Luca Bravo

Remote work, especially in tech, isn’t a new thing. Companies have had distributed teams as far back as the 1980s when technology giant IBM was installing remote offices in employee's homes. Today remote teams are the default set up of most companies around the world. Businesses like GitLab, Invision, and Basecamp are a few of many that have 100% remote teams, with members from all over the world. More recently though, companies have been forced to embrace this approach to work due to the social distancing requirements implemented to tackle the outbreak of the fast-spreading coronavirus.

For individuals and companies that are just getting introduced to the remote work life and those that already work this way, we thought it would be helpful to share some tips on how we make working remotely work for us.

Why we work remotely

In a country like Nigeria, where inefficient infrastructure makes the daily rituals of working in an office that much harder; remote work means by-passing unnecessary evils like traffic and long commutes. It also means that we’re able to access the best talent by casting a wider net that was previously hindered by location.

‘I enjoy remote work because I don’t want to be burdened with the daily commute to work, especially in a city like Lagos. This also means I don’t get to lose valuable time.’

-Celestine Omin, Alta Labs

How we work

At Alta Labs, we are a 100% distributed, remote team. We work from different locations across Nigeria including; Lagos, Portharcourt, Uyo, and Enugu. We’ve worked like this from inception and have delivered numerous projects for our clients by collaborating from the comfort of our respective spaces.

Our remote setup works as well as it does for two major reasons; firstly, working from home was always going to be our default work model, so we made sure to assemble a team of individuals that could self-manage and work well independently. A team is only as good as its members and we have great team members at Alta Labs.

Our second essential is communication. In remote teams, communication is key, especially because we don’t see each other regularly. We have a virtual morning meeting via Zoom every Monday and Thursday. The first meeting is usually to set the agenda for the week and the second is to check in with everybody and make sure the agenda is sorted before the end of the week.

We usually start these calls with a rundown of everyone’s week so far. The team shares their highs and lows; anything from kids' achievements at school to what we had for dinner, before delving into what we’re working on. We’re intentional about this because forging genuine relationships with each other is important to us, it creates a safe and a comfortable work environment which is integral for collaboration whether in or out of the office

What we use

Even with the joys of working in pajamas and avoiding the daily commute, working from home shouldn’t be confused with a panacea for all productivity problems. It still is, at the end of the day, work. That’s why we use a bunch of tools to help us communicate better and make sure deadlines are met when they need to be met.

Remote productivity is really about taking offline office procedures and making them work online. At Alta labs we have:

  1. A virtual office space - via Slack
  2. A virtual task management space - via Trello
  3. A virtual conference room - via Zoom
  4. A Google Calendar
  5. Microsoft To Do

Slack is where most of the work gets done. It’s an app that consolidates all our internal communications into one space. We get to share what we’re working on, update the team on our progress, ask for feedback and talk to one another, all in one central location without the stress of digging up email threads. The app also allows us to organize our communication by channels, which means all the information about each of our projects is always accessible in one location. Another great feature that we take full advantage of are the slackbots. Slackbots are Slack's built in service support system and they automate routine tasks so the team has more time to be productive. For example, we built that slackbot to automates our customer service and keeps us up to date on our emails

Trello is a task management app. It’s a big virtual whiteboard of to-do lists. We set out our tasks on the app and then divide those tasks into subtasks based on who’s supposed to be doing what. We then get to work and tick off tasks as we complete them. Trello is a great accountability tool because, at every point, every member of the team knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

Lastly, we use Zoom which is a video conferencing tool. It’s great because it allows us to have video-based conversations that are a close substitute for face to face communication and that helps foster better interpersonal relationships among the team. It also has a share screen feature which allows us to share presentations.

Our biggest hindrance by far is Nigeria’s epileptic power supply and inconsistent internet providers. Although WiFi can be supplemented with mobile data and electricity with generators, the inconvenience still stifles the potential of remote work.

The case for more remote working spaces

While unfortunate that it’s taken a global pandemic for most companies to start remote working initiatives, the fact remains that it has always been a viable option for classes of people who are less mobile than others for a variety of reasons.

People with disabilities, mobility issues and parents with infants are a few of many people that this model of work would benefit, likewise, the recent outbreak of the coronavirus has illustrated that many jobs can be done remotely. Companies like Unilever, Ford, and KPMG are advising their employees to work from home and supplying broadband and equipment where necessary.

The effects of these policies on the in-office work model of many industries will be interesting to observe in the years to come as the allure of flexible remote arrangements will become harder to ignore. For other industries like retail and manufacturing, a remote set up may never be ideal due to the reliance on physical human capital.

Not everyone can or should work remotely, but, our work lives have the potential to be more flexible than they currently are. Our current climate illustrates the importance of having this flexibility which allows companies to seamlessly adapt to external change without compromising productivity. At the end of the day, it’s about finding what works best for everyone and constantly iterating to make it work better. Whether people are working on-site or working remotely, checking in with your team and accommodating everybody’s needs is a good way to stay flexible and adaptable.