As a 40% remote employee company, we take remote to a whole new level with some of our teams. In the case of the team that keeps our PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Keynote extensions running strong, the entire team is remote and on opposite coasts on top of that.
How do you keep a team connected, collaborative, and productive when you’re in totally different locations? Well, they are here to share their favorite parts, tips, and experiences with being fully remote.
The Poll Everywhere apps team consists of Apps Product Manager/Owner Kyle McFarland (KM), and Apps Engineers Chris Amundson (CA), Cem Schemel (CS), and Katherine Winter (KW).
Q: Tell me quickly about each of your roles at PE.
CA: I work on all of the native apps, write features, fix issues, and am one of the desktop engineer torch bearers.
CS: Pretty much what he said. I make new stuff and fix bugs for the desktop apps. And try to make sure people don’t forget about them in a largely web-centric company.
KW: I write software and documentation, give estimates, say opinions, and provide support.
KM: As the first official hire to Poll Everywhere to help develop our apps, I have the unique privilege of five years of app team experiences. I helped snag rockstars, like Chris, to join the team and make things magical. Those experiences have given me a unique vantage and context that helps guide the ship at night. When I’m not helping navigate, I am checking in with each team member to make sure they are getting the support they need.
Q: What’s it like being a fully remote team? Do you feel less or more connected as a team?
KW: Working from home is great. I don’t feel disconnected at all. We get into contact when we need to talk to each other. Additionally, we sometimes stay on the line after a meeting. It feels the same as being in the same room.
CA: It’s great! Since we’re not surrounded by people, we surround ourselves with our virtual teammates. I feel more connected to the remotes on my team than I do those in SF.
CS: I feel the same way (man, my answers are getting repetitive). I’ve always hated open offices. Too much noise and interruptions when you need to focus. Being remote is the perfect balance for me. No commute and essentially private office, but you can always reach out if you have a question or want the water cooler effect.
KM: I have spent 50 percent of my career in an office and 50 percent remote. Each has unique qualities. I really enjoy working with other humans in an office setting, and I also really enjoy the flexibility to focus in a work environment I have more control of as a remote at home. Each also has their own downsides. It can get lonely working remote and so as a team we are extra diligent about checking in with each other. Think of it like a remote form of the water cooler talk.
Q: How do you stay collaborative when you’re all in distant places?
CA: We schedule an inordinate amount of meetings. JKLOL. If anyone gets a case of the FOMOs we highly encourage setting up a remote call in the apps room. We call it a ‘bubbly’.
CS: THE BUBBLY! The concept originated from thinking about how, when you were in the office, there was this “audio bubble.” You could hear conversations around you, say people bouncing ideas off each other, and you could choose to ignore it or get involved if you were interested. We try to recreate that over Slack.
KM: We practice a lot of pair programming as a team, it’s a great forcing function for collaboration. And to make sure we are water cooling you can always find one of us starting a bubbly video hangout like the others have mentioned. The team bubble has been one of our biggest remote team hacks and wins.
KW: We send messages, share our screens, and video chat. It’s just like being right next to them.
Q: For Kyle specifically: how do you manage a remote team as a remote leader?
KM: I don’t have to – they mostly manage me, haha.
My goals are the same as any leader, make sure there are no roadblocks, make sure everyone is happy with the short, medium, and long term goals. Additionally, I make sure to emphasize the importance of communication and keep an eye out for when we’ve slipped below the line.
Proximity’s double edge is that it can easily breed distrust. I’m fascinated with how proximity or being a remote worker impacts trust with non-remote team members or a business. There is loads out there on the topic, but what is most salient to me are the three elements of trust; You believe I have your best interests at heart, I do what I say I am going to do consistently, and you see me perform these actions. I view these as core dials for team success.
When you are remote it is easy to forget that because of your proximity you can easily be seen as inconsistent and not delivering. This can lead to distrust.
