Our project teams are proud to include devs from regions worldwide as many as ten time zones apart. This means that, from the very beginning, we’ve had to focus on combining local teamwork with distributed collaboration.
UpTeam’s core focus on consistency with location, scheduling and interaction is our secret sauce. This model works by carefully calibrating the right mix of communication tools, collaborative processes, employee support and internal culture to fit the unique mission each project team.
How does it work? Here are some things that make us uniquely effective:
Communication and predictability are key pillars for this model. Each day combines both live and asynchronous communication on Zoom, Slack, and our coding repositories. Code is the critical channel: it’s where all team members can show their progress, no matter where their desk is physically located.
Our offices feature a dedicated coworking setup which streamlines traditional office-type work, in-person brainstorming, casual socializing, meetups and more. We use these offices as a hub for project teams to get together at regular intervals (all expenses paid, of course). In between these meetups, employees can choose to work from the office, from an approved coworking space (where you can run into other UpTeamers) or from their dedicated home office.
If you choose a work location outside the office, get ready for about 4-6 trips a year to meet face-to-face with your colleagues. These meetups are very effective for intense periodic problem solving, milestone planning and quality communication in real life. We also bring the whole company together for regional get-togethers at seasonal festivities about twice a year.
At UpTeam, a founding principle is to coordinate teamwork as much as possible. We want to make sure everyone’s productivity is as collective as it is individual. As a result, we encourage video calls over chat or voice calls, building a mosaic of collective experience out of our individual efforts (more about this in “Deliberate Communication”).
Conference calls are more than meetings. They are each set at a specific cadence within a regular time window. This is to make sure they’re an effective approach for the whole team when it comes to structuring time.
By favoring well-organized meetings and agendas, you can structure your time more effectively and avoid unscheduled or poorly organized group gatherings. Below are some ways that UpTeam uses to make this work.
- Simple expectations
- Daily meetings
- Scheduled syncs
We pride ourselves with combining fast, transparent communication with a strong online presence. The core of our conference call culture is to focus on essential meetings only, and ensure you can be productive when you are not in meetings.
- When planning our meetings, we keep different time zones in mind. This means we require a certain flexibility to make sure that everyone can attend..
- An agenda is attached to team meeting invites so that you can prepare ahead of time. This allows us to respect everyone’s time by diving right into the topic as soon as we start.
- If a meeting becomes 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 aware of everyone’s busy schedules and are always trying to be efficient in our work.
- Action items from each meeting are added to the relevant tools and platforms they refer to. We encourage you to take your own notes to keep track of your participation in the projects you’re involved in. Feel free to share these appropriately with your team.
We usually plan for two daily meetings, along with different sequences of scheduled calls across teams. These calls help you to deliver the best possible outcomes when at work.
We also offer every employee the chance to occasionally participate in calls held by other teams. This allows each of us at UpTeam to share their input and learn how other project teams work together. It also helps us sustain better transparency and engagement among teams and individuals.
It’s up to you to make the most out of each meeting by listening, learning and asking questions. Please do not hesitate to rephrase the questions or comments in your own words, starting with phrases like “Correct me if I’m wrong…”. It will help generate a more clear understanding of the proceedings and add openness to the dialogue.
Remember, we also retain recordings of certain, significant meetings calls. If something you heard requires revisiting, ask your team leader or colleagues where to find it. If nothing else, this helps bring you up to speed before the next conversation.
Project teams usually have two daily meetings, built around a Scrum cadence.
- A morning stand-up around 11am CET for all team members to sync on current tasks, discuss dependencies and possible blockers..
- An 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. If you can’t make it to a specific call, let your project manager and colleagues know ahead of time so they can adapt and make sure to fill you in on what you missed.
Syncs are regular calls to align everyone on project scope and company strategy. These are less frequent but just as important as other kinds of meetings.
- Monthly team “all-hands” meetings. We set up a review call to roll up what’s been decided within different teams across different time zones.
- Monthly executive office hours. 1-1 or group meetings with the CEO, CTO or and the head of talent and development. This provides UpTeam employees with an opportunity for dialogue outside of ongoing project tasks and commitments.
- Regular online socializing. This is your opportunity to get to know your colleagues on a more personal level. Think of it as the coffee break conversation you’d have at the office.
It’s no mystery that we value collaboration – that’s why we have “Team” in our company name. We like to say that software is a team sport. Practically speaking, we focus on deliberate asynchronous communication as applied collaboration so that we can avoid spending all day in meetings.
GitLab is the gold standard for software development collaboration that does not depend on constant, synchronous communication. We’ve learned from this mindset and adopted it in our work, using a follow-the-sun approach for information sharing. In practice, this means that, when you need to hand something off (or send it to another set of eyes), you’ll need to indicate what you’ve done and what your colleagues need to follow up on. When done right, this helps you return the next day to a finished task. More pragmatic, less magic.
Think of it as “reciprocal autonomy.”
Documentation: do, then talk
The best way to stay connected as a team is to write things down – that way, your work is available even when you’re not. Remember, not every person on the team is available or even awake at the same time you are.
We’ve found Google Docs to be the best way to collect the structured ideas that make up a project and keep them organized. It’s a wonderfully flexible place to create agendas, document decisions, store notes, and more.
Documentation also helps you take action on your ideas. When there’s no one awake to report to, writing your work and ideas down shows others what you’ve actually done. Reading what you write gives others the opportunity to provide feedback while you’re off-hours.
Here’s how to make the most of these tools:
- 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’re going to be asleep when people read what you’ve written. How can you make it easy for them to understand what they need to without having to come back and ask for clarification? Write everything they need to know into the document and make all links easy to follow.
