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Hacking Frogs

Dissecting the world’s leading fully-remote organizations to maximize workplace efficiency, communication, and overall quality.

Edited by Hunter McKinley
Preface

What is a Frog?

Why hack Frogs?

A fully remote organization, Frog, is one in which employees are fully remote, all 40 hours per week.

The acronym, “Frog” has expanded its inclusiveness to encompass fully-remote, partially-remote, and hybrid teams. It has become a way of giving employees the freedom to choose where, when, and how to work.

There are unique challenges that are presented while working in a Frog, which require individualized approaches to achieve a healthy work life balance, effective communication, and well-rounded strategies for productivity. 

This book was originally written as an internal, ongoing list of important aspects to consider while building our voice messaging tool, Yac. As I started to create my list of what I wanted to ensure was integrated into Yac, I began to see patterns that I felt would be useful for all remote organizations. With coronavirus sweeping across the world, we are seeing remote work become the new norm, and with that there are budding industry leaders that have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to share. We can all learn from one another what makes a successful remote team click.

Chapter 1

Simulate Presence

One of the major pitfalls that is found when working remotely is the feeling of loneliness. To combat this looming feeling, Utkrash and other managers within Upwork have found that adopting a real time approach can be both beneficial to overall production and ease the sense of loneliness. Utkrash’s team commits to an hour, give or take, per day on a Google Hangouts Meeting. This meeting isn’t what one would think of when picturing a ‘standard’ meeting, instead the team can continue their work while being on the call. This creates a sense of community and gives the real workplace feel of having fellow employees to bounce ideas off of and direct questions to. 

Utkrash shared, "they're doing their own thing while being on the hangout and if somebody has a question, they just unmute themselves and say ‘Hey guys, I have a quick question for you. I'm working on this problem. What do you think or do you want to take a look at this?’"

Utkrash’s team has found that this approach works best on a small scale. With a team of 12, it can be much harder to pull off a real time approach due to varying schedules, time zone differences, and personal preferences. However, for his team of 3-4, this approach is incredibly successful because Utkrash is able to constantly get feedback from his teammates and he has heard that everybody is enjoying this process

To Read more about Utkarsh and Upwork, click here.

Chapter 2

Use Work Tools for Efficiency

The state of Utah ran a remote work pilot program for 136 employees across four state agencies. The productivity of those employees increased by 23% during the pilot program.

Deseret News, 2019

It's no secret now that employees who work remotely are more productive than their office dwelling peers. The problem that occurs when companies attempt to go remote is a lack of good communication tools which in turn is causing many remote workers to search for other ways to more effectively communicate. This forces distributed teams to resort to consumer apps such as iMessage, Whatsapp, and Discord. Some companies have even opened up permanent Skype calls so they don't waste a single second planning a call with their co-founders. As you are choosing your communication tool for 2020, choose one that is focused on bettering the work experience and solves the problems that traditional tools are facing, such as not being available on all devices.

If you want to learn more about how we started Yac, click here.

Chapter 3

Become Mobile & OS Friendly

Remote work gives people the opportunity to travel more. Remote workers were asked how often they traveled and worked outside their home city (including work retreats and conferences). 44% of them said that they were working while traveling a range of one week to one month per year. 25% said they work while traveling more than one month of the year. Only 7% said that they never traveled and worked at the same time.

Buffer State of Remote Work, 2019

Remote working ≠ working from home, therefore remote teams need reliable access to digital tools accessible on any device, anytime, anywhere. This means that as an organization you must choose tools which are mobile friendly. In addition, deciding what’s accessible from outside the corporate network via virtual private network and what’s hosted externally. 

REMOTE WORK TIP: A VPN is a technology that creates a safe and encrypted connection over a less secure network, such as the internet. 

In our experience, things hosted behind a VPN are more unreliable. When the VPN goes down so does the remote worker’s ability to work, just as it would when the network goes down in the office. There are hundreds of cloud-based tools that can be secured by a company’s internal authentication system. Tools such as Slack, Office 365, InVision, and Github can all be secured via Microsoft Azure AD, and made available on the open internet. This makes it extremely easy for remote teams to get their work done.

REMOTE WORK TIP: Cloud-based tools enable organizations to keep their networks secure by permitting access to only authenticated users. 

There are two things that are likely to stop your team from being successful while remote working:

  1. The tools not being mobile friendly
  2. Limited external access to the tools/systems needed to do the job properly

It’s essential that the tools you select are mobile friendly to enable people to work from wherever they are, whenever they want. If you mediate over 75% of your work through a screen, you should not be confined to a desk. The power of working remotely is giving people the freedom to choose where to work from. When it comes to choosing tools, heed what the Grail Knight said to Indiana Jones in the last crusade, and ‘choose wisely’

If you want to learn more about Gary or choosing a tool that unlocks your team from desks, click here.

