Making Remote Teams Work
How a digital consultancy manages project teams based in multiple locations
by Charmaine Tan and Keynes Yeo
6 min read
As the global talent shortage intensifies, companies around the world are looking to hire remote teams as a means to reach and retain talent. Offering flexibility in both geographical location and working hours, remote teams can bring boundless opportunities to grow a business, while creating an empowering experience and meaningful careers for team members.
We speak to Favorite Medium, a digital consultancy whose company culture is purely remote, with team members located in at least 10 different countries. With project teams delivering innovative tech products on tight deadlines, Favorite Medium tells us about how their management ethos and a keen adoption of tech tools help their remote teams work and thrive.
Tell me more about Favorite Medium.
Favorite Medium (FM) is a digital product consultancy with offices around the world. We collaborate with our partners and clients to create meaningful innovations that positively impact people all around the world.
We strongly believe that cultural diversity allows for unique team dynamics and global perspectives on the projects we work on. Due to our distributed team, working flexibly and remotely has become integral to our company culture.
What are some of the guiding principles to Favorite Medium's management approach?
We value proactiveness, curiosity and trust. For a remote team to work, our project management is highly task-oriented, and team members are encouraged to accomplish their tasks independently, which reinforces trust.
While there are countless benefits of hiring remote teams, many organisations are still finding ways to overcome difficulties in accountability and communication. Because we believe that the best time to change is now, FM constantly explores ways to future-proof ourselves, by staying abreast of work trends and by embracing new demands and preferences of a changing workforce.
Our recruitment drive targets global talents, and we develop talent by promoting professional skills upgrading internally. Most importantly, we encourage fun and rest whenever needed!
We also use various collaboration tools that help our team with working remotely:
- Daily Standups & Team Huddles
- When working on client projects, we adopt the Scrum methodology, with daily standup meetings and regular team huddles to promote communication, cohesion and individual accountability.
- For internal projects, our Design and Engineering teams conduct daily standup meetings to align our daily work goals.
- Regular internal knowledge sharing
- FM Made This is a sharing session where teams talk about interesting projects that they have been working on.
- Proprietary R&D initiative where the R&D team shares about new technologies that they will be releasing for internal use.
- Individual Learning Initiative, where any team member can share about their latest learning interest.
- Quarterly Town Hall Meeting
- Company-wide meetings are held every quarter to engage all functions within the company.
- Individual 1:1 meetings
- Initiated by individual team members for casual catch-ups.
- Online FM Staff Handbook
- Includes all company related policies, processes, team contacts, onboarding guide etc.
What impact does remote working have on employee engagement?
From an employee’s point-of-view, remote work offers autonomy and flexibility, and promotes work-life balance. Collaborative tools and processes that we use enable our team members to effectively juggle both work and personal commitments.
A remote and culturally diverse team provides unique peer-to-peer learning opportunities, as team members with different perspectives and industry practices come together to collaborate on the same platform. Diversity also contributes significantly to the organic growth of FM’s company culture.
Personally, I find that FM’s remote work arrangement demonstrates an appreciation of space, by giving me freedom to plan my schedule and pace myself, and time to digest information and reflect on things around me. This is extremely valuable as it promotes introspection and encourages creativity.
What are some of the tools Favorite Medium uses to manage the team?
For daily business needs, we use Google Suite for email, cloud storage and conference calls. Online collaboration tools we often use but not limited to:
- For project scheduling and resourcing – SIXPAQ Schedule
- A proprietary tool designed and developed by FM team for resourcing and scheduling.
- For project management – Meister Task, Trello, asana, Jira, etc.
- For messaging – Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp etc.
- For engineering collaboration – GitLab, Github, HockeyApp etc.
- For design ideation – Mural.co, Shape.
- For design collaboration – Figma, Sketch, Zeplin, invision, principle etc.
- For document sharing – Google Drive, Dropbox etc.
Are remote teams and tech-enabled collaborations going to be the future of work?
Remote working has become a requirement and not a choice.
~ Brett Webb, VP of Sales, Favorite Medium US
The future of work presents a real opportunity beyond productivity and cost efficiency. Companies today can leverage technological advancement to increase mobility of work and manage a remote team distributed across different time zones.
Having said that, the opportunity for companies is to focus on developing notions of value beyond just cost to the company. Companies need to develop additional levers to explore new sources of value and meaning in order to remain competitive amid rapidly changing market dynamics.
As we progress into the cognitive revolution, there is a need to redefine work to also create valuable human-machine collaborations, shifting our understanding of work from task completion to problem-solving and managing people relationships. It is therefore crucial to build a “borderless team” while still putting people at the core of the business.
Some examples of companies that have successfully managed a remote working approach are Trello, invision, GitHub and Dribble.
How can more companies benefit from remote work?
First of all, it has been challenging to hire in Singapore, we have the issues of talent shortage and high operational cost. We need to constantly look at other untapped workforce and explore a broad continuum of options to recruit talents as part of our strategic growth.
In order for us to reach out to global talents and business opportunities, we will need to invest time and money to engage global audiences and on the client front we do need to challenge traditional onsite delivery model.
Most FM’s clients have been receptive to remote model, as teams are becoming very distributed, growth of new digital industry and limitation of co-sharing spaces. Sometimes we are faced with mandatory conditions like IT security compliance which we will address on a case-to-case basis.
Moving ahead, we see that providing flexibility of work and remote working is one approach we see that people generally value. From a business perspective, we definitely see the fluidity in operation by keeping costs lean, agile and ability to reach out to interesting cross-borders projects.
Key takeaways for managing successful remote teams:
- Clearly articulate goals, deliverables and success criteria
- Role of project manager is essential for team alignment
- Early discussion and education of expectations for client management
- Centralize all internal communication methods, and always strive to provide context
- Humility, curiosity and empathy are essential when hiring for a diverse global team
- Having a common language is essential
- Evangelize asynchronous communication on top of synchronous
- Learn to de-emphasize face-to-face time and use in-person meetings judiciously
- Have full commitment to remote working, from all levels of the company
Keynes joined Favorite Medium in 2017 as the Country Manager based in Singapore overseeing operation and client engagements in APAC region. He has more than 10 years of experience working with business partners globally and a range of organizations including multinational corporations, local enterprises, and the public sector. He was formerly one of the founding members of Foolproof Singapore where he led sales and marketing in APAC.
With his background in product and system design as well as human factors engineering, Keynes has a knack for strategizing effective innovation solutions for his clients. He is also a certified consultant with Registered Management Consultant (RMC).
Charmaine is a Strategic Account Manager at FCS Careers, a recruitment consultancy based in Singapore.
Having worked with hiring managers and jobseekers for more than eight years, Charmaine believes that understanding what motivates individuals and how they can thrive in their careers is the most important factor in building great teams and organizations.
Outside of work, Charmaine plays the trumpet in a band that performs regularly to elderly at nursing homes and hospitals.