- Use supplemental tools for English clarity: Grammarly and Spellchecker help your document say what you meant it to say. Try the Hemingway Editor to make sentences more clear and concise.
Creating proper documentation can feel like unnecessary work. And yet your colleagues and team will be thankful for the effort you put in. They 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 with their interests and needs. This helps them take your work seriously. Most importantly, it helps them help you get your work done.
JIRA keeps score
Just as each UpTeam client is different, every project is different. And behind every client is a driving need to get results from their software. We use JIRA to measure project progress and expect you to 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 stand-up. Your daily updates in JIRA are the oxygen that keeps these stand-ups on their feet. It gives everyone visibility into what everyone else is working on and it helps keep track of the work as you do it.
There are two audiences interested in your JIRA updates
- Your peers need to be able to see your progress so they can sync their own work to yours or help you when you are stuck. If thing’s aren’t all rosy, don’t keep it a secret.
- Project Leadership and product owners rely on your process documentation to spot problems and opportunities they don’t know about.
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 – we want to make sure they can be handled in hours instead of days (or weeks).
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|
Daily stand-ups at 11am: dev team, product owner, scrum master
Sprint planning, Grooming meeting, Sprint Review Sprint retrospective: participants as defined by SCRUM practices.
Having a home office can make sure you have space where you can better control your surroundings, keep all your work materials in one and let yourself concentrate when needed. We shouldn’t take our productivity for granted – it’s something that must be built and maintained Here’s what you can arrange for a good work-from-home setup:
- A dedicated workspace
- Work from home (WFH) readiness;
- WFH checklist.
A dedicated workspace
When you arrange a dedicated workspace for yourself, you create a physical reminder to separate your work time from your free time. It serves as an anchor for your mind to focus on the tasks at hand and not get distracted by background factors. Whether it be a separate room used as an office space or a desk in the corner of your bedroom, setting up your workspace so that it limits distractions can help increase your productivity while on the job.
If you are unable to find a place without distractions at home, UpTeam is ready to help you find a coworking space near you to set up a dedicated workspace. You might even see some of your coworkers there!
Your home office should feel like a place where you can be your best productive self. To help with this goal, UpTeam subsidizes your setup. We will provide you with a new laptop, a monitor, an ergonomic chair, as well as accessories like a keyboard, a mouse, a webcam and a quality headset with a microphone.
Talk to your manager once you sign your offer, and be sure to bring it up in your first call if you are missing anything of the above.
We want to make sure that working from home is an empowering and productive experience,. That’s why we want to make sure you know what you’ll need and will have everything close at hand. This includes:
- A dedicated room that allows you to close the door and work without interruptions.
- The room can be your bedroom, as long as it can accommodate an office table and a suitable office chair.
- Your own laptop (or company-provided laptop offered through the UpTeam Equipment Rental Program) configured in compliance with the UpTeam security policy.
- A high-speed Internet connection with an approved router model.
- A default network connection via VPN, using UpTeam’s VPN Servers as required, with a network bandwidth sufficient for full, interactive audio and video participation.
- High-quality audio/video peripheral equipment allowing for participation in team video calls.
Since a large portion of our team members do not travel to the office regularly, we’re pretty experienced with helping our employees create a satisfying work-life balance. Here are some recommendations from our top performers for finding balance for yourself:
- Manage your own schedule
- “On” time and “off” time
- Real self time
Manage your own schedule
At UpTeam, we help empower UpTeamers to make work schedules that deliver results. Once you organize a clear schedule, make your availability visible to your team on Google Calendar. Be sure to put your Slack notifications on snooze during your off-hours. At the end of your workday, update Jira to keep an open line of communication on your progress with the rest of your team.
We don’t mind if you start your day 15 min or 3 hours before the daily stand-up meeting and we aren’t invested in whether you take a 30-min lunch break or a 3-hour yoga break. What’s important is that you get your job done in a rhythm that works for both you and your team. Embracing asynchronous workflows allows us to focus on productivity while finding time to work on our well-being. If you start feeling lost without a solid schedule, don’t worry! We have in-house coaching to support you with setting up your daily routine.
“On” time and “off” time
Maintaining productivity over time requires clear goals, accountability and strong coordination as a team. UpTeam’s work structure makes it easy to take breaks when you need to refocus. We know how important it can be to take a breather before an important call or before diving deep into a project: Take a walk around the block, do a quick work out or take a short nap
Every role at UpTeam is set up around a normal 8-hour daily work load. We don’t encourage making a daily habit of working extra hours. If you find yourself struggling to manage your workload, talk to your manager or to HR.
You’re not a freelancer when you work at UpTeam. We have paid time off because you’re an integral part of the company. We want you to take a break and come back fresh. Your paid vacation time benefits us as an employer as much as it does you as an employee.
Real self time
“Taking care of yourself” is an active decision, not just a phrase. Burnout is real.
Our flexible and productive work structures have countless benefits, but even the best of us can occasionally end up with a chaotic schedule or even burnout. The mental and physical wellbeing of each and every team member 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 a remote lifestyle.
Mental health is increasingly recognized as critical at work – if you are running on adrenaline and constantly feeling stressed, you may not even realize how much your performance is affected. Since every person has different ways to get better, we offer different tools and solutions that you can use in a personalized way. Take the break you need so you can feel prepared to tackle the work ahead.
We respect your private life. We also encourage physical activities that get you away from your computer. We know the importance of spending time with friends and taking part in significant family events (yes, even your kindergartener’s school carnival presentation). By aligning your schedule around your priorities, you can reclaim a work-life balance that works for you.