We never set out to be a remote team. But after spending a year in our Boston office, our CEO Ben decided to return to his former home, San Francisco, and start a second office there. We worried about the move’s potential side effects - struggles with building a company culture and maintaining organic relationships between the two locations, to name a couple - but took the plunge.
Today our company is split between the two cities: one office in Boston, one in SF. Despite the 3,000 miles and 3-hour time difference between us, we've found ways to stay connected and actually strengthen relationships across our team by being intentional about how we use the tools at our disposal.
Here’s how we use a combination of Slack, Consider, and Zoom to work as if we were one team in the same office.
1. Slack Channels
We rely on Slack channels for those lighter moments when everyone can feel the shared pulse of our joint offices. We previously had a #boston Slack channel for good, well-intentioned reasons: we didn’t want to annoy the SF team with side conversations about the weather forecast or debates of where we’d go to lunch.
But we realized those lighter moments - where you feel like you’re right there in the same office making lunch plans or laughing about funny tweets - are a key part of building latent bonds. So we renamed #boston to #boston-sf. We may not be eating at the same food trucks or suffering through the same rainy weather, but we’re all part of the same discussion about them.
2. Consider Groups
OK, yes, this is our product. 😃 But hear me out: it’s been a game changer. Consider groups keep us on the same page and allows us to join the right conversations at the right times, even when we’re in different time zones. We used to have several Slack channels for these discussions, but when one office is eating lunch while the other office is just starting the day, Slack channels don’t cut it. Conversations in channels are freewheeling and have often moved on by the time you’re ready to jump in.
So we use Consider groups to keep tabs on product updates, daily engineering standups, and off-the-cuff ideas for future company developments.
- Product updates: We moved our #product Slack channel to a product@ group to make the conversation more deliberate and organized. Our SF-based designers can share their latest designs of new features in our product@ group. Each feature has its own separate email thread, easily recognized by the subject of the email. Team members across both offices can leave comments and reactions on their own time, without worrying that the conversation has already moved on.
- Engineering standups: We used to have a Boston Standup bot in Slack that became a bit of a mess. So we moved the conversation to a boston-standup@ group, where we start a new email thread each day for members of the Boston-based engineering team to post what they’re working on. Everyone across the company can access and respond to updates in the group, boosting our transparency and understanding.
- Ideas: Our most impromptu company ideas (“What if we added a new feature for users to integrate polls into their conversations?” or “Let’s make a collaborative Spotify playlist and play it on an office speaker!”) never had a stable home - they’d get thrown out into a Slack channel and buried by the next topic in the channel’s ongoing conversation. We now email all ideas to an idea-archive@ group so we can track and discuss these ideas when the time’s right to explore them.
3. Zoom Click to Dial
Ultimately, some conversations require talking the old-school way - especially when we’re having more in-depth discussions that warrant immediate feedback. So we fit each of our conference rooms to have one-button Zoom connections to the office on the opposite coast. This was an expensive installation, but the ease has made it a worthy investment, especially compared to how much we’d spend on travel.
Breaking down a go-to-market plan for an upcoming launch? Bouncing ideas off each other as though we’re at the same table gets the job done. Demoing new features at the end of the week? Chatting face-to-face helps us iron out all the little details.
Remote work isn’t a novel idea - studies show that more than a third of today’s workers are considered mobile, and that number is predicted to grow in the years to come - but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do well.
Maintaining a strong remote team requires effort to replace the casual run-ins, team building, and shared knowledge that happens when you're in the same place. But with the right tools used intentionally, we’ve been able to build and strengthen our relationships across the company - and across the country.