5 Rules To Work By When Managing A Remote Team 'Round The World

This blog post is part of the Trello Day Replay series of talks given by members of the Trello team, Google, and Typeform about different ways they’re using Trello to be more effective in life and work. For more inspiration, check out the rest of the talks here.

Remote work is not a fad: It’s the future. It’s also the present for me. As Trello’s first marketing hire, I’ve seen my team grow from one to 15+ people working remotely across the US, Canada, Brazil, and Spain.

In any environment, being a manager is tough, but I believe that remote work actually makes managing a team more intentional and results-oriented. Really—the way it should be.

I do all the normal manager things: Hiring, performance reviews, setting goals, weekly check-ins, and more. The only difference is that it’s all done remotely. So how do we run a company with team members across the globe?

Here are the five fundamental rules to work by when managing a remote team that we've successfully used at Trello all these years:

1. Working From Home Is Not Remote Work

When companies say they’ve “tried remote work” and “it didn’t work” for them, it’s usually some variation of allowing flexible working hours for workers, or giving them the option to work from home at some point during the week. This results in some time being spent in an office and some time being spent working from home, with a team that is doing the same thing.

This setup doesn’t mirror a full time remote scenario for two reasons:  

  • For one, the individuals aren’t set up to succeed. For example, employees who only occasionally work from home don’t have a home office that’s optimized for remote work, because why would they?
  • Now the company has a situation where some people are physically present and some are not, without a good setup for the remote workers. The office workers use their “work from home” days when their kids get sick or they have furniture being delivered. Over time, “work from home” becomes synonymous with “I’m doing my laundry and watching Netflix.”

The reality for remote workers doesn’t include hours of binge-watching the latest Chef’s Table season and actually paints a different picture: remote workers are more productive and happier, according to many reports.

2. You Need The Right Setup For Remote Success

remote team desk setup

A dedicated office: You wouldn’t expect an office worker to do their job without a desk setup, conference rooms, and whatever other tools they need to be effective. The same is true for remote employees: Full time remotes should not work primarily from couches, kitchens, or coffee shops with spotty internet. Remote workers need a desk, full stack equipment, and an office with a door that closes. If the expectation is that these would be provided by a company in an office, then they should also be part of a remote office.

Reliable internet: Remote workers also need fast and reliable internet. Team bonding can’t happen when you can only hear or understand every third word due to a bad connection! Internet connectivity may limit where you can hire, but in today’s digital economy, it’s a must.

Childcare: Anyone who has kids knows childcare is another full time job. Just like you wouldn’t be fine with bringing your child to work every day in a physical office, you shouldn’t expect to do the same in a remote working environment.

An investment in a good remote working setup underscores the difference between full time remote working and working from home. It also demonstrates that full time remote work is not particularly amenable to the digital nomad lifestyle in the long term. While working by a pool is the dream sold to remote workers, the reality is that if you require internet or need to be in meetings, the pool is not an attractive workplace for productivity!

Full time remotes should not work primarily from couches, kitchens, or coffee shops with spotty internet. Remote workers need a desk, full stack equipment, and an office with a door that closes. 

3. Make Time For Face Time

offsite trello board

Just because you’re remote doesn’t mean you never spend time with your coworkers in person. My team sees each other just about every day in video meetings, and we hang out in person at company offsites. Here are two fun and effective ways to get more face time with your remote team: 

  • Escalate to Video: Whenever something takes more than 30 seconds to explain in chat, I encourage team members to jump into a Zoom meeting. Chat is an all-around amazing communications channel, but it lacks fundamental human elements like body language and tone. That’s why it’s easier and faster to just talk to a human face-to-face to solve a lot of problems and answer questions.
  • Plan Offsites: Companies that are saving tons of money on office space should set aside some of those savings for in-person team building. For Trello, that means an annual team offsite we call Trello Together, and it also means smaller sub-team off-sites throughout the year. The goal of these events is for coworkers to get to know each other as human beings and build relationships, so that when they get back to their offices at home, they still feel all the warm fuzzies and goodwill that make teamwork more than transactional. Not sure where to start? Here are some tips for getting started planning your first offsite.

Ultimately, what we are trying to ensure with all of the face time is to make sure coworkers are recognizing each other’s humanity and fostering relationships that are much deeper than transactional exchanges about task lists.

4. Optimize Meetings

Meetings have a bad rep, but that’s only because they often lack structure and purpose. In remote settings, meetings have to be more intentional (you can’t drag some folks into a conference room randomly), which makes it easier to implement some process that improves the quality of the meeting.

remote team video call

First of all, all meetings should be remote-friendly. Attendees should take calls individually from their desks rather than in clusters across conference rooms so that remote attendees aren’t giant floating faces on a wall. It’s almost impossible to hear chatter happening in a room when you’re relying on one microphone between 10 people! Next, make sure the meeting has a stated purpose or agenda. We often use a Trello board where team members can add agenda items for regular meetings. Finally, all meetings should have a designated “meeting lead” whose job it is keep things on track and moving along. Here are some more of my tips on optimizing meetings.

5. Hire Smart People. Get Sh*t Done. Repeat.

At the end of the day, whether you’re in a traditional office or a home office, sitting at a coffee shop or working at a standing desk, everyone’s objectives are to do great work and to meet or exceed company objectives. By hiring the right people and setting them up to be successful, your job is to now sit back and let people do the work.

Remote culture lends itself well to a results-oriented culture: Office politics take a backseat to people. Instead of proving worth by staying the latest at the office, employees show their contributions through the great work they are accomplishing.  

All meetings should be remote-friendly. Attendees should take calls individually from their desks rather than in clusters across conference rooms so that remote attendees aren’t giant floating faces on a wall. It’s almost impossible to hear chatter happening in a room when you’re relying on one microphone between 10 people!

Remote work is a huge competitive advantage for my team. We can hire without strict geographic limitations, we can focus on our goals, and we can celebrate accomplishments. We are able to do all of this because we have the structure in place to help us stay happy, and aligned, and productive.

stella_round
The secret to managing a successful #remotework team? Hire smart people. Get S%*! done. Repeat. @startupstella @trello #TrelloDayReplay

Want even more inspiration from Trello users and team members? This blog post is part of the Trello Day Replay series. Check out more talks here.


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