Remote Done Right

by Steve Rice
With so many physical offices closing due to COVID-19, I am constantly reading about all of the uphill battles that teams are having with the adjustment to ‘working from home.’  We see conference calls gone wrong, we hear the same Zoom jokes over and over again, and see a ton of quarantine videos and memes flying around.  So managing to stay productive and connected with a new routine has been a genuine challenge for most companies that were not doing much remote previously.
Luckily at Cofense, we are already used to doing the remote thing.  Our engineering team was 90% remote already, so – and I hate to flex here – we are pretty darn good at getting the most out of remote teams.
For those of you still getting up to speed on how remote teams work, a few bullet points for you:
• Over-communication is key.  We use Slack, Zoom, Confluence, JIRA, and email to communicate.  But you cannot assume that communicating in one of those channels is enough.  We have an omni-channel policy about communicating anything important: discuss it in a meeting (Zoom), post it in Slack, and also send an email.  That tends to help with communication.  You do have to over-communicate in a world with so much going on.
• Be super-transparent about your own availability during the day. While you are working from home, you may need to duck out for a short time to tend to something: there are times you will need to go to the grocery store early to get in-demand items. This is expected and fine.  But always update your calendar and Slack status to reflect when you are away from your keyboard; it is not OK to just step away and hope that people will figure out you are gone by your lack of response.
• Celebrate remote-first culture.  Remote employees can’t hang out at the coffee machine and catch up on last night’s TV.  So create virtual spaces for this to happen. We have scheduled optional virtual coffee breaks (using Zoom) for 10-15 minutes with no real agenda – allows people to be social and just see some new faces.
• Get creative.  Stupid jokes are even more important during these crazy times, so find ways for people to make each other laugh.  We have different Zoom background themes each week at our team meetings, and it is fun to see what others come up with to creatively adhere to those themes.
• Write down what is working well now, and keep doing it in the future.  Once our quarantine stops, it would be a tremendous shame if we just go back to the way that things were before this all started.  There has been a ton of innovation happening in terms of connecting, communication, and company culture during these times, and we should keep a lot of that going even after we get a vaccine for COVID-19.
So yeah – be safe, and embrace the remote-first thing.  We have been doing that for a while, and it has made a huge difference.


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