Remote working Product Teams

I’m sitting in an airport departure lounge to head home – SaaStr 2020 was cancelled on strong recommendation of Santa Clara county. Others in SF have also been cancelled. There is a guy a few rows behind me coughing and sneezing – not into his sleeve, not covering his mouth.

Apparently oblivious to Covid-19 and oblivious that others are doing their best to minimize risk to themselves and other. He likely to be on my flight – oh….the…joy. 

Meanwhile “Zoom” Video Communications Inc (“ZM”) is up 33.44% last 30 days and Slack Technologies Inc (“WORK”) is up 22.68%.

Clearly investors comprehend that technologies that help reduce travel, reduce the potential for infection are a great bet on the future.

Its now the norm that Product teams to be more distributed instead of centralized. Some companies like Gitlab are born remote.

With COVID-19, many companies are implementing work-from-home as a preventative measure and also self-quarantine.

"GitLab is the world's largest all-remote company with team members located in more than 65 countries around the world."

Even large product companies like Atlassian have embraced remote work as a priority. “We think that by doing remote we can tap into a whole new workforce that our competitors aren’t tapping into,” Atlassian Co-CEO Scott Farquhar.

Great remote tools are emerging such as whiteboard tools Miro and teams going beyond Slack to use the voice “hoot-and-holler” of Twitch.

But the big deal is changing the culture. Engineers are notoriously introverted and I’ve spent 15+ years trying to get engineers to talk to each other even when they sit a few feet apart!

I asked Bonjoro’s CEO Matt Barnett about his team structure and how they handle the remote culture. 

The no-surprise summary: “Communication is everything”. But here are a few specific tips.

Key Point 1: Drop a 2 minute zoom call to somebody to resolve an issue that might otherwise take hours or days. Why?

  1. Timezones mean that chat/text messages and emails are unresolved for hours or days.
  2. People misinterpret the tone of chat or emails.
  3. If you must use text, then don’t use capitals (SHOUTing) and choose the best emoji for the purpose.
  4. The huge benefit comes with conflict management.

Key Point 2: Bring the team together once a year. The team has to “break-bread” and spend time together in the same physical space.

Conversation Transcript

Bonjoro Team Locations

David Jones 0:01
What size is the team at the moment?

Matthew from Bonjoro 0:03
So we’re 15 we’re in Sydney. So Australia, Manila, South Africa, London, Colorado and Poland.

David Jones 0:13
So you got you got time zones and language covered.

Matthew from Bonjoro 0:17
That’s our team. I’m trying to look at if it’s a blessing or a curse. (laughs)

Remote Team Lessons

David Jones 0:22
is there anything any lessons you’ve had in terms of working remotely? or working across time zones?

Matthew from Bonjoro 0:29
Communication is everything. 100% and by “communication” I did not mean paragraphs on Slack. Yeah. I think this is a hard one. Like the best thing we’ve learned is is culturally shift to a stage where you can drop a two minute zoom, call somebody to ask one quick question, two minutes, and then you’re back to work as if you were in the office, rather than going into slack debates that go on for hours

Remote team conflict resolution

Matthew from Bonjoro 0:55
Obviously harder in different time zones when people are asleep. But I think the number one thing it resolves, if you can get to a good stage of it is conflict management. When you have conflict, which will definitely have, don’t get sucked into a rabbit hole, because if people are asleep you are awake it like it compound things. This will be read for the worst rather than the best way when they are written

David Jones 1:17
Slack chat and email just tend to sort of amplify the paranoia side if you don’t pick the right emoji 🙂

Matthew from Bonjoro 1:26

  1. Get the right emoji
  2. Don’t use CAPITALS.
  3. If build a remote team, bring them together at least once a year.

If can’t can’t do it all at once, to bring out half a team one time and then take the other half to them maybe another time. Because your team has to break bread together. And when you can do that, again, when it gets back to communication and conflict and daily work. You’ll be better placed you’ll know each other better. You respect each other more and you’ll be able to solve those problems a bit easier.

David Jones 1:56
Yeah. Good stuff. Thank you, sir. Really appreciate it.

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