Working in a Distributed Team Environment

At CivicActions we are a completely distributed team with clients all around the globe. When I first tell people that I work in this environment, they think one of two things: 1) I can slack off all day lounging in my PJs or 2) that it must be awfully lonely working at home. I am sure that both of those instances can be true in some companies, but not in our case.

It takes a certain breed of folks to productively work from home, and CivicActions has found them. Not only does a distributed team have the advantage of attracting world-wide talent, but also hiring for best fit. We hold each other accountable for work promised, meeting times, and being reliable. We don’t have room to be lazy because we’re in communication throughout most of the day with each other. We hold a daily scrum via Google Hangouts, and there are often video coworking sessions that happen organically when folks need to do paired engineering (or the likes). There are days when half of my day is spent in Hangout meetings, just like it would be in a traditional office setting. We are anything but lazy or disconnected.

Here are a few ways working from home works for me:

1. Create a schedule. It doesn’t really matter what your schedule is, as long as it’s productive and everyone on the team knows when they can expect you to be working. The most important thing to is make your meetings, meet your deadlines, and communicate effectively. The hardest part of creating a schedule (especially when your team is all on different time zones) is having non-working hours and (mostly) sticking to them. It’s important to also schedule this offline time to maintain a balance from office and home – so when my work day is done, I step away from the computer.

2. Stay connected. Solid communication and transparency are key factors in a well-oiled team. Staying clear and efficiently connected are even more important when you work in a distributed team. There are lots of tools for communicating online, and one that we use the most is Slack. This is a way for our team to stay connected – and not just about work. Having specific channels for your project offer a searchable, archived, and visible spot for all communication about the project – and this is beneficial over the traditional one-off hallway conversations that are easily lost or forgotten. Having this “online community” on Slack also offers us a separate-from-projects-place to keep in touch in other areas outside of work – think of it as the water cooler talk in an office. We have channels including “random”, “song of the day”, and “health” so that we have a place to talk about things beyond work and a way to be more connected as a team and show off our sense of humors.

3. Prepare for the day. Start your day like you would if you were going into the office. Get up, shower, eat breakfast, drink coffee, and get dressed for the day. Not only will looking presentable be nice for your daily video meetings, but it also creates a sense of “work mode” to get into the day’s groove. This is not to say you can’t be comfortable too – occasionally working in a blazer and yoga pants can be liberating!

4. Keep an eye on your balance. In every scrum meeting, each person indicates their work/life balance score. If you’re feeling low and bogged down in work (or life), you can count on feeling supported by your team. We encourage each other to find a happy balance, and for some of us that means we need frequent breaks or to take a daily walk; while others find solace being heads-down in the screen all day. When you work from home, it’s important to keep yourself in check and make sure you’re aware of your balance.

5. Make an office. And make it yours. Most of us have both laptops and desktops, so we benefit from having a dedicated office space, but also being able to take our meeting to the couch or backyard. The most important thing is to make sure your office space fits you (however you like to work). When you build your own space, you have the benefits of making it just right – standing desk, walking desk, laptop on the couch, the options are near endless to make sure you’re the most productive!

We’d like to hear from you now – what do you enjoy or struggle with when working remote? Please add your comments below!

2017-03-31T06:19:57+00:00 Categories: Culture, How-To|

About the Author:

Alaine Karoleff originally joined CivicActions in 2014 as an Agile Project Manager / ScrumMaster. With her love for making lists and all things productive, she aims to keep projects running effectively with a transparent and painless process.

Alaine has had the pleasure of working with many great non-profits and educational institutes, including the University of Michigan Energy Institute, ACLU of Michigan, and the National Voices Project. Alaine skillfully held a bipartisan position between team members and the client teams to negotiate the best interest of all stakeholders. She was crucial in creating a collaborative and supportive work environment for her team, but also in confirming clients understood every detail of the project, and ensuring the scheduled deliverables were met.

Some of Alaine’s other clients include the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, numerous centers and departments with the University of Michigan, Gift of Life Michigan, Gene Codes, ACLU of Arizona, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and the Arab American National Museum.
Before joining the team, Alaine worked as the project manager at Inner Circle Media, a web development and marketing firm headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI. She also brings to the team her experiences gained from previously teaching high school English and speech/debate – which helped her become more efficient, attentive, flexible and reliable.

Alaine received her BA degree from Eastern Michigan University in secondary education with a minor in communication. She is also certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP), as well as Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). Outside of her Mac screen, Alaine likes to travel, explore photography, and see as many live music shows as possible (and still make it to work the next day!).