Our project teams include devs as many as ten time zones apart. We have long succeeded without everyone in the same place at the same time. That’s because we have honed both the art and science of combining local teamwork with distributed collaboration.
UpTeam’s unique Centralized/Distributed model is our secret sauce. It bridges global talent with global opportunity. Our model works by carefully calibrating the right mix of communication tools, collaborative processes, and culture to fit each project team.
Communications and cadence are key pillars for the centralized/distributed model. Each day combines both live and asynchronous, from Zoom to Slack channels: it’s where all remote team members share their progress.
Offices feature a dedicated co-working setup, streamlining office type work, in-person brainstorming, casual socializing, meetups, and more. Up to half of our employees do not go into the office daily, with many mainly remote for 5 years and more. Naturally, they appreciate the flexibility (and freedom from commute hassles). For those whom a home office is not always ideal, we support local nearby co-working spots near you; don’t be surprised if you run into one or more of your colleagues there.
That said, all of our employees appreciate the chance to get face-to-face with their colleagues. On a regular basis, remote employees who work on the same project team will travel for a working visit to one of our centralized offices (expenses paid for by UpTeam). It’s very effective for intense periodic problem solving, milestone planning, and quality face-to-face time in 3 dimensions. We also bring the whole company together in regional get-togethers for seasonal festivities at least once or twice every year.
How does it work? Let’s take a closer look.
At UpTeam, a founding principle is to be thoughtful about how to organize the timing of teamwork. Our aim: to make everyone productive, collectively and individually, whatever side of the planet they live on. It’s why we encourage video calls over chat or voice calls (more in “Asynchronous Communication.”)
Conference calls are more than meetings. They are each set at a specific cadence in a regular time window to function as a more effective approach to structuring time. We see it as one of the great advantages of centralized / distributed work, instead of everyone coming to one office all the time.
By favoring well-organized meetings and agendas over serendipity, we aim to let you as professionals structure your time more effectively and not waste your working hours in unscheduled or poorly organized group gatherings. Below are a handful of details about how UpTeam makes this work.
- Simple expectations
- Daily meetings
- Scheduled syncs
Since the majority of our company is remote, we pride ourselves in fast transparent communication along with a strong online presence. The core of our conference call culture is to be clear about when meetings are essential and how to make you productive when you are not in meetings.
- When planning our meetings, we want to be aware of the different time zones, and are flexible depending on everyone’s schedules, on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Each meeting has an agenda which is linked to the invite to make sure that everyone is on the same page. We want everyone to be prepared for the meeting ahead of time to avoid wasting time at the beginning of the meeting. We certainly don’t want to waste anyone’s time
- If a meeting is no longer necessary, we cancel it and let all participants know. If there are no more items to discuss, we end our meetings early. We are cognisant of everyone’s time and are always trying to be more efficient in our work.
- Notes are taken during the call to keep everyone up to date. Additionally, action items are reviewed over at the end of the meeting and a summary is added to the meeting notes. If you don’t know who’s taking notes at a meeting, ask your team lead in advance of the meeting. If no one’s taking notes, you should feel free to do so to keep track for yourself about what’s going on (and don’t be shy about sharing your notes with the rest of the team).
We usually plan for two daily meetings, along with different sequences of scheduled calls across teams. We don’t measure the results of your work based on your presence or online presenting during these calls. Instead, we like to focus on the outcome of your work.
We also offer every employee the chance to participate in calls across teams. This allows each of us at UpTeam to share his/her input and gain a better understanding of how other project teams work together. It also helps us sustain better transparency and engagement, among teams and individuals.
Each person owns making the meeting valuable. To make the most out of each meeting, it’s up to you to listen, learn, and ask questions. Please do not hesitate to rephrase the questions or comments in your own way, starting with phrases such as “Correct me if I’m wrong……”. It will convey a more clear understanding and add openness to the dialogue.
Remember, we also retain recordings of conference calls, so if something you heard requires revisiting, ask your team leader or colleagues where to find it. If nothing else, it provides you with a way to take part in the next conversation.
