5 lessons on working remotely as a start-up

It’s now been 7 months since I joined Outcome, a Parisian start-up. Looking back, a lot has changed. No one would have guessed we would still be working remotely. The unexpected outbreak and duration of COVID19 has forced all of us to make major changes in ways of working. We must collaborate in new ways to achieve results as we would in the office.

We have found the right balance through trial and error. Starting in a new company and building its culture is a big task. Doing it while not working together full time is a real challenge.

Nevertheless, the advantage of being in a small team is our flexibility and agility. These last few months, we tested out different formats for our standups, our daily meetings and we reorganised our knowledge management wiki to name a few.

When we heard about the second lockdown, we changed a few of our methods based on learnings from the first lockdown and focused even more on team connections and wellbeing — not only on productivity.

Based on this experience, I want to give you my 5 tips on how you can improve working together as a team remotely.

Start the first meeting of the day with a check-in. Every colleague takes 1–2 minutes to give an update on how they feel, what they’ve been up to, just anything that is on their mind.

It helps to verbalize the thoughts in your head. It gives everyone a voice and the space to share what kind of day they are having. And, by the way, it is okay to have a bad day!

As we are not together in the office, there is no small talk, lunch breaks or water-cooler conversations. And to be honest, those are the things I miss the most during remote working. At Outcome, we encourage these conversations with ‘Donut’-time. Each week you get paired up with somebody from the team to have a virtual coffee where you can talk about everything except work

We also added some casual Slack channels, to share what we’re up to, to post funny articles, hobbies and recipes, to name a few.

Effective written communication and documentation is critical when you are remote working. Most of the communication is written and there is more asynchronous communication (the time of writing, sending and reading is not the same). Make a habit of sharing meeting notes, keeping information up to date and keeping track of your work. This fuels collaboration as not everybody is working the same hours and may not have access to information as easily as when everyone is physically together. Furthermore, it will help you in onboarding new people as you don’t want them to struggle for weeks finding the correct documentation. We use Notion to store all our knowledge management and company information.

When teams are juggling video conferences it is even more important to be deliberate about organizing agendas, meeting pace and follow-ups. Before a meeting, define the agenda and the desired outcome as well as what you expect from the team and share it beforehand. You will immediately see the positive result from the first meeting. Your colleagues will be prepared, will have an informed opinion, and the discussions will be significantly more productive.

As a team, we decided to work in an Agile way, including post-sprint retrospectives to discuss what went well and where we can improve. This gives our team the time and space to speak up and discuss the way of working. Even if you don’t apply Agile methodology, do take time to do post-mortems or debriefs with your team. Don’t hesitate to speak up and share how you think your team could improve their collaboration.

Adding video to your meeting helps you as a participant to be present, it is already difficult to focus during a video call with all the distractions around us; our phone, e-mails, our to-do lists, the latest news on the corona vaccine,... Good meetings require mental presence and focus on the subject at hand. Also adding video will give you the opportunity to see the expression on your teammates’ face, read their body language, and it will simplify the conversations you are having.

If I did learn something these last months, it is that there is no perfect way of working together. You have to find your balance as a team, and different circumstances will lead to different practices. But it is key to not only focus on productivity hacks and getting to a ‘perfect meeting’. Team connectedness and wellbeing are equally (if not, more) important and will lead to better discussions, open communication and faster results.

Belgian product manager in a Parisian B2B start up.