Chapter 4

Works with a Limited or Poor Connection

As an entrepreneur, working with freelancers is liberating. You are able to get lots of work done in a short amount of time with people around the globe. The problem occurs when they have poor network connection and can’t talk with you in real time over platforms such as Zoom or Hangouts. That frequent communication is imperative to maintaining a healthy relationship with freelancers.

How often you should communicate with freelancers depends on the project. Sometimes communication is needed daily or in other cases sometimes weekly. Utkarsh of Upwork stresses how imperative close collaboration is. Without it, you risk the freelancer making progress, but in the wrong direction. Whether or not Utkarsh’s remote freelancers work on an hourly basis, or a project basis, he spends at least 10 minutes a week making sure his team has context of the work they are completing by sharing the project vision.

This type of management style leads to success, but can become impossible when network connections fail. That;s why it’s important to select tools that cater to those who are not always in the most ideal bandwidth scenarios.


To learn more about Utkarsh and Upwork, click here.

Chapter 5

Build a Community

Foo Fridays

Going into my conversation with Zohaib Ahmed, Founder & CEO of RESEMBLE, I thought we’d talk about how they are changing industries with their state of the art AI synthetic voice creation platform. To my surprise, Zohaib was far more interested in discussing how their nimble remote team was innovating remote relationships outside of work. One way in particular that his team has built strong relationships is a day they have dubbed “Foo Fridays”. The idea, stolen from Hipmunk, inspired by Google’s legendary “20 PERCENT RULE” encourages engineers to work on passion projects on the company’s dime. 

Empowering employees can be rewarding in itself but paid time towards passion projects can have an astounding effect on innovation within a company. For example, GMAIL was one of the first projects that came out with this policy and now boasts over 1 billion users.

Overall the experience was quite eye opening. It’s amazing what a team can accomplish in such a short amount of time. It’s exciting to think where these skills will take the company in the future!

Convinced your team is ready for Foo Fridays? From Zohaib’s experience, the experiment works when you’ve implemented the day the correct way. Here’s a few tips he shared with me on how to run our first Foo Friday.

  1. Foo Fridays work best for teams of 5 or more.
  2. Explain to everyone what Foo Fridays are and have no expectations. It is important to explain that the best engineers work and develop skills on their own time. However, if they are working 40 hours a week, how could anyone expect them to do that during the week? Foo Fridays are their opportunity to work on their own creative things. Finally, explain that the only catch is that they have to share what they’re working on with the team.
  3. Send out calendar invites for Foo Friday.
  4. Remind everyone the day before that Foo Friday is coming. 

To learn more about Zohaib and Resemble’s Foo Fridays, click here.

Zapier

Keeping up with Zapier’s 1000+ public channels can be daunting but Emily, Manager of Partnerships - Launches, enjoys the activity. 

One thing that Zapier has implemented to keep people together physically is creating channels for cities where multiple employees work. Emily happened to be in Washington and there was a channel called "City-Washington" that she could pop into at any point and find other Zapier employees.

Zapier has the typical channels like most other teams but they added channels that were not work related so their teams could meet in person or find like-minded friends.

Emily shared, “we have feed channels which are usually apps that we've set up that send information into a specific channel like food, music, dogs, and workout”.

‍Her favorite channel is #fun-Zapier, which is a combination of any subreddit that you can imagine. Just random, odd things you'd see on the internet or interesting things they come across in their day and want to share. It has become a spot where you can hang out with your coworkers. This in turn allows employees to work better together because they have developed a non-work connection. This type of culture has made Zapier flourish and continue to dominate their space.

To learn more about Emily and Zapier, click here.

Chapter 6

Go Asynchronous

The biggest challenges for remote workers during hybrid meetings are interruptions/ being talked over (67%) and IT issues during meetings (59%).

2019 State Of Remote Work, 2019

Kyle Shevlin, a senior software engineer at Webflow, says that they can keep the innovation flowing when ~70% of their workforce rarely steps foot in the office through the liberal use of asynchronous communication. Webflow is based in San Francisco, where 25-30 employees gather each day and work while their 70+ counterparts may be coding from the dog park or designing from the beach.

Webflow uses Slack and Zoom for all of their communications. Which enables them to keep their remote and onsite team members focused and working towards a single goal. What makes Webflow, in particular, successful in managing remote teams?

Kyle shared, "it's a combination of being realistic and treating people as human beings”. 

To learn more about Webflow’s asynchronous communication, click here.