Most of our project teams usually have 2 daily meetings, built around the cadence of Scrum.
- Morning stand-up around 11am CET for all team members to sync on the current tasks, discuss dependencies, and do quick signalling.
- Evening team call to sync with US colleagues, usually around 6pm CET.
The timing of these calls can vary depending on what works best for your particular project team. Recording and uploading calls makes it easier for employees to stay on the same page even if they missed something because of time zones or additional time conflicts.
Aside from daily cadence, syncs support a structured rhythm to drive responsibilities and processes consistently, both within product teams and with adjacent supporting efforts.
- Weekly 30 min extended team calls. On an opt-in basis, join us as we do a rework of team feedback; Jira tickets; groom and tweak sprint artifacts. Generally, we include cross-functional team members beyond any single core project.
- Monthly Team review. We set up a review call to roll up what’s been decided across different team members and key different time zones to keep everybody aligned.
- Monthly Executive office hours. Meet 1-1 or as a group with CEO, CTO, and the head of talent and development. This provides UpTeam employees with an opportunity for dialogue outside ongoing project tasks and commitments.
- Regular Remote Socializing. This is our way of replacing chats about nonwork stuff by the coffee machine or in the kitchen when the kitchen is not down the hall. Don’t be afraid to communicate; small talk makes you more approachable and helps you connect with everyone.
More pragmatic, less magic: reciprocal autonomy.
It’s no mystery that we value collaboration (hint: we put it in the name of the company). As we like to say, software is a team sport. Practically speaking we focus on asynchronous communication as applied collaboration — and doing it without spending all day in meetings.
GitLab is the gold standard for software development collaboration; it’s the alpha and the omega of code/compile/build/release. Obviously, no one can write perfect code to solve all the problems all the time, every time. Our goal is to divide work up not only into specialties and tasks, but also to streamline handoffs around the clock.
In a perfect world, Asynchronous Communication means you set up what needs to be done by one of your colleagues, and when you come back, it’s done. More pragmatic, less magic.
Think of it as “reciprocal autonomy.”
Documentation: do, then talk
The best way to stay connected in a team is to write things down. The intent is to make it easier for everyone besides you to understand, remember, and use the work you do in a timely fashion. By definition, not every person on the team is available and even awake at the same time you are.
We make very heavy use of Google Docs. We’ve found it to be the best way to collect the structured ideas that make up a project and keep them organized. It’s wonderfully flexible as a place to create agendas, document decisions, store notes, and more.
Documentation is our way to ensure that alongside writing great software, everyone at UpTeam is committed to taking action on their ideas. When there’s no one awake to talk with you, writing your work and ideas down show people what you are actually doing. It’s not just that thinking all alone about work you have not done limits your audience to mind readers (generally, such skills are impossibly short supply). Reading what you write gives others the opportunity to provide feedback while you are asleep.
Here’s how to make the most of it.
- Writing, editing, suggesting, and commenting: These are the core methods in Google Docs. Get comfortable with the controls.
- Organize your ideas: Reading takes place sequentially. Putting your ideas in order makes the reader more autonomous and allows them to do what you hoped they would.
- Strive for low-context communications:Assume you are going to be asleep when people read what you have written. How can you make it easy for them to understand what they need to without having to come back and ask for clarification? Build everything they need to know into the document, and make the links easy-to-follow.
- Use supplemental tools for English transparency: Grammarly and Spellchecker help you make sure what your document says what you meant it to say. Try the Hemingway Editor to make sentences more clear and concise.
Documentation is not the path of least resistance. But it’s important that you resist the temptation to skip it. The people in your immediate team, and members of adjacent teams, especially across time zones, want to benefit from your ideas, your information and your data. Put those together in a sequence that holds your audience’s attention and connects their interests and needs. It puts them in a position to take your work seriously. Most importantly, it helps them to help you get your work done.
JIRA keeps score
Just as each UpTeam client is different, every project is different. But behind every client is a driving need for results from their software. We use JIRA to measure project progress, and expect you to do so as well.
