How to manage a remote team

April 6, 2017

At MailerLite 16 out of 30 team members work 100% remotely.

Others can choose where they want to work from. Our office is like a co-working space. You can come there, but it’s not necessary.

For example, I prefer to stay at home when I write an article like this. In the wintertime our team loves to live/work in warmer countries. Sometimes there’s only one team member working in the office.

Does this sound like a chaos? Wonder how things get done?


#1. Communication management

Communication management

“Communication works for those who work at it.”(John Powell)

One might think that having a remote team, all on different time zones, would be difficult to manage.  All important discussions and decisions must take place online, to be shared with everyone.

Do you know this phrase? “Pics, or it didn’t happen.” At MailerLite it’s “Write it down or it doesn’t count.”

We manage projects on Trello and use Slack for daily communication. We have separate channels for presentations, social media, roadmap, night shift, design, workation etc.

The biggest concern in communication is that everyone should be willing to share the information online. If you succeed doing it, it’s super useful in long-run. You can share the written material with future colleagues and monitor the processes. For example, our developers have a Slack channel where they document the bug fixes and how they were corrected. Everything is explained in “a human-language” that all team members could easily understand. 


#2. Project management

Project Manangement

“No one can do everything but everyone can do something.”

There are 2 ways how we decide upon a project.

First, we write down ALL customers’ requests and assess them on Trello board:

  • good idea
  • good idea/big project
  • part of the other project
  • integrations
  • too small impact
  • rejected

Once a month our CEO makes a presentation about MailerLite’s results and allocates future projects to team groups (usually, 1 designer and 1-2 developers).

The second way we manage projects is with pitches. Everyone can come up with an idea and make a pitch with arguments why a change or a new feature is needed. All approved pitches are placed on our Trello board. Anyone can choose what they want to work on. The person that wrote the pitch becomes the project manager. We believe that freedom to offer changes in the company keeps the team interested in the business. Especially when they can and will implement those changes.

The Trello board is a great tool for our support team. They can see the status of projects (approved, in progress, done) and inform customers about it. Moreover, they can write down customers’ requests. This is how we decided to make the Product Updates page. You can see all the updates and future projects there.


#3. People management

People Management

The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers” (Sir Richard Branson)

We don’t do annual or monthly performance reviews. We want to know how our team feels every single week. Not to evaluate them, but to know how they are doing, what they are proud of, or if they struggle and need help. We’ve noticed that writing-based communication appears to be deeper and in many cases more sincere than talking.

Every week, each team member answers these simple questions (we use 15Five App for that):

  • How are you feeling?
  • Goals & accomplishments this week
  • What do you intend to accomplish between now and your next report?
  • What challenges are you facing? Where are you stuck?
  • What’s going well? What are you proud of this week?
  • What do you find most exciting about work right now?

This gives us so many insights on our people: someone is sick, someone feels stuck on a project, someone is proud of a bug fix. These are all small details that matter to people and business, and can go unnoticed if you only do an annual or monthly performance review.


#4. Team management

Team Management

“Last night we were the best team of the day”

The hardest part about working remotely is not project management, it’s team management. It’s harder to get to know people when you work remotely, harder to relate with them and find more in common than a job.

Once a month we have a Remote Day. It means that everyone works remotely. Nobody comes to the office. And then we have a remote meeting where we ‘meet’ all of the team members and share what we’ve been up to for the last month. Fun stuff, travel plans, discoveries etc. That helps us to know each other better and make daily communication more personal.

In 1969 an anthropologist Victor Turner found that when people are together, and they make that transition into this “new realm” where they suddenly have something very unique and special in common. People experiencing the same event, at the same time and in the same space, are in that sense “equals”. This has tremendous binding power.

Twice a year, the MailerLite team enjoys workation together. It’s a paid work trip that feels a bit like vacation. The main purpose of the trip is for team bonding. It means doing fun stuff together, laughing together and creating memories together.


“Responsibility is the price of freedom.”

