Our office is a light-filled great room and a few smaller nooks inside a 19th-century industrial complex in Atlanta’s Westside called The Goat Farm; a place that once produced cotton gins, and later, during World War II, ammunition. In the 1980s, the modern-day vision of what would become the “Goat Farm Arts Center” started taking shape — a community full of creatives of all kinds in a setting with rustic charm and homespun ingenuity. The office itself reflects a similar inventive, DIY-spirit, with unfinished plywood paneling illuminated by sun shining through its generous multi-paned windows, and a piece de resistance: a wood-burning stove that warms the open space when the temperature outside dips below 60.
Unfortunately, the fire burnt out weeks ago. Like hundreds of millions of others across the globe, we’ve been living the work-from-home life since mid-March (something we’re super thankful to be able to do, as we know so many others are not). Since then, we’ve also seen a barrage of emails and articles about how to transition to a fully remote team and manage people and projects from afar. We’re not about to chime in with another piece telling you how to set up a dedicated workstation or to change out of your pajamas each day. But after 6+ weeks of working 100% remote, we thought it felt like a good time to share a few tips on what’s worked well for us as a digital agency during this time, not just as stopgaps for interim operations, but as long-term solutions that will rule how we operate for the foreseeable future.
While a project management platform is a must-have for a digital agency in general, it becomes even more essential when working as a remote team. There are a lot of different tools available (and we’ve tried almost all of them), but we use Wrike. We like it because it offers the ability to plan at the task level, so we can track each step once a project is initiated. We also like that it lets users view tasks and project schedules in multiple formats (dashboards, Gantt charts, etc.),and provides insight into workloads.
Here's a few other key features:
Blueprints make creating project plans much easier. Through Wrike, our Project Managers can fill out a form we created where they select the different work streams a project is anticipated to need, and a base project plan is created from those inputs. We know that not all projects are the same, yet these blueprints provide a skeleton to work from. With the base information already filled out, it simplifies the process and reduces the time needed to create a full project plan.
The Team Dashboard gives an overview of what each person is working on for the day and what other types of tasks they have for the rest of the week.
Similar to the TeamDashboard, but this one delivers information on an individual level. Wrike offers the ability to customize dashboards so that they meet the needs of each person. We typically show To Do(today/this week); Backlog (so we can see what is in the pipeline); and OverdueTasks so that we don’t forget about any items on our lists.
Like everyone else, we now rely on Zoom to continue our in-person meetings remotely. We try not to overload anyone’s schedule with unnecessary virtual conferencing, but there are several regular meetings on the calendar that help us stay on top of everything and provide some much-needed face time:
Each morning we have a brief, fifteen minute-ish meeting with the full team where we note what everyone is working on and offer an opportunity to discuss priorities, blockers or other challenges. It not only keeps us tapped in to everyone’s assignments, but it’s also a great way to stay connected with each other.
In addition to daily stand ups, we also have weekly check-ins devoted to certain projects so we can bring internal folks and when necessary, clients, together to ensure we’re tracking on all deliverables due that week as well as those coming down the pipeline.
Each week team managers get together to review what work is assigned to each individual for the coming week(s). It’s an opportunity for those in management positions to look at the bigger picture of workflows, to make sure everyone has work lined up and that no one is overloaded.
Our managers continue to conduct standard one-on-one meetings with employees to check in on how everyone is doing, and help provide support when and wherever it’s needed. We started using Fellow to manage these meetings, which lets users create an agenda to give the meetups structure. It’s also where we capture notes and create action items so we can assign any tasks that might come out of our discussions, and remember to follow up on things we’ve chatted about, making these meetings more useful and impactful.
This is something new we’ve added since we began working remotely. Each week, one member of the team teaches us something that has nothing to do with their day-to-day work (e.g. one coworker shared how to make their world-famous brownies, and another taught us all about the trumpet). It’s been a fun addition to the weekly calendar and gives us a chance to insert some of that water cooler chit-chat to the workday.
For clients, we’ve always made sure we’re not having meetings just for the sake of having meetings, and that mindset is even more important now. So, while we typically schedule regular meetings with each client for the same day and time weekly, they’re often just blocked as-needed, and sometimes an email update will do just as well. We make the call when the time comes.Otherwise, we connect regularly with our clients for two main types of meetings:
Weekly account calls with project leads and a client representative offer time to discuss things that maybe going on in the background for an organization that we need to be aware of, and help us make sure they’re still feeling confident on the project and with the team overall. These calls are also a chance to prepare clients for what they can expect to come in the group progress call that week. (We typically send out progress reports each Monday as well, and can use this time to discuss those reports as well as any blockers or time issues.)
These calls provide time to review work that’s been done, ask or answer questions and discuss next steps.
While COVID-19 won't be keeping us all home forever, it will likely shape the way we work for a long time to come. Our advice is to take this timeto figure out what works for leading your remote team now, so you can have best practices in place for the future.