At Alley, we’ve built a culture of collaboration where designers and developers see each other as true partners instead of adversaries.
This is Part One of our series on how we work remotely, adapted and abridged from our full guide – Welcome to the World of Tomorrow! If you’d like to learn more, click the link to download the whole thing!
The proliferation of shared, cloud-based tools and processes has made it increasingly easier for companies to embrace a remote work culture. We know a little bit about this: Alley is a fully remote team. Our 60-plus team members are distributed across the US, Canada, and Brazil, which means we have to think deliberately about how we work, how we communicate, and how we organize ourselves.
In this blog series and the guide itself, we are sharing some of our guiding principles and processes, in the hope that others can use them to make a difference in their organizations. We have compelling reasons and a lot of experience behind what we do, and, hopefully, you’ll find these ideas useful in your own organization.
We always look to optimize the way we work, and in order to succeed, we have to apply a strong sense of intentionality to everything we do. This keeps us on the right track while working remotely—but the resulting principles are also great considerations for those in colocated companies.
Many companies are trying remote work as part of their organization’s approach. Some companies allow team members to work from home a couple days a week, while others have certain team members who work remotely all the time.
At Alley, we are a fully remote team. However, we weren’t always this way, and you might not be either. Here are some practices we adopted before we went fully remote that can benefit you even in a hybrid structure and make everyone feel a part of the same team. The most important thing is making sure there’s equality between in-person and distributed team members.
- In-person benefits were balanced with remote perks such as equipment assistance, coworking-space memberships, and more. For instance, early on, we only provided lunch for those in our New York office. When we realized this gave those employees a benefit that others didn’t have, we tried cutting lunch for the office. It was ultimately ineffective and had unintended consequences (such as no one actually using the space), so we went the other direction. To make it equal, we provided an equivalent lunch stipend for each remote worker.
- Almost all communication took place via Zoom video calls and Slack chat, our main communication tools, even among staffers who worked in shared offices. Visitors to locations where Alley staffers shared a physical space remarked on how quiet it was—everyone was communicating online. This helped us all have the same experience, whether we were working from a coworking space in North Carolina, a house in Texas, or an apartment in New York City.
- We ensured that our conference rooms were set up well for video chats, clear to watch and clear to hear. Too many times we have had the experience of calls that only some people could hear, or that have malfunctioning video or other problems that leave remote workers out of the conversation. We wanted to ensure an even playing field for all participants in a way that is often lacking in voice-only calls or video calls without the proper setup.
- We intentionally created interest-based Slack channels for “water cooler” conversation, once again allowing all employees to contribute and benefit equally. We’ve also successfully implemented remote happy hours. This is democratizing and supports our goals of inclusivity and equal opportunity for all.
These are tactics that can be used at all levels of remote work. The important thing is to consider how each practice could benefit your workplace, then take steps to balance and equalize the work experience for those who opt to work remotely and those who don’t. Another important way to balance staffers’ experiences working in and out of the office is to set aside time and space for teams to meet in person a few times a year. This builds trust in a way that can’t be replicated if you’ve never met. We currently have an all-staff retreat once a year, with separate practice-area and team retreats when possible. We also encourage colleagues to cowork or otherwise meet up when they’re in the same location.
There are some things you can never understand until you’ve shared the same space with someone, no matter how many video chats you have—for example, we’re always fascinated by how tall our new coworkers are when we see them. That’s mostly a joke, but there truly are intangibles that you pick up through facetime that give us a way to build stronger relationships, creating a tight-knit team that can surmount future challenges together with ease.
The last tip we wanted to share is not really ours but comes from scrum. Kaizen means “continuous improvement,” and it is something teams should always be striving for, regardless of whether you adhere to an agile philosophy or practice.
Set aside some time each month, each quarter, and each year to think about how you work, as we do. This means examining your processes, the tools you use, and even your mindset and the context in which you work. Try small experiments, and always strive to establish and demonstrate progress toward specific goals. This is an iterative process.
In scrum, the definition of done can evolve over time as needed. Similarly, the work of building company culture is always evolving, and perhaps never truly done. What we focus on, as with all of our projects, is creating the best process and giving people the tools they need to succeed. By thinking about everything we do intentionally, we know we’re getting the best possible results.
As you’ll see throughout this series, we approach remote work the same way we approach the client work we do every day. We are constantly improving and learning ourselves – and one of the best ways to solidify your knowledge is to teach. And so, this guide. Stay tuned for more, and please reach out if you have any questions!