Managing a Remote Team

May 29, 2018

 

Working with and leading a remote team isn't easy. You'll need to be extra well organized to be able to eep your team working with all of their engines at full speed. It has taken our team a while to to a system that works for everyone. When designing our work spaces and flows, we realized it mostly came down to how well we could answer these five simple questions: Why, What, How, Who and When?

 

From there we designed our team tools  in order to help us answer those five questions for each team and project, and as effectively as posisble.
 

The Questions
 

Why?
Giving your team a purpose and common goal is important for any team, and it is especially helpful for a remote team to have a clear final destination with their work. As you begin to define their work, the team's purpose and goals help all team members understand why the work assigned to them is important. Outlining clear goals also stopss team members from getting side tracked with work that doesn't fit the mission.

What? 
The next question is what work needs to get done. So think in terms of product features, marketing activities, improvement initiatives, course development, etc. If your team has many tasks to complete, then this step can quickly become overwhelming. You need to be able to group the work in smaller chunks, mini projects, or sprints - to make their tasks more manageable and allow them to easily oversee their work. Team members should be able to break work down into smaller tasks and add tasks along the way. This will give your team members the ability to think through all the different components of the work that needs to get done to achieve their goals and mission.

How?
With a remote team the specification of the work needs to be extra clear. All the information around the work needs to be easy to find and centralized around the tasks that need to be completed. Team members need to be able to easily communicate and collaborate around the specifications to further define, discuss and clarify the work, so that everybody is always on the same page. Answering the how question should also include how the team will work together, and involve the defining of workflows, tools, best practices, meetings and so forth.

Who?
Who is doing what is often a challenge for teams, especially when team members work remotely. Who has what workload? Who is available when? Team leaders need an easy way to assign work to team members and team members need to be able to see what has been assigned to them and what other team members are actively working on. As the work is in progress and things change, work needs to be easily reassigned across the team.

When?
How much time will it take? What's the deadline? What's the status of this task? Are we going to meet our deadline? The team continuously wants to know the timelines of the work. To do that, we need to be able to estimate how much time work will take to complete and when we expect to complete it. At any time, we want to know what the status of the work is, what stage of the process it's in, how much longer it will take etc. For remote team this can be an especially challenging metric to keep track of.

 

Implementation


We have designed TipHive to help us address these five questions. It works as our team's mission control: our central information, knowledge and planning hub. TipHive has three tools to help a remote team be successful: Cards, Topics and Views.

  • Cards let you quickly create and add any type of information relevant to the work and your team

  • Topics are the most flexible way to keep all your information organized

  • Views turn TipHive into a multipurpose tool combining information, knowledge and planning into one, so you can keep it all in one place

Here is how it works on TipHive.

Why: Team mission and goals
Within each project, topic or team, the Wiki view lets you create a knowledge base with all of the meta project or team information, such as goals, mission, purpose, roles, structure and more. The Wiki view is especially designed to create, order and organize information.

What: Identifying work
You can create a Card for each piece of work and quickly make a list of Cards. Cards can easily be grouped in mini projects, sprint, epics or however you want to organize it, using Topics and SubTopics.

How: Work specifications
Cards are designed to share any type of information. It's easy to start mapping out your ideas and refine them continuously until you have detailed specifications. Cards can even include the full work itself. For instance, for marketing activities, a Card can include the story board for a promotion video, blog ideas and the article's text, or the creative content for a social media ad. For product features, a Card could include the specifications, the wireframes and all the discussion around the feature spec. On TipHive the Task and the Content are one and the same. You can write it all directly in the Card using our rich text editor, or attach files, images, and links as needed.

Who: Assign work
Cards can be assigned to team members. In the Assign view each Lane is a team member and you can quickly drag and drop Cards in Lanes to assign work across the team. Cards can include a time estimate of the work and on the user profile of team members you can set availability per week. As you assign work, the capacity bar will show how 'full' a team member is, so you can quickly see the work load of each team member. The Planning view tells you who is doing what when and lets you easily reshuffle the work.

You can apply a filter to see Cards assigned to specific users and within a selected time box. For team leaders this is helpful when wanting to know what a team member is working on. It also lets a team member see what work has been assigned to him or her for any given time, like this week or next month.

When: Timelines, Estimates and Due dates
We've added lots of ways to answer the when question. Based on the work estimation per Card and the start or due date of a Card, the timelines become clear.

In the Calendar view, you can see all your cards in a timeline. You can drag the Card to move the start and due date or change the length to change the work estimation.

In the Kanban view each lane is a label. A label can represent a stage in a work flow, so you can quickly see in what stage the work is in, such as draft, in progress, reviewing, approved and so forth.

In the Goal view, there are two columns. One for work to do and one for work completed. It helps each team member quickly see what work is assigned to them in a given time box (week, two weeks, month, etc) and what percentage of the work is completed. This quickly answers the question how far along the work is.

Combined, these tools give a remote team everything they need to overcome the challenges of working in different locations with limited communication opportunities. It would not surprise us if remote teams using these tools effectively would be more productive than a local team not using these tools. 

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