In these difficult days, with so many companies and teams having to work from home, we would like to share our experience as a team working apart, but with a strong sense of belonging. We have been doing this for a while, and we hope others can benefit from what we’ve learned. Elena Veguillas, our communications manager, shares her views on remote working.
by Elena Veguillas
Working remotely was not common when TypeTogether started in 2006. When I joined in 2013, we were a team of five, mostly living in Europe. Now our core team is more than 12 people working across the globe, from the American continent to China and so many places in between. We have learned the process of working remotely using digital tools to stay connected and keep working as a team.
These are some tools that make my life — and the rest of the team’s life — much easier and more productive.
1. Project management A major decision was to change from managing projects via email to using professional project management software. We tried several options and the one that works best for us is Basecamp. We can organise teams and assign projects, each with a dedicated area for folders, chats, to-do lists, calendars, and more. No more never-ending email conversations. It also helps prioritise projects and to keep up with individual tasks.
2. Accessing the cloud Storing and accessing company material is always an issue. Where do we put it? Who has access? Is it always up to date? How do we know the files are current? How are files named in an orderly way? What seems easy in other contexts becames a pain when working remotely and with different asynchronous schedules. Using a standard naming system that includes the date and initials of the last person working on the file has been fundamental to avoid files clashing. Dropbox has been the best file management system for us. For some it generates a love/hate reaction, but since it has saved me a few times personally, I will say it’s love for me.
3. Content editing
We haven’t found a perfect tool here. We started using Apple’s iCloud (Numbers and Pages) but sharing documents was a pain. We are now settled with Google Docs where we can share, comment, and edit all at the same time. But personally I prefer Dropbox Paper.
4. Meetings matter
We know that. Problems that might take days through email can be solved with a five-minute conversation. Video meetings also contribute to the sense of belonging we mentioned before. And no, they don’t always have to be about work.
Online meetings have a different etiquette: The main guidelines are waiting until others are done to start talking and muting our mic to avoid distracting noises. Finding the right videoconferencing tool has taken some time for us. After some trial and error we decided on Whereby, a web-based app (no downloads necessary), but their smartphone app is great when on the go. In the future, we might have to find another option for online workshops, but we’re not there yet!
5. Light conversations
We also have a WhatsApp group for those other conversations that would happen in the kitchen or in the office hall. It’s also a good backup to contact others if someone’s Wi-Fi is down.
It is essential to be able to know, with a glance, who is working at that moment and who is sick, at the doctor, on vacation, or enjoying a national holiday. Not quite happy with the built-in calendar in Basecamp, we chosen to use Apple’s iCal. (In confidence here, I don’t personally like it but I haven’t been able to propose a decent replacement.)
7. Teaching and learning
It is worth spending one morning, or an entire day, to ensure that everyone on the team knows how to use each tool. Sharing knowledge will avoid later frustrations.
Check the phone apps because some mobile versions are better than their desktop counterparts. And don’t overdo it; you don’t need a million apps, just the ones that work. You should also consider switching off notifications at set times. Working from home should not take over your life. You’re not required to be on-duty 24 hours a day. Set the notification hours and then relax.
9. Trust the team
Just because you can’t see others working does not mean they aren’t working. Working from different continents means there could be a full workday’s difference in time. When Pooja is about to go to sleep in Delhi, Josh is just waking up in Kansas City, which is ten hours behind.
To handle the different time zones, I use the Google Chrome extension Figure it Out, which shows me in one glance who might be awake and who might be sleeping.
10. Checking time Working from home, or working alone, doesn’t mean either working endless hours or shorting the day because I am doing my laundry. I use TimeLime to track the time I spend working. I can label blocks so it is clear how long I spent on meetings or working in specimens. These reports are only for me, I don’t need to share them, but it helps me keep track.
11. Keep up your mental health
There’s a few things that might help to work from home as if you are at the office: maintaining a regular schedule — get up at the same time you would for commuting, start and stop working at the same time you would normally; dress for work, there’s no need for a suit but avoid working in pajamas; switch off notifications once your day is done, and, except for emergencies, try not to reply to emails or messages after work hours; take your usual breaks: coffee, lunch, tea (meriendita!); move your body regularly, do some activity or sports, walk to the kitchen, do some stretching; remember you have legs — use them.
Finally, we have learned that apps are just tools to help us, they have to fit a purpose and a function. It takes time and effort to make them work, and the entire team should be willing to participate. We have tested, used, and discarded many apps over the years: apps for thinking and processing, for management, calendars, text editing, and cataloguing. Sometimes we find that the easiest option is the best solution: a simple text file is perfect to log the job process, no need for an extra app, or a fire emoji is our best friend for indicating projects with deadlines that are urgent (🔥), very urgent (🔥🔥) and imminent (🔥🔥🔥). We keep learning and we keep improving. We hope our experience will help you.
[Note: This isn’t an ad or promo piece. We are not affiliated in any way with any of the software mentioned in the text, nor do we receive any kind of compensation.]
TypeTogether is an indie type foundry committed to excellence in type design with a focus on editorial use. Additionally, TypeTogether creates custom type design for corporate use. We invite you to browse our library of retail fonts or contact us to discuss custom type design projects.