Managing a remote team is not that hard when you hire the right people for your team: people that you can trust 100%, people that value freedom, and are eager to take responsibility. The key to success with this, is communicating in advance what you expect from them and how the team works.

Do you work in a remote team? What is the biggest challenge? What works great for you? Share that in the comments.

 

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Thank you!

You made the right choice.

Very nice job. I really think this process is 100% functional.


Ilma 2017-04-07

It’s a never ending process. We constantly try new things. Maybe next time I should write about the things that we did, but they didn’t work well :)


William 2017-04-06

Sounds like a great work Place!


Ilma 2017-04-07

William, thanks.


Bob 2017-04-06

I Love This! Wish you guys were hiring.


Ilma 2017-04-07

We are hiring from time to time. You can find all the job ads on MailerLite Facebook Page.


Eduard Serbanoiu 2017-04-06

Amazing article with a lot of usefull stuff.

Thanks.


Ilma 2017-04-07

Eduard, I happy you like the article.


Filipe Reis 2017-04-06

Kudos!!


David Pollard 2017-04-06

Interesting article, who has the best location?


Ilma 2017-04-06

David, what do you mean by “best location”?


Daniel 2017-04-06

Very inspirering!!! I was thinking of doing such things. Now I see that people did them while i was thinking!


Aric 2017-04-06

A great system for managing a remote team that could also be applied to an office setting. Love it!


Ilma 2017-04-07

Aric, let me know how it goes.


Michael Musa 2017-04-06

I own a software startup in Nigeria and find these insights very useful. Thanks for educating me


Ilma 2017-04-07

Michael, you are welcome.


Nazrul Islam 2017-04-06

Its amazing, Its simply great model to apply, I am for it wow


Ilma 2017-04-07

Thank you.


Lindsay McKenna 2017-04-06

This is the new employment paradigm that has to come for global workers. I’d say that you folks are ahead of that curve, embracing it and finding out what does/does not work. Finding great people who are a TEAM is one of the most important points of this paradigm. And communication is essential at every point. Keep doing what you’re doing–I’m happy being a customer and I so appreciate being brought into the “team” so that I understand what is going on. That’s a huge plus. Also, I appreciate your videos and other info on what you’re doing to evolve your program for Mailer lite.


Ilma 2017-04-07

Lindsay, thank you!!! I believe that happy team = happy customers. Comments like yours keeps us moving forward.


Kobodata.com 2017-04-06

Thank you for sharing your experience with us


Ilma 2017-04-07

You are welcome. I hope it’s useful.


Sunil Kumar 2017-04-06

G8t !!! Love to work the way you people working. Nice post.


Ilma 2017-04-07

Thank you, Sunil.


Brandon Cox 2017-04-06

Very cool! Our team is the same. There are seven of us. Only one of us is “full time” and all of us work remotely while living in the same town! We have meeting rooms in coffee shops all over the city.


Ilma 2017-04-07

Brandon, I’m sure it fun :)


Tomas Parnarauskas 2017-04-06

Amazing story, and I would offer one more tool to your list – employee awards & recognition tool. It realy help a group of people to feel the team spirit.


Ilma 2017-04-07

Tomas, how do you think employee awards helps to built the team spirit?


Joolz 2017-04-06

A modern way of working – technology is a great enabler. when there is trust and passion. I work for myself right now, but this is the ideal way to work as a team IMHO.


Ilma 2017-04-07

Joolz, you are right. We should use the freedom that technology gives us.


Rafael 2017-04-06

Would love to work there!


Ilma 2017-04-07

Follow MailerLite on Facebook. We post all the job ads there.


Ben Chaziya 2017-04-06

Awesome and inspiring, my trying to model such a working model for our team of estate agents in Zambia, hope to use something of this sort within the next 2 years fully. I am a big fun of Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek”…it contains a lot of really workable tips on remote working too! All the best!


