Managing remote

Practical tips from remote companies about managing a remote team – how to measure productivity, where to work from and about planning company retreats to bring the remote team together.

Why remote?

Remote company managers are talking about why they are running a remote team and how did they start. They also share ideas about what are the biggest benefits of remote work and why it's here to stay.

Hiring remote

Remote team leaders about building a remote team and how are they hiring for remote jobs in their company. They also share tips about how to stand out when applying for remote jobs.

Managing remote

Practical tips from remote companies about managing a remote team – how to measure productivity, where to work from and about planning company retreats to bring the remote team together.

Working remotely

Remote team leaders answering questions about their daily life in a remote team regarding communication, tools and more. They also share tips for companies planning to start working remotely.

How do you measure productivity in your remote team?

Productivity is measured by team leaders on each team, and it depends on the nature of the team. For example, support teams are measured by the number of tickets answered customer’s rating, pace, etc. Our ultimate goal is to make our clients happy with fast and efficient support. On the other hand, the efforts of the marketing team directly affect our sales, so it can also be relatively easy to track the progress by what is working and what is not. So, basically, we use different ways to measure productivity across different teams.
Measures of productivity vary considerably depending on the role. In some roles, it's quite easy. For example, in sales or support, we can simply look at the number of deals closed or tickets resolved as well as metrics such as customer satisfaction. In some other roles, such as HR or Accounting, things aren't nearly as easy to measure. However, we've found that if someone isn't pulling their weight it becomes pretty obvious to everyone around them pretty quickly. In other words, we've found that the worry about remote workers taking advantage of their relative freedom to slack off is overblown. Hire the right people, communicate around expectations and deliverables regularly, and your remote team members will be rockstars for your business.
Other than Time Doctor, we have KPI's and quarterly rocks.

Where does your remote team work from?

When we say our team can work from anywhere, we really mean it. While many GitLab team members work from their home offices, we also cover their membership for a coworking space if that's what they'd prefer. Other people switch it up regularly, working from coffee shops, libraries, airports, beaches, and more. We have a slack channel called "office today" where team members can share the view from their workspace of choice each day.
We work from home or any place we like (coffee shops, co-work spaces, etc) as long as the Internet connection allows us to work smoothly and have video calls. Some people change locations frequently, others from time to time, and others prefer to always work from home as they have their offices set up comfortably to their liking.
Our team is fully distributed with a presence in 25 different countries. We guarantee all our team members the option to rent a dedicated desk at a coworking space near them, but everyone works in the way that best suits them and their lifestyle.

Does your remote team meet in person?

We try to get together as a whole company every 9 months or so to meet in person, build community, and get some work done! Since our team is distributed all over the globe, we try to plan a different location for each GitLab Contribute. On a more regular basis, many of our team members who are located near each other will come together for coworking days. We also have a visiting grant to support team members who want to travel to visit one another.
We have two annual offsites: one with the whole company and one with your team. The main objective of the whole company offsite is for us to connect and bond in person. Each year we choose a new global destination - often somewhere where we can explore an innovative payment system. For example, in 2018 we went to Kenya and had a special activity using M-Pesa, a mobile money service. The purpose of the team offsite is to review the past year, plan for the next year, and work as a team in person. The locations of the team offsites also change every year, and each team goes somewhere different.
Yes, we meet in person to work together once a year, or whenever we can. Our first event was in Malaga in 2013, and then we met in Tenerife, Porto, Cyprus, and Split. We don’t know yet when or where our next event will take place. You can check out this blog post about our most recent event in 2017 in Split, Croatia. Also, smaller groups meet in WordCamps, especially WordCamp Europe.

What's the hardest part managing a remote team?

There are many challenges. The accounting and legal systems of the world were not designed to make remote work easy. As a result, the contractual and financial frameworks that we use to enable remote work require ongoing attention. Coordinating our yearly get together is a real challenge! Keeping our documentation updated and organized is an ongoing struggle as well. Timezones are hard. Having said that, we don't believe that the challenges of remote work are any greater than those that face a business using a more traditional model. The problems aren't harder or more plentiful, they're just different.
Lack of a feedback loop on results. It's longer with remote teams, so you need to formally do updates more often.
1.- Communication. You need to improve and build new processes that focus on facilitating communication, but stop short of overwhelming your team with bureaucratic processes. 2.- Documentation. Where in physical offices, there can be room for a little chaos and tribal knowledge, in remote companies you need to push a culture of documenting everything, having structures in place regarding regular meetings, policies, operating procedures, etc. 3.- Scorecards. Quarters fly by and with a physical office, team members talk in person about progress, issues and whether they need help - often these come up organically. With remote, if you want to have any idea if your team's projects are truly done, where there were bottlenecks, and if there are unresolved issues, you need to set up structured meetings and have scorecard checks in order to catch problems early and avoid micromanaging.

How do you keep remote workers engaged and feeling part of the remote company?

We have different means to make sure our company members feel part of the bigger picture. Everyone is involved in quarterly meetings where we update about bigger plans and financial status. This transparency allows everyone to know what’s going on in the company. We also have one-on-one feedback calls with team members where we can give feedback about performance, talk about goals, and listen to suggestions. On a more informal level, we are all part of a Google+ group, open to post any info or photos members would like to share, from WordCamps attended to a baby being born. And, yes, we even celebrate birthdays online. In all, we are a big team that cares about one another and works efficiently together to achieve the goals of our support/development/marketing teams, as well as those of the company.
At this point, our remote team is larger than the portion of the team that works in an office and half of our executive team is also remote. As a result, at this point we are very much a remote-first company!
Video game afternoons, company retreats, mailing them cool gifts etc.

What is your vacation policy for remote workers?

Members have paid vacations plus public holidays off in the country where they live. The key is communication and making sure the time off is reported well in advance so that the team can be organized. Again, good communication comes into play.
Our vacation policy does vary a little bit depending on where a team member is located. However, in general terms, we provide everyone with a generous chunk of paid time off which they can use for holidays, vacation, sick days, and whatever else comes up. This allows every team member to take off local holidays (if they wish to do so) while still having enough left over to take a decent vacation and to take a day here or there when something crops us. We do also offer paid leave for paternity, maternity, and bereavement.
Have as much as we want, just make sure your KPI's are good.