There's nothing novel about the points below but have helped me over the years to construct healthy relationships with folks that I don't engage with in person that often.
1. Video calls are essential
Nothing gets closer to in person engagement than the good ol' video call meeting. I find that being able to have a verbal discussion and get to experience visual reactions helps with learning each other's styles.
We conduct our daily stand ups and most of our ceremonies using video meetings and we jump on quick calls when addressing a topic using written messages becomes lengthy and messy.
Tools are an important factor to make your experience a pleasant one. The best tool hands down is Zoom.us with great video and audio quality, intuitive interface, screen sharing and even webinar capabilities. You can use a free version for up to 40min calls. Or use Roundee, the alternative if you're looking for a free, unrestricted option that is browser based.
2. No internal emails
We use emails mainly for external communication and for work with our remote teams we have a no email policy. We communicate using Slack chat and we use topic structured channels and folks can subscribe or mute them.
A tool like Slack enables you to create the right kind of virtual atmosphere during work hours by quickly engaging real-time with anyone in your team, start interesting group topics and polls, share gifs, memes and those embarrassing pics from team parties.
3. Focus time is sacred
With all of the tools and practices mentioned above the remote workplace can easily become one giant distraction that will lead to frustration when we need some quality focus time to work on our deliverables.
We make sure to structure activities and engagement with each other to enable good chunks of daily focus time. Daily ceremonies like team standups happen in the morning and the weekly ones like planning sessions and workshops are clustered for Mondays when everyone is energised. We use G Suite Google Calendar to gain visibility over schedules and book meetings with everyone.
For us is very important to respect out of office hours. No matter the reason for not being available, outside working hours, holidays, appointments, we do not message folks or schedule work to be deliver over that time. The previous mentioned tools like Slack and Calendar have options to signal presence status but if you want to make sure you're not asked to deliver work while you're away use a tool like Out Of Office Assistant for Jira Cloud from re:solution.
4. Spend time and learn about each-other
This rule applies to any kind of team but I think is critical practice for teams that spend limited amount of time engaging with each other. We make sure to structure 1-to-1 discussions and coaching sessions with each individual but also a full team retrospective meeting.
The 1-to-1 sessions are a lot more informal, relaxed and without a predefined structure but with a goal: To make sure each team member can comfortably express themselves in a private setup and help guide with career progression and building healthy relationships.
For us the team retrospective sessions happen once a month but these can take place more often if needed. In the session we look at the previous period and each team member gets time to express what went well, what didn't, ideas on how to improve and any thank yous. The outcomes are written in the shape of actions to ensure we address and improve. To make these remote sessions real-time and collaborative use a tool like Miro.
5. Don't make it all about work
As part of our culture it is important to us that we are a close team, a Jexo family and we don't just deliver work together. We motivate each other to love our craft but also keep a minimalist approach to working and make sure we're happy and engaged with each other.
This means we often break from the routine of building awesome products and organise common interest, remote activities. We run periodic week long hackathons, have afternoons for online video games & pizza, spend time taking courses and running knowledge transfer or workshop sessions.
The most important aspect of the above is the part with "common interest activities". Everyone should feel included so tailoring these activities to appeal to everyone in the team is critical. Otherwise you risk alienating individuals that you value and eventually lose them and this process usually happens a lot faster for remote workers.
We based most of our EVIL values on remote working principles. Checkout our page here to find out more about our values and mission.