Ilma 2017-04-07

Ben, you may also check book called “Remote”. It helped a lot in create remote environment: https://blog.mailerlite.com/5-books-that-changed-our-business/


Soundari 2017-04-07

Sounds like an ideal working environment and love the saying “Responsibility is the price of freedom” How do you ensure that the weekly check-ins don’t become monotonous and the team doesn’t treat it like a tick-off?


Ilma 2017-04-07

First, ticking-off your to-do list feels great, isn’t it? We feel good when we complete tasks and achieve goals. This is how we get rush of dopamine.

We do change other questions from time to time. For example, we ask to name their favorite new customers or share ideas for the coming workation. So it’s never the same.

Finally, it’s super easy to complete the survey. It takes 15 mins. And that’s the only thing that is a must. We don’t have any meeting or other ways to control the team.


Lina 2017-04-07

Appreaciate your sharing ! I step out of my corporate career & started a career to recruit & build teams to work independently & remotely, in 16 countries, it’s a game changer , all of you have to believe it’s possible! Make it happen!!!!


Michael Ginsburg 2017-04-07

All of my staff work remotely. I’m going to use your system as a blueprint for my own business. Thanks heaps!


Ilma 2017-04-07

Michael, give it a try and let me know how it goes.


Hary 2017-04-07

Where do i sign in for this job? I know nuttin about coding but i am fast learner


Ilma 2017-04-07

Hary, follow MailerLite on Facebook. We post all job ads there.


Eimantas 2017-04-07

Soundari: that’s a good point. Sometimes you don’t have what to say, so you can just fill what you have done and tell your plans for the next week. But when the moment comes, you have the place where you can share anything.


Ines Pljakic 2017-04-07

Ilma, I think the most important part is the trust and the freedom you are given at work! When you have that, you’re inspired to work like it’s your company!


Ilma 2017-04-07

That’s right, Ines. You are more motivated if you can make an impact.


Varun 2017-04-07

Brilliant! We manage a very similar team working remotely (50+ people now), using Slack and MeisterTask – we started with Trello too but moved to MeisterTask because we liked the interface just a bit more. Great to find that another organization follows a similar approach :)

15Five looks great – we were doing something similar to manage objectives but without an App and the process didn’t work (wasn’t followed consistently).


Ilma 2017-04-07

Varun, we had ups and downs with 15Five. But after we decided to make it mandatory, it works great. This is how we know what everyone is up to and can give a feedback about it.


Puneet Aggarwal 2017-04-07

Ilma, I love that article. I would love to quit my business some day and work for Mailerlite :)


Oleg 2017-04-07

Very nice read, and nice open article. We have team in Moldova and Pakistan. Its always interesting to read how others are working remotely . Next blog post – more pictures from the team. We want to see who’s behind this :)


Ilma 2017-04-07

Oleg, in 2 weeks we are all going to workation in Morocco. This time we will be traveling with a photographer. So we’ll have lots of photos :)


Neo 2017-04-09

Thanks for sharing!
How do you evaluate (finacially) the work of a team members? Are they paid based on a project… it is probably dificult to have someone on a fixed or hourly based payment?


Ilma 2017-04-09

Neo, everybody gets fixed salary.


Justinas 2017-04-10

Great article! Is it difficult to manage and comunicate with people from different time zones?


Ilma 2017-04-10

Sure, it is a challenge. But this is how we can offer 24/7 customer support and hire talents from around the world.


Daniel Futerman 2017-04-15

Ilma, it’s awesome to hear that most of your team works remotely. I truly believe that in the upcoming years more and more businesses will choose to go down this path, as it’s constantly getting easier to work and collaborate with people regardless of their physical location.

Plus, working from home is the best, so I’m sure not only businesses will push towards this transition, but employees will too ;-)

I recently published an in-depth post with 7 Tips, tricks, and mindset shifts for effectively working from home, and I thought readers of this post might find it useful: http://www.danielfuterman.com/home-office/

Keep up the superb work you’re doing with Mailerlite!


Ilma 2017-04-15

Daniel, love your article. Everyone that works remotely, should check it.

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