On Mar 21 I created a new page in our company wiki called “How we work remote”. This was the opening note I shared with my team.

We had already began limited office hours in New York, and at the time New York was discussing a wider lockdown. While we had been a distributed team, with people in New York, Berlin, and India, now we were fully distributed even within New York. The Paperchain team works from Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island, Poconos, Berlin and Delhi.

This guide is a work in progress as we refine our remote work practices.

Why we’re working remote

Paperchain began as a distributed project and grew to be a distributed team. With the COVID-19 outbreak and shelter-in-place orders by numerous state and federal jurisdictions around the world, we are forced to become a 100% remote team. Everybody will be working from home until further notice.

Paperchain work values

  • We value the result of work, not the hours put in.
  • All documents should be open to editing, instead of top-down control of document editing.
  • Public sharing of information over need-to-know access
  • All of us are responsible for writing down & documenting process, instead of “on the job” training
  • Unless required for legal or practical reasons, we hire and work from all over the world, not from a central location
  • We write down and record knowledge rather than verbally share
  • We value flexible working hours over set working hours
  • Asynchronous communication over synchronous communication

Paperchain remote work habits

Daily commitments

We all commit to daily stand up reporting, either via video or written responses.

The video calls are a great way for all of us to see each other in the morning, even if only quickly. While we limit this call to the stand ups only, this can also be the jumping point for following discussions, formal or informal. The default video stand up call is at 9.30AM EST. At 9.45AM your local time, you will be prompted in Slack for written responses.

paperchain remote work apps

Slack

  1. Use threads diligently!
  2. Use the appropriate channels.
  3. Use Slack status to indicate your availability.

Emails, Hangouts/Calls & Etiquette

When it comes to emails, we believe brevity is the highest form of politeness. While there is a place for longer form emails to outlay strategic thinking, agendas and tasks, back and forth via email (or chat apps like Slack) can often lead to frustration and misalignment.

Please read this article on the 5-minute email rule. Keep emails short and to the point.

A call should always be the default method of communication, particularly when it comes to resolving issues or ideas that come from broader discussions.

As a distributed team, we understand that can be unrealistic, so while we have a preference, in reality you need to use the communication channel that is most reasonably going to resolve the discussion.

Paperchain rules to remote

  1. Allow schedule flexibility on both ends. When working remotely, everyone is at their office. This can be great for pinging someone late at night if you need access to a document. At the same time, be flexible as people will be taking care of personal commitments during the day.
  2. Be relentless with follow-up. When you’re relying on a variety of apps and communication channels, things can get lost in the shuffle. Be vigilant with keeping tabs on stakeholders. If a task or email is left untouched, ping the stakeholder again. Always tag users. Resurface stagnant tasks. Don’t ever assume people are up-to-date and in sync unless you get explicit confirmation. Set deadlines. This is good for “upward management” styles (eg. “I need you to comment this by COB tomorrow or I’m going with what I have”).
  3. 3. Start (and end) meetings on time. Remote life can be hectic. The last thing you want to do is delay a meeting for someone running late from an errand. Start the meeting on time and worry about absentees later. It’s also important to end meetings on time.
  4. Record your video meetings. Getting everyone in a remote meeting can be tricky. If some people can’t make it, video record the meeting and publish it internally for later viewing.
  5. Secure your data. It’s critical that you keep your data safe and secure. Everyone should be using a password manager (Lastpass is desired), 2-factor authentication (Google Authenticator must be used where possible, not SMS), and VPN where necessary.
  6. Be hyper-specific. When relying on text channels like Slack or email, always over-communicate. Be hyper-specific. Don’t be afraid to reiterate or ask for clarity. Written communication tends to lack a lot of the nuance compared to spoken words. If you fear there might be miscommunication, schedule a quick video call and set the record straight.
  7. Separate work and personal time. Since everyone “lives at the office” so to speak, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and personal life. Get offline after a long day.
  8. Make sure you have the tools you need. Do you have the right laptop or computer equipment? Mouse pads? Screens? Apps?
  9. Keep communication flowing. With remote, it’s easy to let hours go by in silence while working alone at home. Be mindful of how much (or little) you’re communicating. Make sure you’re checking in with others at least every few hours on any given workday.
  10. Visuals are our friends. Zoom and Google Hangout have powerful screen share functionality — take advantage of it. When leading a meeting, create a slide deck as a visual aid for your talking points. It’ll make communication more clear, plus you can make the document available later for anyone who missed the meeting.
  11. Practice self-care. Get dressed in the morning, eat breakfast, do some small exercise at home if you can, shower, eat healthily and get proper sleep.
  12. Check in with each other. We encourage you to check in with each other and your family and friends. Are they overwhelmed? Are they exhausted?
  13. Let video-chat do the heavy lifting. With projects that require heavy communication, don’t rely on text channels. Video chat is the most comparable thing to real face time in the office, so take advantage of it. You might find yourself having more “meetings” when working remotely, but that’s okay.
  14. Be proactive about expense requirements. We want to make the expense process as simple as possible. Send a note to @Daniel Dewar when expenses are required.
  15. Keep a tidy (virtual) workspace. It’s on all of us to ensure documentation in Google Drive, as well as information in Notion, is neatly organized and accessible across the team.
  16. Stay focused. Don’t be afraid to go offline or enable a Do Not Disturb indicator. Alternatively try scheduling a formal “meeting” slot just for yourself, and use that time to buckle down and jam uninterrupted.
  17. Be structured, but also be prepared to adapt. While we will implement some regular, required structure, for the most part, we are all free to work to our own times and styles. Everyone is encouraged to provide feedback on our remote processes and we always want to hear how things could be improved.
  18. Go outside/step away from the computer. For your own mental health, we encourage regular breaks and time away from screen.

Recommended reading

Here is a list of resources on remote working by other startups. Please read as these resources provide great tips for not only optimizing app usage, but shared compassion and empathy as well.