Birds In Flight And The Power Of A Remote Working Team

August 28, 2014 in Team news.

Do you remember the first time you took note of a flock of birds slipstreaming? And someone explained the way they fly aerodynamically and take turns to head up the V-shape and be carried along by the strength of their fellows? Nature is smart. We can learn a lot from it.

CanadianGeeseFlyingInVFormation

No one wants to end up in a job they dislike, but many do. No one wants to be an island either, as a little internal survey we did revealed. At WooThemes, we are determined to make sure everyone in our team is flourishing, growing and enjoying what they give themselves to each day. We recently asked what it was folks enjoyed most about working for Woo.

The Motivation Trifecta, plus one?

Drive proposes three elements that motivate and allow us to do our best work – autonomy, mastery and purpose. The most popular answers that came in from the Woo team fell neatly in step with these, with one key addition:

1. Freedom (autonomy)
2. Learning (mastery)
3. Making a difference (purpose)
4. Teamwork

At WooThemes I get to work with people who live and breathe what I do – so instead of being the guy in the back office who can do machines, I get to be the guy on the team who gets to try out his ideas and learn new things every. single. day. –Danny Santoro

The all important context is ‘team’

We all derive a level of satisfaction from having a sense of freedom, being productive and doing work that matters and it is not rocket science to equate autonomy, mastery, and purpose to overall workplace happiness. But we believe there is something more that leads to a happy working environment and at Woo, the Motivation Trifecta plays out in the all important context of our highly-functioning and carefully chosen team.

Getting to work with a team of like-minded, thoughtful individuals, all working together to achieve the same two goals. –Bryce Adams

I love working at WooThemes because I get to do what I love and I get to do it with awesome people who are all incredibly talented. –Hugh Lashbrooke

40 individuals, 14 countries, 1 team

WooThemes started with three people passionate about WordPress working in different corners of the world. Mark and Magnus met in the flesh for the first time over a year after starting a company together, and the level of trust, flexibility and ability to do great work oceans apart is part of our DNA.

The flexibility allowed while working on a distributed team that is spread out over 14 countries, with some of the most talented people in WordPress, on a team that enables me to make decisions that I believe will help better the company. –Maria Scarpello

The future of business?

The very best people for the job are not frequently found on the doorstep, it begs the question of how many times geographical constraints have capped possibility. With roots in remote working relationships, Woo has been very intentionally set up to be an international company we’re in the fortunate position of being able to recruit irrespective of geography and timezone.

It’s exciting to be working on products that are having a real impact for individuals and businesses around the world – enabling new services and offerings for audiences people previously couldn’t reach. Built and powered by a diverse team of talent proving distributed work can be fun, a fantastic learning experience, a more healthy lifestyle, and possibly the future of business. –Mark Forrester

Some practical tips

Communication and familiarity
Our company would fall apart if we didn’t put a strong emphasis on the importance of communication. We can’t tap someone on the shoulder, wander over to their desk, or shout from across the office when we’re stuck.

To that end, we have the current setup:

  • An internal P2 (we use our own Houston theme). Here we share important news, ask questions, celebrate birthdays and pass on feedback.
  • HipChat –  Anybody can ask anyone else a question, and we have dedicated rooms for each team.
  • iDoneThis – At the end of each day we log what we’ve been up to.
  • Each team has a weekly meeting to catch up and set goals for the next week (Skype and G+ Hangouts are our friends)
  • We’ve recently started a Town Hall meeting with the entire team – this generally happens every 3 months.

When a new team member joins, we organise a company-wide hangout to get to know our new team member a little better.

We also use Know Your Company to ask them to what they’re working at the beginning of each week. We also find out a little more with some of the questions we ask. Last week we found out a few team members had the McGyver Mullet growing up.

Let the feedback flow!
When everyone’s coming into the office, its easy to give feedback on a daily basis and pick up on team morale. Working remotely doesn’t offer you that luxury, and yearly reviews aren’t enough to give feedback. We’ve followed Buffer’s lead when giving feedback and mentorship. We do these has often as each team member would like.

Work / Life balance
For almost anyone on the team, work is just a few feet away. Its almost too easy to power up in the morning and work through the day without getting out, exercising, socializing, or doing anything other than work. The entire team is sent a Fitbit when joining – this alone won’t give you work / life balance. But it’s a great way for each team member to be conscious of their activity, sleep and diet. And so we can laugh at each other’s step-counts.

Document all the things
We’ve made sure that everything that can possibly be documented has been.

WooTrip and meet-ups
We love remote working, but there’s nothing like getting the team together to meet-up, shake hands, share meals and have a drink together. Once a year we do a company-wide meet-up – this year we’ll be in San Francisco. We’ve also started team meet-ups for any Woo people in similar areas. This year, the North American contingent got together in Chicago.

Our conclusion? Remote working teamwork ftw

It seems, people today are looking for freedom and flexibility, but still want to contribute to something meaningful and successful. And that when this is achieved with a spirit of teamwork, the magic happens. How do you (or your team) make remote working awesome? We’d love to hear.

 

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7 Responses

  1. Chandler
    28 August 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    FANTASTIC article!
    I really appreciated how you went into depth about how you make the culture and business work.
    I would love to know more about the software and services you use day to day to manage your workflows, communications and business.
    Really appreciate that you took the time to put something like this out there!
    Have you ever considered writing a book on building the virtual company, a la rework / 37 Signals?

    All the best,

    Chandler

    • Gerhard
      28 August 2014 at 7:44 pm #

      Chandler, have a read here regarding the tools we use.

    • Michael Krapf
      28 August 2014 at 8:10 pm #

      Thank you for the feedback! We’ve definitely considered sharing more information about our particular spin on remote culture. It’s something we continuously study and strive to perfect. Keep an eye out for similar articles in the future!

  2. Pieter
    28 August 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    Great article. Do you have a marker map of the team? Would be cool to see where everyone comes from.

    • Ryan
      29 August 2014 at 3:49 pm #

      We had one not too long ago, but now it’s quickly out of date. Our crew is always growing and on the move. :)

      I’ll see about how we can keep one up to date and accurate as we go!

  3. Bryce
    29 August 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Great article Mike!

  4. Janet
    29 August 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Great review of how to make remote work work! And thanks for the iDoneThis mention :)