The mantra I preach, “Let’s default to over communicating.”
Q: What benefits have you experienced with being part of a remote team?
KW: No commute. I don’t forget my lunch at home.
CA: The commute.
CS: Ditto. Though we don’t get snow days, so that’s sad. Joking aside, I also love the flexibility. I get to have lunch with my family. Or when our daughter takes a nap, my wife can leave to run errands and such; I can still focus on work and she’s not tethered to the home.
KM: Come on, sure the commute perk is really nice, but working in my PJ’s (sometimes), controlling where I work (coffee shop, co-working space, maybe in some remote location), and a bit more control over my hours affords me with more time to spend with my significant other who has odd hospital working hours and allows me to reduce the number of choices and stresses I have in my life daily.
Q: What struggles have you encountered with being part of a remote team?
CA: Feeling disconnected. It’s difficult keeping up to date with relevant information when meetings occur without you in the office.
KW: No struggles. It’s great.
CS: I’m an extreme introvert anyway, so I don’t mind the disconnection in the sense of not getting to talk to people all day. But to Chris’ point, every now and then an idea pops out in a meeting and it’s the first time I’ve heard of it even though it’s been germinating for a bit around the coffee machine. Those times are a bit surprising.
KM: I call it Hermititus. I can easily become a hermit and not leave my apartment for days. Yikes. I also suffer anxiety from time to time when I feel like I’m not kept in the loop, let’s call it “FOMO for Business.” I always have to remind myself about those trust dials when I get into this state.
Q: How do you tackle conflict when remote?
CA: Address it head on, write an email and send it or not. Provide feedback directly on how to avoid such situations in the future.
CS: ^^ Just address it as soon after the discussion/meeting/situation that caused it. Cooling down is a good idea, but nothing good comes of conflict when it keeps brewing.
KM: I always start by giving myself time to process the conflict, I remind myself it takes two to tango, I try to spend some time writing out how I contributed to the conflict and keep on open mind to others viewpoints. Recently I’ve employed a technique called CLG – Clearing to help articulate and resolve more emotionally damaging conflicts. If it is not an emotional conflict, I’ll meet with the person or group and practice some design, discuss, and decide iterating to help all parties conclude and come to a collective agreement.
Q: For Kyle specifically: What’s the interview process like when interviewing for a remote role?
KM: We have tried to architect our interviews like a pair programming session a person would experience on the job. I’m a big proponent of interviewing on problems that are relevant to the job. Our hope is to paint a picture of a day-in-the-life for candidates as early as possible.
Q: For team members: What do you look for in a remote company when looking for a role?
CA: Not sure how to answer that one, this is my first remote role.
KW: An experience group of engineers.
CS: I look for the percentage of people that are remote. The more remotes there are, the less likely that they get forgotten. In my previous company it was an “everyone in the office, yet this one person is remote for personal reasons” situation. Important things would get discussed in ad-hoc meetings in personal offices and it would never make it back to the remote guy, people leading meetings would forget to dial into the conference call for him to listen, and so on… Needless to say, we lost a talented team member pretty quickly.
KM: The big one for me is how integrated the remote workers are with the core business processes.
Q: How did Poll Everywhere fit what you were looking for?
CA: It was remote, a young company, and had lots of good challenges to tackle.
KW: I could work remotely and work on a project that interests me. Also, PE is a good group of people.
CS: About a third of the company was remote, including all of my immediate team members. So I figured the remote workflow was already ironed out, which was nice. And I know people keep saying this, so it might sound cultish by now, but the people are indeed awesome.
KM: My situation is unique. After coming down off the high of two years of running my own investor backed startup and failing, I was looking for a role where I could control my stress levels a bit more while still filling that small company appetite. All those boxes were checked for me as employee 16-17 at Poll Everywhere.
Stay tuned for our next team interview in late March. Check out our previous interview with Designer Jon Nguyen on showing respect to candidates during the hiring process.