Going Remote: A Playbook for Success From A Taipei CEO
 
May 29, 2021
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If you’re struggling with the decision to let your office-based employees work from home right now, the answer is simple: you should.

Right now, if your team does their work on computers, you’re lucky: they have the option to work from anywhere if given the right tools and management support. This also helps limit people moving around the city during the pandemic.

My company, Arc and Codementor, began experimenting with optional remote work in 2019 from our Taipei office. By 2020, we had transitioned to being a remote-first company (our processes and tools are optimized to make team location irrelevant).

The best part? Going remote was far easier than we expected. We overcame our initial anxieties about it while experiencing benefits like stronger talent retention, continued growth (our team has doubled!), and seamless business continuity.

If you’re ready to go remote and help your team work from home more effectively, here’s how to transition smoothly.

The basics of going remote (in a hurry)

Make the decision

Announce the decision and ask everyone to be patient with the upcoming changes. If possible, prepare some FAQs in advance to help ease your team’s anxieties.

Understand that they are also struggling with many new stresses at the moment, including COVID, possibly teaching children, and potentially other people in their house also working from home. This isn’t “normal work from home.” Right now, this is “COVID work from home.”

Ensure people have equipment

Everyone will need, at minimum, a desk and chair, a computer, a headset, and fast internet. You may need to circulate e.g. a Google Sheet for people to fill in anything they’re missing.

If you have location-limited networks, etc, ensure that people will have secure virtual access to these too. Now is also a good time to review any relevant policies.

Select your software

Working remotely means managing and communicating remotely. Fortunately, there’s now lots of great software. At minimum, you’ll need a tool for:

  • Project management, so people can check the status of tasks. We primarily use Notion, Trello, and Asana, as well as software developer-specific tools like Github.
  • Messaging/chat, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.
  • Video conferencing, such as Zoom, Google Meet, or Around.
  • Document-sharing (more on this below).

    Start digitizing information

    When working remotely, people need to be able to access the company’s documents entirely from the cloud. If you’re currently a paper-based company, it’s time to start digitizing.

    Prioritize the documents and notes people need immediately — scan necessary documents and take photos of any information that can’t be scanned (e.g. whiteboards). Upload these to a shared online drive.

    Announce where and how these digitized documents are being stored (once you have time to sort through them!). We primarily use:

  • Google Workspace (cloud-based documents and spreadsheets)
  • Notion (for policies and teamwork)

    Your team will need to ensure that document sharing permissions within the company are turned on.

    Managing your now-remote team

    How do you manage people you can’t see? Are they even working?

    It’s time to update both your mindset and your practices. Here are some tips for success.

    Experiment with team collaboration

    Remote work is still fairly new, so best practices often change. Be flexible as you develop new processes, and let your team find new ways to collaborate well.

    We also use emoji reactions to make our intentions explicit on Slack. For example, we add an eyeball emoji to show we’ve read a message and are working on it, and add a check mark emoji when you’re done. This way, expectations and progress are clear for the person on the other end.

    Communicate and be transparent

    Learn to be more transparent with information and start “over-communicating.” Understand that, when working remotely, people need to be purposefully given context in writing, since they can’t just pick things up by listening.

    Keep your team updated about changes by making a public announcement (e.g. on Slack), and allow feedback from the team. Our team can submit anonymous questions via a short Typeform survey. I publicly answer these during our regular team-wide calls. This all helps with internal trust-building when we’re not co-located.

    Prioritize writing and asynchronous communication

    Not everything needs to be a video call or virtual meeting. Encourage the team to write instead — meeting notes, agendas, decisions, discussions. Then share them for feedback. You’ll discover that ideas end up getting tested by more stakeholders and become stronger overall.

    Use a more hands-on approach to managing people

    Sometimes it’s easy to misread the tone of a written message. To successfully collaborate remotely, keep an open mind and assume good intentions by the other party. If you need to clarify things, don’t be afraid to jump on a quick call to discuss.

    It’s also important to celebrate wins publicly: we have a Slack tool called “Karma” that team members can use to acknowledge other individual contributions. Negative feedback should be given in private (rather than in group situations), and preferably on a one-on-one video call.

    Trust your team

    You hired your team to do their work, so it’s important to show you trust them to do it without micromanaging! Empower them to make decisions to remove their own blockers.

    Most importantly: start measuring your team based on actual output, not on seeing them at their desks. We use OKRs (common in tech companies such as Google) as a framework for setting tasks, and report on them at least weekly. It’s very clear if a task hasn’t been done — and this can be solved at the time.

    Create spaces for spontaneity

    How do you foster human connection and bond when you're not face to face with your team? It’s still possible!

    Have dedicated chat tool channels for fun chat that would normally take place over lunch (e.g. “kids,” “pets,” “watercooler,” etc.), and hold virtual team-bonding events. We even ended up creating our own virtual Zoom game!

    Also, we recommend having specific channels where people can share ideas that might help the company. Encourage people to share here, even if the idea isn’t fully thought out, and encourage others to give polite but helpful feedback.

    It’s time to allow remote work

    Much of the rest of the world was forced to work remotely in 2020, and now it’s Taiwan’s turn. Going forward, the ability to adapt to changes like going remote will become a key “skill” for staying competitive. Companies here are fortunate that they can draw on the lessons of this new management style, and roll out work from home quickly. Many companies around the globe have already learned how to work remotely effectively, and if companies here don’t catch up, they’ll be left behind in the dust of the last decade.

    I believe that if companies in Taiwan can seize this opportunity to try new ways of working, we can create more resilient organizations and teams. Plus, your staff can have more control over managing the immediate risks to their health that COVID presents. This is only a good thing for everyone involved — a true win-win situation.

    About the author:
    Weiting Liu (Techstars & YC alum) is the Founder & CEO of Arc, a remote career platform for developers. Also Founder & CEO of Codementor.

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