Chapter 7

Create Historical Context

At Zapier, almost all channels are public to create historical context.

“You can search through Slack to try and find an answer to a question you have or follow along threads that you want to learn more about." 

Emily, Manager of Partnerships - Launches at Zapier, explained it was important for teammates to be able to go back and see how decisions were made in the past. For example, they may be able to search for why a project was not pursued or if someone had already been working on it. If the channels were isolated and closed off, people would become massively unproductive and not see what had already been tried. So when new hires are brought in to the company, and want to try out their own ideas, there is documentation showing whether or not the idea had been tested before and what the challenges were.

To read more about Emily and Zapier, click here.

Chapter 8

Be Transparent

64% of remote employees felt colleagues made changes to projects without warning them

Vitalsmart, 2017

Early on in Buffer's journey, communications were primarily email-based, like most companies. Unlike most companies though, every email was cc’d to the entire organization (except for sensitive issues, of course). This helped ensure everyone had access to every piece of information they needed to do their jobs.

“There used to be this joke that people who worked at other companies knew more about what was happening at Buffer than they knew what was happening inside their own company.”

To learn more about Adnan Issadeen, click here.

Chapter 9

Separate Work From Life

You should be proactive in separating work from personal life, which also in turn prevents burnout. This is likely to be the most difficult hurdle to clear, particularly for new work-from-home employees who have family in the home around the clock. As a tip, you should have a dedicated conversation with family, helping them understand that just because you're home, doesn't mean you're always available.

REMOTE WORK TIP: A shortcut to boundary setting is this: "If it's important enough that you'd commute to my usual office and come to my desk, then it's important enough for you to visit my home workspace." You may also consider a busy/available indicator.

When there's no physical office to leave from, it's tempting to work longer than is expected, or healthy. If useful, set reminders to begin and end work, and pre-plan activities to fill the void where a commute once stood. Proactively planning what you'll do with your commute time is key to ramping into a workday and ramping off. This will look different for each individual, but leaving your home for a walk or a planned activity with friends/community is a great way to create unmistakable separation.

To read more about Darren and Gitlab, click here.

BONUS

Hacking Slack

1) Over describe EVERYTHING.

Describing the obvious in the moment is a tough habit to form at first to anyone who isn’t experiencing the glory of searchable Slack channels. Your Slack channel should be an archive of your work life and everything searchable from file names to code snippets to images to links. For example, don’t name files something generic such as, “final.mov”, specifically name them, “Yac Promo Video for Facebook 1200x648.mov” 

2) Use GIFs (sparingly)

Gifs are the equivalent to water cooler chatter. Some would argue that you can’t ever use too many gifs but they tend to get abused once the floodgates are opened with younger employees. Spruce up your team’s workday with a Shaq dancing gif every now and then. Bonus culture points for custom gifs made with Giphy (Thanks, Betaworks for the tip!).

3) Create organic ways to meet others

Bigger remote teams can create online groups across different cities like Zapier does (see chapter 5). The idea is to make opportunities for your employees to interact with each other and feel a sense of community without it being forced in a “team building” exercise. 

4) (un)reply all

Just like with your Grandma’s 67th birthday party, don’t invite people if they aren’t needed. Including members that aren’t necessary in a discussion can become a nuisance of notification overload for those members. Including only necessary personnel in discussions causes those members to be more involved because they are only being asked to focus on what involves them. 

5) Make custom emojis 

I once spoke to a team that conducts one 30 minute meeting per week discussing new emojis coming out. Emojis are the equivalent to kids drawings on the office fridge - they are fun and engaging but can also be distracting to your team if there’s too many. If not abused, custom emojis can bring an exciting cultural element to your Slack workspace.

6) Reminders to remind

This ebook took a few days to write and I needed to be constantly reminded to grab Slack tips from our Twitter community. The /remind feature in Slack is often overlooked because of its complex structure. However, once you get the hang of it productivity skyrockets. No more forgetting little tasks like “Check Slack Tweet”, 

7) Mark as unread

Treating Slack like email is typically frowned upon but in this case, unread messages can be used as a to do list. There’s nothing worse than Slacking a teammate and not getting a response. 

8) Expire your messages

After 90 days, make your Slack messages expire. This forces you to only use it for fun/informal communication. It in turn lends itself to you doing actual work in an async tool (like Gitlab). - Darren Murph, Head of Remote, Gitlab

9) Integrate and conquer

If you’ve made it this far down the list, you’re already a Slack pro. If you haven’t already, ensure you set up integrations with your website for signups, set Google alerts about remote industry news, and create customer support tickets in Zendesk. The whole reason you’d want to do it at the very least is to be able to search in one place for everything and have a single source of truth.