It’s essential that you update your progress on assigned JIRA tasks every day. As Scrum practitioners, we rely on sustaining shared understanding and syncing in the daily standup. What you record in JIRA at the end of yesterday’s work serves as the oxygen for the standup. It gives everyone visibility into what everyone else is doing. It’s also easier to keep track of the work you do on the day you do it, rather than hoping you’ll remember the following morning.
There are two audiences for what you keep track of in JIRA. First, logging your progress on the daily helps your peers on the team see what’s making progress and what’s stuck. If all is not rosy, don’t keep it a secret. This is the second audience for what you record in JIRA: project leadership, including product owners from the in the exec team. They can’t help you fix problems they don’t know about.
We’re well aware that it’s generally impossible to know everything you need to know before every sprint. In addition to planned features for each sprint, we reserve 20% of team capacity for urgent “ASAP” tasks and 10% for meetings and code review. The ASAP slot gives us the required level of agility in case critical tasks break the surface so that they can be handled in mere hours.
Use Slack to supplement, not substitute
Slack is our default tool for instant messaging communications, and it’s a great tool for instant gratification when you need to know and need to connect. We have a broad variety of Slack channels for projects, technologies, organizational news, and lots of ways to connect when not doing your day job.
It’s just as important to know when NOT to rely on Slack. The power of Slack derives from its acronym, “Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge”. But it’s equally important to remember that Slack is ephemeral, momentary.
If there’s an important discussion that leads to decisions are people going to rely on, after the instant communications window is completed? Don’t rely on Slack: put it in JIRA, in a Google Document, or add to the code in a merge request. Some companies go as far as to delete all Slack threads after 90 days. While we don’t do that (yet), we have the same goal. Together, we want ensure that valuable knowledge doesn’t get committed without either a plan to take action, or a structured mechanism to use it in the future.
Organize Your Day
One of the most important aspects of working remotely is planning out your daily schedule to help you achieve a sustainable work-life balance. UpTeam has a strong remote culture. We understand that working from home doesn’t always fit the structure of a regular 9-5 job. This means working normal hours wherever people are across the planet, for continuous productivity and resilience (and no less critical, avoiding burnout).
Timing is everything. Experience has demonstrated using a clearly-structured cadence, with set rhythms and tools for communication, ensures all members of the project team can deliver high-quality results on a daily basis.
Despite what Einstein calculated about the rest of the universe, time here on earth works quite well as a constant. Sticking with a schedule, even working around holidays and other out-of-band events, helps cement team accountability for each member of the team and project deliverables and the customers that they are delivered for. Here’s a typical view of the day-to-day, organized around a 2-week Sprint timebox.
|Days||Day 1– 9||Day 1||Day 3||Day 9||Day 10|
Sprint planning meeting
|Grooming meeting||Sprint review||Sprint retrospective|
|Participants||All Dev team, Product owner,|
|All Dev team, Product owner,|
some Dev team
some Dev team
|All Dev team, Product owner,|
|Time||11:00am CET||5:00pm CET||5:00pm CET||5:00pm CET||5:00pm CET|
There will be days where you need to work from home even if you go to the office regularly. While our remote team members have the freedom to work from anywhere they would like, they are often part of projects that require the ability to focus for long periods of time. Either way, everyone should have a plan to work from home (WFH).
Having a home office can give you space where you can better control your surroundings, keep all your work materials, and concentrate. There’s no need to take productivity for granted. Here’s what to look for in a work-from-home configuration,
- Dedicated workspace
- WFH readiness
- WFH checklist
When you arrange a dedicated workspace for yourself, you create a physical reminder to separate your work time from your free time. Let’s face it, you probably won’t do your most productive work when you are tempted to “multitask” while watching TV. Whether it be a separate room used as an office space or a desk in the corner of your bedroom, limited distractions help increase your productivity while doing work.
If you are unable to find a place with no distractions at home, UpTeam is ready to cover a co-working space near you to solve for a dedicated workspace. You might even see one or more of your coworkers there!
In setting up your home working space, it’s important to have all of the materials that you would in an office. The good news is that UpTeam subsidizes your home office set up. We will provide you with a new laptop, a monitor, an ergonomic chair, and anything else you need to be productive.
