becomes annoying
– Github is the common tool for code discussion/review (we are developers, after all)
– Wiki pages are where everything is documented (yes, we do documentation!), and as good practice, almost any decision is recorded there
– Email is used as well, but only with people outside the team or for more formal communication, as well as for special announcements
Your workspace is a tool, so use it wisely. I’ve worked from my home, airplane/ train while traveling, other cities, other Skyscanner offices… But your office (home or not) is like any other vi editor: you need to customise to your delight. Being in my usual place is where I am most productive.
Meetings are a tool as well. It’s important to still know who are you talking to, anticipate their answer and emphasise with them for the best outcome. A good way to approach meetings is to set expectations and objectives and go into a meeting with a list of topics to discuss to keep the focus.
Get together face-to-face regularly. Every one or two months we gather part or all the team in an office to work together. This helps when new team members join, or just to be able to see the people you usually work with. Relationships are important in all teams, and doing so strengthens your team dynamic. Other remote teams do this as well.
Every day we have a ‘standup’, a quick catch up over Skype, done standing so as to ensure meetings are swift and efficient.
We also undertake the following:
– Retrospectives: for improving our processes
– Bug bash: we group bugs or user requests and we decide which ones we’ll tackle now and which ones we’ll leave for later
– 1-2-1: a regular meeting with your manager to review how you are doing. In distributed/remote teams I find this very useful
Remote work is still not a common pattern – but the perceived barriers to it are not as insurmountable as you might think. It can be effective (our team is a living proof of it). Tools around it are improving day by day. Soon there will be no reason not to do it (unless you are actually making something physically).
It can be done in a smart way, but it requires a special mindset. This change will happen slower for some people, but the use of asynchronous communication (in an effective way), will mean more and more people will embrace remote and distributed working.
Remote is not coming, it’s already here. Let’s be smart about it!