Working from home saves people so much time. No need to commute, no need to carefully choose an outfit from head to toe, and no talking about random stuff with coworkers. The latter one, however, I don’t regard as an ultimate benefit. By having small talk about the weather or your plans for the weekend with colleagues, you can recharge and feel socially connected. Remote work takes that part of the experience away and people might not feel part of the company.
The good news is that companies can easily do something about it! From a proper onboarding process to day-to-day business and company culture – there is a lot that companies can do for a better remote work experience. Let’s start with day one of a new team member.
Remote onboarding of new employees
Imagine your first day at the office: You come in, everyone smiles, you get introduced to people, see many brand-new faces, and find out how the coffee machine works. By the end of the day, you feel pleasantly exhausted from a day full of learning new things.
Now imagine you start a new position remotely: The same place as always, maybe your kitchen or living room. No handshakes and walking from one desk to another to meet all the people who are working here. You might feel a bit lost. That’s why a proper onboarding process is so crucial.
Onboarding means having a standard procedure for introducing new hires to their work, their team as well as the company itself. To make it a smooth experience for new employees, our best practices at mindnow amongst other things are:
Every new person who joins the team gets assigned a mentor who is the go-to person for the first few months until being settled in. There are lots of questions at the beginning so it’s important to have a dedicated person for all that stuff.
We have an employee handbook – of course a digital one. We use Notion as our internal knowledge base, from our principles and work ethics to very specific topics around our skills. Just for everything.
Within this handbook, we also have articles that are particularly for onboarding. These are step-by-step instructions with everything you need to know when joining Mindnow.
For Developers: We make sure all the documentation about the project on which a new team member will work is available. On their first day, developers usually have a meeting with the product owner to understand the project's vision and then with their teammates to dive deeper into how to implement this vision.
The onboarding process changes constantly as every new employee brings in something of their own. Feedback is always welcome so everyone enhances it with their experiences and suggestions.
The thing with remote everyday communication
When you’re working in an office, you're aware of your surroundings and can quickly go to someone’s desk to ask your question. If the person already went home, you know you have to leave it for tomorrow. With remote work that’s a little different and one never “goes home”. That’s why it’s important to have a system with rules for asynchronous and synchronous communication.
Slack is where the magic happens
I highly recommend using Slack or Microsoft Teams. Both tools are very suitable for quick and informal chatting. At Mindnow, we are big fans of Slack. It’s super useful – even for people working within the same room – and for a remote team it is just the one place where most of our communication happens.
Besides exchanging about our projects, we also use Slack to share things that are not necessarily related to work. In our dedicated Slack channels – some are more serious than others – everyone can write everything, be it a piece of expertise, a funny video, or a random meme.
Slack is our main communication channel at Mindnow, for the more and sometimes also less serious topics.
Set up rules for disabling notifications
Async communication with chat tools is very effective, but it’s also the thing about which people can get burned out quickly. People are used to different schedules. One team member might still want to discuss something while the other already needs home time.
Within my teams, we usually set up rules when notifications on Slack shall be disabled. We know that the line between work and life gets blurred when you're working from home, so it’s okay to turn off notifications. It's okay not to respond immediately outside core working hours. Set up alternative ways in case something is on fire, so the team can snooze their Slack notifications and recharge during their time off.
Here are some useful Slack features that you should try.
Best practices for remote meetings
Mindnow wouldn’t come first to my mind when thinking about a company with a lot of rules. So the following points are more of a guideline for synchronous communication:
The inviter should always communicate a clear agenda and goals as early as possible, so participants get the chance to prepare for the meeting.
Someone should take notes and document action items. Simply because everything that’s not explicitly defined as such can be regarded as being forgotten.
A summary email after the meeting should be sent to keep everyone aware of the decisions made.
Everyone should always be on time. The result of one person showing up later is that next time everyone else will begin showing up a bit later too.
Everyone should turn on their camera. It’s nice to see the faces of your colleagues at least on the screen.
Only relevant people should be involved. There is just no point in having a person in the meeting who does not bring any value to it.
Regarding tools, we use Google Meets at Mindnow, which works very well for us.
Please turn on your camera – it makes video calls much more personal.
Automation is our friend
I believe that the less time our people spend thinking about stuff like meetings or code style, the more time they have to focus on complex tasks or allow themselves a well-deserved break for a cup of coffee.
That’s why we automate everything we can. I really recommend remote teams integrate different services and tools into one big hub. In our case, we have everything on Slack, for example, daily syncs, employee surveys, calendar integrations, or automated messages from our project management tools.
Automation also means documenting processes, so developers don't have to spend hours to figure out how to do their stuff. Imagine if you don't know how to do something in an office environment. Annoying, right? And it's much worse when you're alone. That’s why every complex process needs to be written down as a step-by-step guide and shared with everyone in our knowledge base mentioned above.
Trust and transparency are key
A great working environment is the basis of how a team will perform. At Mindnow, we believe that in an environment where people are given autonomy and make their own decisions, they thrive without micromanagement. Our concept revolves around trust.
Everyone owns their success and be it feedback, decisions, mistakes, or praise – we keep everything transparent. When people are working remotely, it's easy to hide mistakes (at least for some time), stay silent about things worth sharing, or forget to praise peers. Slack is our place to be and where we share everything. I highly recommend using dedicated channels rather than private messages so everyone is involved in what’s going on.
How to evaluate the performance of remote work
First off: Evaluating people’s performance on their time spent is a bad idea for remote teams. Instead, people should be measured by results and actual performance. In the end, it’s the work that must be done, not the hours. Time tracking is important, but it’s not the solution for performance evaluation. Better focus on tasks with clear KPIs, such as well-defined acceptance criteria or the percentage of the closed sprint.
Keep in mind that there's always something one can measure. I recommend not to overdo it because people tend to optimize themselves towards KPIs. Imagine if developers would be measured by the lines of code they write (which would be weird, but just to give an example here). This would result in unnecessarily long code. So be careful in what you’re trying to measure.
We recently started setting up goals and working towards them using Officevibe. It’s a nice tool that we also use for measuring our employee satisfaction and it’s definitely worth trying it for employee performance.
Hybrid teams and business trips
Remote teams are facing some challenges. It’s not getting any easier if a part of the team is working from the office while the other stays at home. In fact, hybrid teams need even some extra attention when it comes to socializing with peers. The remote people of a hybrid team tend to be at a disadvantage in comparison to those working on-site and regularly meeting in person. So what can be done to avoid them feeling forgotten?
In my opinion, business trips are a great way to meet face-to-face and give everyone a feeling of belonging. Traveling to meet colleagues has a considerable positive effect and the time and money spent are totally worth it.
At Mindnow, we usually organize a team trip once a year. Also visiting each other's offices is an opportunity most of our Minds like to make use of. The best places for that are our modern office in Belgrade and our new office on the island (Catania). The latter one even has two bedrooms so our employees can stay there when visiting their colleagues.
Visiting the team in Belgrade and working together with them is always a good time investment.
Conclusion: Remote work is a necessity for the digital economy
Giving people the possibility to work from wherever they want is not just a trend that will disappear after some time – it's a necessity. I see a decentralized, remote workforce as the future of the digital economy. We're in the middle of a shift from paying people for the time they spend working to paying them for the value they bring to the company and that’s amazing.
There are some downsides to remote work of course, but I think there is nothing that can’t be handled one way or another.
So trust your peers, set up a transparent system that empowers people, and reap the fruits of your success!