Talk to your manager once you sign your offer, and be sure to bring it up in your first call. Make sure you have all these tech accessories (and if yours needs replacement, let us know).
- Good quality headphones with a microphone
Having office kit that you can put in your backpack is necessary but not sufficient. What you used to do work is just as important as where you do it. Here are six things to look for:
- Set aside and secure a dedicated workspace desk that is free of personal clutter.
- Avoid high-traffic areas that may lead to distractions.
- Make sure that your home office has a strong WiFi connection to avoid any problems or glitches during work calls.
- Try to block out any background noise that can be distracting for both you and those who you might be video conferencing with.
- Dedicate a comfortable and supportive chair that helps cue your “working” mentality. You may even want to try standing while you work; either way, don’t pick a place to sit that might induce some unscheduled nap time while you work.
- Arrange to be in a space with plenty of lighting to help keep your eyes healthy and to ensure that you can be clearly seen on video conference calls
UpTeam’s flexible hours offer a great opportunity to live a better professional and personal life at the same time. The benefits are many: no traffic, no office disturbances, and the ability to work from any city, beach, campground, or coworking space that you like.
Our remote policy is one of the many reasons why our employees choose UpTeam. It’s the perfect balance of work and leisure for world travelers and busy parents alike. UpTeam’s remote support system ensures that our employees feel like a part of the company even from thousands of kilometers away.
Since a large portion of our team members remote some or all of the time, we’re pretty experienced with helping our employees create a work-life balance for themselves. Here are some recommendations from our top performers, who have found that balance in their lifestyles:
- Manage your own schedule
- On time, off time
- Real self time
Manage your own schedule
At UpTeam, you’re fully responsible for ensuring your work schedule delivers results. What we expect is that you organize a clear schedule and make your availability visible for your team on Google Calendar. Be sure to snooze your Slack notifications during hours you know you won’t be available. At the end of your workday, update Jira to keep an open line of communication on your progress with the rest of your team.
Find structure in creating a schedule with dedicated work time versus free time. You decide when to work, and whether that’s at 3 in the morning or at 11pm, we don’t mind as long as you get the job done! Embracing asynchronous workflows allows us to focus on productivity while finding time to work on our wellbeing. If you start feeling lost without a solid schedule, don’t worry, we have our coaches who are there to support you with your daily routine!
On time, off time
To stay productive while working remotely, it’s important to have clear goals, accountability and strong alignment as a team. With UpTeam’s remote work structure it’s easy to take breaks to help yourself refocus. We know how important it can be to take a breather before an important call or before diving deep into a project. Taking a walk around the block, do a quick work out, or even taking a short nap
Every job at UpTeam is set up for a normal 8-hour workload. We don’t encourage making a daily habit of extra hours. If you find yourself struggling to manage your workload, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.
We count on responsible professionals who can complete their tasks and work with their team. While this kind of work structure has countless benefits, sometimes this kind of responsibility and accountability can lead to a chaotic schedule or even burnout. The mental and physical wellbeing of each and every team player is extremely important to us which is why we support UpTeam staff with wellness programs, sports engagement opportunities, and check-ins from our coaches to help you adjust to the remote lifestyle.
When working for UpTeam, you are not freelancing. We pay you to take time off, because you’re an integral part of the company. This is not freelancing, and you should not think of yourself as a short-timer on a short-term project. When you take vacations and time-off, we don’t want you to keep working. Take a break and replenish. Come back fresh. Your paid vacation from UpTeam benefits us as an employer, at least as much as it does you as our employee.
Real self time
“Take care of yourself” is not just an expression. It’s an active part of your professional commitments. Burnout is real.
Find yourself trying to run on adrenaline and fumes? Your productivity is degrading, often sooner than you think. You may not notice it, but your colleagues and managers will. Every person has different ways to restore and be ready to tackle the work ahead. UpTeam supports you in doing so.
At UpTeam, we respect your private life. We get the importance of not missing out on friends and family events. Curating your own work schedule allows you to turn to the work-life balance that’s right for you.