In our previous blog post, we shared why we decided to work remotely as co-founders. Although there are benefits of working in this remote setting, undoubtedly there are challenges as well.
Communication is often considered as the #1 top challenge for remote teams. In this blog post, we want to share how we facilitate communication at Kipwise as a 100% remote team and hopefully some tactics can benefit your team as well 🙂
1. Tips on using instant chat tools
At Kipwise, we are using Slack as our major communication tool (so we have quite a lot of Slack tips to share as well). While using instant chat tools seems easy and straight-forward, not using them correctly can cause you more communication issues.
Default to public channels instead of direct messages for transparency
The number 1 rule at Kipwise when using Slack is to avoid using direct messages. This helps to keep everyone on the same page on the progress on different tasks and it’s easier for teammates to jump in and help when they can. This also helps to avoid situations where some tasks are actually interdependent but the teammates on Task B are not aware of some important background info from Task A because they are hidden in direct or private messages.
With this practice, you might think – “Will there be too many messages to catch up with?”. There comes the importance of better organizing your Slack channels. By grouping conversations by functions, projects and topics using appropriate channels, teammates can then focus on channels that are important to them.
Nest messages around threads to keep conversations easy to follow
This is particularly important for remote teams because teammates are likely to be based in different timezone. If you don’t nest discussions into threads, oftentimes there will be other topics jumping in, making it hard to allow which replies are for which discussion. So build up a habit of using threads whenever you can.
Use @channel wisely to reduce noise for teammates
A lot of people are confused when to use @channel and when to use @here on Slack. The difference between the two is that @channel will notify everyone in that channel but @here will only notify the people that are actually online at that moment.
So unless you are sending an important announcement or urgent matter that need’s everyone to read it, try to avoid using @channel to reduce noise for teammates.
Use status and profile to communicate availability
Unlike onsite workers who are sitting in the same office, for remote teams, sometimes it’s hard to remember who is on vacation and the working hours for different teammates that are based in different timezone. So when you are on vacation, set your status to help your teammates know that you are not available. Also make good use of the profile to communicate information like timezone and typical working hours.
2. Don’t be reluctant to jump on calls
While instant chat is good for quick updates, a phone or video call is often still better for discussing complex issues. At Kipwise, we are using Zoom for video conferencing.
The 5-min rule
We have a rule at Kipwise – if you find yourself typing on Slack for more than 5 minutes on the same issue, jump on a call instead! In a video call, you can do stuff like screen sharing, making it much more efficient to solve complex issues.
As a good practice, it’s always nice to type a quick summary after the call to keep everyone on the page. The summary would also make it easier to trace back the issues using search in the future.
3. Regular face-to-face meetings to check on progress and ask for feedback
Other than solving complex issues, having regular voice or video communications can help create connections in a remote team as well. In voice and video calls, emotion and expression are able to come through much better than text. Email and instant messages can’t always compare.
And psychologically speaking, people often feel more embarrassed when they aren’t able to share any progress in a face-to-face setting when compared to text communication. So having regular face-to-face meetings can help keep your team motivated and disciplined in achieving goals as well.
Daily standup meeting to align goals and address roadblocks
Currently Kipwise has teammates in Estonia, Croatia, Brazil, Taiwan and Hong Kong and our daily meeting is set to be 11am (GMT+0). Although that means 8am for our teammate in Brazil and 7pm for our teammates in Hong Kong, luckily our Brazilian teammate is a morning person and our teammates in Hong Kong and Taiwan are fine with getting off (and starting) work a bit late. But sometimes, given the flexibility you get from remote work, there are sacrifices that you have to make as well. So make sure you hire the right person with the right mindset when setting up your remote team.
In the meeting, teammates will take turn to answer 3 questions:
- What have you done since the last meeting?
- What will you do until the next meeting?
- Is there any roadblock?
We phrase the question as “since the last meeting” and “until” the next meeting” because teammates in a remote team tends to locate in different timezones, so using “yesterday” and “today” as cut-off time may not be the most effective way for teammates that the daily meeting might happen in the middle of his/her work day.
To keep the meeting focus and make it easier for teammates to look back after the meeting, we have a Slack channel called #daily-updates where everyone will type their answers to the above 3 questions prior to the standup meeting (a good tip is to set up a Slack reminder to remind the channel to do that before the meeting).
Check out our daily standup meeting template with tips on how to keep the daily standup meeting focused and effective.
Biweekly all-team meeting for big picture updates
While the daily meeting is short and usually lasts for around 15 minutes, our team will have a longer meeting biweekly for big picture updates.
In this meeting, the business team will update everyone on our high level metrics such as revenue, number of new signups, major conversion ratios and important leads that are in our pipeline. And the product team head will share a brief overview on what has been launched recently and what would be upcoming soon.
As a startup that moves fast and evolves quickly, our CEO will also use this meeting as a chance to share if there are any changes in our short term goals and direction.
Biweekly product team sprint retrospective
Other than the all-team big picture meeting, our product team will also have a biweekly sprint retrospective. This meeting will begin with everyone in the product team, including designers, in the meeting, where we will reflect on how we did for the past 2 weeks, what can be improved and what will be the priorities for the coming 2 weeks. Then the engineers will stay longer to discuss more in-depth tech issues.
Monthly 1-on-1 with managers
While we value transparency, we also understand that some things maybe hard to share in a team meeting where everyone is present. So every month, our teammates will meet with their manager in an 1-on-1 format where the manager will ask for the teammates’ feedback and also give feedback to the teammates on how we believe he/she can improve.
4. Tips on using project management tools
Another type of tool that is important in helping remote teams communicate more effectively is product management tools. Using project management tools, you can group conversations around certain tasks and projects in a much more organized way and track progresses more efficiently.
Trello + Slack power-ups
At Kipwise, we are using Trello as our project management tool. Trello offers great integration with Slack, so you can get instant notifications on Slack when there are activities on your trello cards or boards (you can customize the type of activities that you want to receive notifications for).
Planyway for Trello
Other than the Slack power-up for Trello, another add-on that we are using at Kipwise is Planyway. Using Planyway, you can turn your Trello board into calendar or gantt chart view to view progresses more easily. It also supports multi-board views and individual member lanes so it’s easier to coordinate your team schedule and have a quick overview of who’s doing what and when.
5. Neatly organize internal knowledge using knowledge management tools
In a remote setting, when you have a question, you can’t just tap on someone’s shoulder to ask. And with time zone differences, you might have to wait for a long time before you can get an answer from another teammate if important knowledge is not organized in an easily accessible way.
Establish a habit to document team knowledge in an organized fashion. We might be biased, but Kipwise is a great solution because it’s integrated with the tools that remote teams love, easy to use, and have built-in workflows to help ensure your content is accurate and fresh.
If you need more tips on building an internal knowledge hub, check out our blog post on how to create an effective internal knowledge base.
We hope the above tips can help you improve team communication in a remote setting. We are still a small team and are still learning day by day. If you have more interesting ideas on how to improve remote team communication, leave a message to share with us 🙂