The 15Five team has a lot of expertise when it comes to remote work. While many of us are adjusting to a new reality, they’ve got work-from-home down pat. Eight years ago, 15Five was founded as a “remote-first” company, and a significant proportion of their workforce remains distributed. For example, ninety percent of the product team and seventy-five percent of the design team work remotely, even prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
At yesterday’s ProductCraft Virtual Conference, Dianne Frommelt and Holly Kennedy of 15Five shared their very useful and timely session, “Best Practices for Building Products With a Fully Remote Team.” Dianne Frommelt, 15Five’s VP of product, has years of experience managing both local and remote product teams, and Holly Kennedy, VP of design, has worked remotely from ten different countries on three continents.
At the start of their presentation, both Holly and Dianne acknowledged that remote work now is different from remote work just a few months ago. However, many of their learnings still apply, and they were excited to share them with the event attendees.
Best practices for remote work
Dianne kicked things off by sharing some best practices that the 15Five product team follows around communication, roadmapping, and celebrations.
The product team has to communicate with a lot of different stakeholders, and they use a number of tools and processes to do so effectively. Product decisions in particular must be properly communicated every single time. Dianne pointed out that email isn’t up to the task — any teams still using email as to make product decisions should stop doing so. At 15Five, they use Slack instead.
Dianne uses a number of rituals to encourage collaboration and communication on the product team. One of these is weekly 1:1s with each of her team members. Also, each employee uses 15Five (their own product) to complete weekly check-ins and update their managers and coworkers on progress and blockers.
The whole organization gets together to share updates and team highlights via weekly “Boosts.” During these weekly Zoom all-hands, senior leadership reiterates priorities and key initiatives. Strategic planning happens via virtual retreats. Like a
Building a roadmap remotely isn’t easy, and requires that teams have the authority to make their own decisions. At 15Five, squads must be three things: autonomous, empowered, and trusted. And business priorities and direction must be very clear from the outset. To prioritize what to work on, they use the RAVE process: retention, acquisition, vision, and effort. Stakeholders rate each proposed product outcome, and high scorers land on the roadmap.
To avoid micromanagement and miscommunication, the 15Five product team uses an outcome-based roadmap. Each squad agrees to specific deliverables and timelines. However, how they achieve that set of outcomes is up to them.
Since the 15Five team can’t go out for happy hour or get a free lunch as a reward, so they need to celebrate wins virtually. To do that, they hold remote monthly spotlights to acknowledge the major accomplishments reached by each team. In addition, they use the “high fives” feature within their product to give shout-outs to colleagues. To celebrate feature releases and the hard work the product team puts into them, they also hold “demo days” before the official launch.
Balance and boundaries
Holly has been working remotely for almost a decade. In her presentation, she shared three of her top tips for maintaining work-life balance and boundaries between professional and personal life.
1. “Remote” does not equal “always on”
According to Holly, you’ll never be an effective remote employee if you’re on all of the time. Instead, you must set clear working hours that the entire team agrees to. These might vary based on the timezones of you and your colleagues. As a remote manager, it’s also important to model behaviors for your team. Take vacation days now and then, and close your computer at the end of the workday.
2. Find time for deep work
Twenty minutes between meetings isn’t enough time to really work on an important deliverable or to-do. Holly recommended setting aside time for “deep work,” or uninterrupted focus on a single task. This means blocking off a few hours on your calendar and protecting it at all costs. If possible, block off these deep work sessions a week or two in advance.
3. Create a dedicated workspace
While Holly acknowledged this isn’t possible for everyone right now, she did reiterate the importance of a dedicated workspace if you’re planning to work remotely on a permanent basis. She recommended buying a supportive chair or standing desk and a high-quality webcam and microphone. If possible, your workspace should have a lot of natural light, as well as a door. Being able to “close the door” at the end of the day is helpful for separating work time from personal time.
Whether you’re new to remote work or a long-time WFH-er, the current situation presents a lot of challenges. However, product work can still get done and your team can stay engaged, collaborative, and above all, connected.