At Alley, being challenged to solve complex problems as a remote team has required us to scale our practices and embrace continuous change. We’ve fostered a collaborative, candid culture and established strategies that can improve work environments for all kinds of teams — not just remote or Scrum teams. Whether you’re in an agency, a newsroom, or working solo, you can take steps to build better work habits and relationships.
More is better when it comes to team communications — especially when your team works across different cultures, schedules, and time zones. We never assume a particular message has reached everyone. Our team communications get passed on more than once (and usually in different formats like Slack, Zoom, email, etc.). Teammates might have been on a video call, heads-down on a complex problem, or fielding a flurry of Slack messages that came through simultaneously, causing them to miss the memo. Our overcommunication standard goes for both company-policy decisions and communications around team projects.
Being remote doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. In fact, many of our teammates have found they communicate more regularly at Alley than they did on co-located teams. Why? Much like our work, our approach to communication is incremental and iterative. We use tools that facilitate collaboration while maintaining a culture that prioritizes striking a balance between synchronous and asynchronous work. Setting — and respecting — boundaries is key.
To that end, we’re clear about when we are and aren’t available. We say hello in Slack when we sign on for the day, note when we take breaks, and say goodbye at the end of our workdays. Many of us block “heads-down” time on our calendars, set “Do Not Disturb” hours on Slack, and temporarily mute notifications while we’re in meetings or in a flow state on a particular task. All of these practices support us in respecting each other’s time and limiting interruptions. Not only does this give us more autonomy over our workdays, but it also forces us to communicate intentionally and effectively — embracing tools that foster collaboration (without requiring instantaneous responses from our teammates) and break the cycle of constant interruption.
Break Rules Productively
Most of the time, playing by the same rules makes us all more efficient. But when something isn’t quite working, we stay open to experimenting (or rethinking the process entirely). Whether we’re working on a client project or shaping our internal practice, we make time to iterate, improve, and build upon the systems we have. And once something turns out to be an impediment, we’re unsentimental about changing it.
Empowering team members to make these changes is not only democratizing but also ensures your tools truly work for your team. We have formal processes that help team members affect organizational change, including regular opportunities to capture and adopt kaizen (continuous improvement). That’s part of basic Scrum practice, but it’s important to us as a company value. We’ve even applied kaizen to Scrum itself! Our Daily Scrum, which used to be called “Daily Stand-up,” felt noninclusive. And for a team that’s rarely together in person and seeks to be as inclusive as possible, the very notion of a meeting where everyone literally stands had to be rethought. These seemingly small measures can greatly impact making teammates feel seen, heard, and valued.
What we value greatly about our approach to remote communication is how it encourages collaborative decision-making. Everyone is empowered to speak their minds across Alley’s organizational structure — and we provide an environment of psychological safety to back that up. In many ways, remote work offers a measured advantage in fighting bias: since the bulk of our work takes place via text (Slack chats, project tickets, and GitHub), the focus tends to stay on the work itself, allowing teammates to function outside of superficial assumptions that could accompany physical appearance, level of extraversion, tone of voice, or other attributes.
Moreover, remote work forces us to embrace tools that keep resources transparent and easily accessible in a way that co-located work rarely demands. With everything we need at our fingertips, preparing for meetings, presentations, and ad hoc brainstorms is fast and easy. Sometimes it feels a bit like taking an open-book test — having the materials at hand takes the pressure off and allows us to focus on the bigger picture. This approach can also feel far more inclusive to introverts, people with disabilities, neurodivergent people, or people who struggle with memorization.
Taking unnecessary pressure off your team can go a long way to facilitating productive habits and fostering collaboration across all organizational levels. These inclusive practices help team members shine. Focusing on our strengths and using the tools at our disposal maximizes input and keeps us invested and excited about our work.
Finding your groove
Every organization is unique — just like the people that make it up. Striking the right balance for your company takes time and effort. Borrowing and experimenting with different philosophies is a great place to start, but listening to your team and keeping an open mind are key.
Want to learn more about how we work to set our team up for success? Check out our careers page!