People & Process

Empowering our team to work in a remote/hybrid environment

4 min read

Covid has created massive changes in the way teams work. 

Remote and hybrid work is increasingly becoming commonplace as teams adjust to the new post-covid environment. However, remote and hybrid work can create unique challenges for teams.

Multitudes has developed some great practices that have helped us navigate the challenges of being a remote/hybrid team. 

This blog will share some of the remote/hybrid challenges that Multitudes faces and three of the top ways that we adjusted the way we work to make it work for us. 

Challenges

Our team at Multitudes has 7 full-time members and several contractors. Most of the team works hybridly, coming to the office 2-3 days a week, while a handful of us (including myself) work fully remotely. Those of us who are working remotely are distributed throughout various locations in New Zealand, Australia and the United States spanning across multiple time-zones.

The Harvard Business Review summed up the challenges of remote and hybrid workplaces to 5 C’s:

  1. Communication
  2. Coordination
  3. Connection
  4. Creativity
  5. Culture

We face many of the same challenges that the HBR outlined:

  • Communication and coordination: As an early stage startup we need to communicate often and coordinate effectively to be on the same page and move quickly.
  • Social connection: Our team is growing and it is essential that we form meaningful social connections within our team.
  • Creativity: Things move fast, and bringing collective creativity is essential as we take on immense amounts of feedback to constantly iterate our product.
  • Culture: Fostering a productive, positive and focused culture with a shared sense of purpose in our company is essential to set us up for success.

How we address these challenges

We have a set of processes that help us navigate these challenges. Here are the top 3:

1. All meetings are remote first:

#Communication and Coordination

All meetings at Multitudes are remote first.

  • Virtual first: All meetings and team discussions are conducted via Google meet or Zoom. Whether we are at the office or at home, we all dial in from our laptops.
  • Coordinate digitally: We use Linear to coordinate our work and to communicate progress. Each morning one person shares the Linear board and we walk through the board virtually together and update each other on our progress.
  • Use real-time collaboration tools: We make use of remote collaboration tools to allow real-time collaboration. For example, we use Figjam for whiteboard sessions and coordinating retros. Using a tool like Figjam also has the advantage of making the discussions self-documenting.

We evolved these processes over time as the pandemic's effects stung and an increasing number of us worked remotely. This remote-first way of collaborating helps us communicate and coordinate in a consistent way. It also levels the playing field for everyone whether they are remote or physically present, allowing everyone to feel comfortable speaking up and bringing their ideas to the table.

2. Ceremonies that bind us together

#Connection

We consistently follow a number of ceremonies that help coordinate our day and cycle. 

This includes conventional ones such as:

  • Stand up/stand down: We use a short 10 minute stand up and stand down ceremony to start and close our day.
  • Planning and reflection: We have scheduled meetings to help plan and improve our work such as refinement, planning and retros.
  • Collaboration and sharing: We also have scheduled meetings for design collaboration and demoing features completed in the past cycle.

We also have some fun (but no less important) ones too!

  • Karakia: We start standup and end stand-down with a ‘Karakia’. Karakia means ‘incantation or blessing’ in Te reo Māori, the language of the first people of New Zealand. We have a quick slackbot that randomly picks the person who will lead this, choosing a Karakia from a list of options.
  • Passing of the duties: We formally pass on important duties such as the “office housework” role (‘Person of the week’) and technical support at the start and end of each week. We use the metaphor for a crown to represent the ‘Person of the week’, while a hammer for the technical support. We don’t actually have an actual crown or hammer, but we make a fun show of passing these invisible items on virtually to the next rostered person.
  • Regular fun activities: We finish a little early on Fridays to play virtual board games or do team games. This helps the team unwind, socialize and create bonds with each other by having fun. Team favourites are drawphone and skribble!

We make a conscious effort to build processes that make sure roles such as duties and Karakia are shared around the team. This makes sure that everyone has an opportunity to learn and lead important processes. It also ensures that glue work is democratized across our team and not burdened by a single individual or under-represented group.

These ceremonies are important to us. They allow us to maintain meaningful connections with one another and at the same time help our team members to connect then disconnect back to their everyday activities.  

3. Build around a ‘team first’ culture

#Culture

The way our team works is organized around the importance of the team. There is a positive bias towards team over individual productivity.

Specifically in engineering, we encourage putting code reviews first and getting reviews done in a timely way. There are a couple of ways we positively encourage this:

  • Asks: We specifically bake in asking for requests as part of the daily standup. Engineers are encouraged to ask for reviews.
  • Slack notifications: We have a channel on slack which notifies the team when a new code review is up (including tagging the requested reviewer), which prompts developers to jump in and review the code. You can set this up easily with the Github integration for Slack (see instructions here; and quick tip, add the keyword `reviews` to the end of your slash command like `/github subscribe YourOrgName/repo-name reviews` to get updates on reviews as well, which aren’t included by default!)
  • Measure review wait time: We monitor review wait time as a team and regularly discuss how we can improve. We use our own product Multitudes to do this! For example, our median review wait time has been consistently under 1 hour for the past several months.

These norms encourage putting reviews first. As a result, most PRs are reviewed quickly within under an hour.

A screenshot of Multitudes and our review wait time
Automated slack messages to notify the team that a PR is ready

These tools and practices help us foster a culture of putting the team first in our daily work. It helps us prioritize unblocking teammates and focus on making ourselves into a 10x team as opposed to a 10x developer, even when we might be dialing in from all around the world! 

For more great discussion on the 10x team, check out our CEO Lauren’s talk “Forget the 10x developer — focus on the 10x team”.

Contributor
James Won
James Won
Frontend Developer
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