The Way We Work

By Lauren Anderson, Brand & Content Manager of 15Five

Without talented people who can work together efficiently, a company is nothing more than a good idea. Today’s companies use all sorts of strategies to assemble and coordinate teams regardless of geographic boundaries.

Our core team has been distributed from the day we first came up with the idea for 15Five—and has spread out even further since our launch in July 2012. Our CEO, David Hassell, living in San Francisco at the time, is now in Arizona; our CTO travels between New York and Ukraine; our lead developer is in Poland; and we all collaborate with our designers in LA.

Start lean, stay agile

15five grew from a simple idea: have each employee spend 15 minutes a week writing a report that takes managers no more than five minutes to read. We were inspired by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, who wanted to keep up with the pulse of his company through the feedback of his employees—and do so remotely. Weekly reports allowed him to spend half of his time traveling the world, following his passions.

We transformed Chouinard’s idea into seamless automated software, and rapidly built a prototype for quick release. With our own lean and globally distributed team, we knew the philosophy behind our product had to be implemented immediately within our own team from the moment we hit a minimum viable product with our platform. We also knew communication would be the key ingredient for establishing super-efficient methods and systems of collaboration.

Our secret sauce

Our magic recipe for success includes the following ingredients:

Transparency + trust + high level of support + accountability + optimized communication

Our leadership team connects every Monday to review and discuss the numbers, performance, as well as the objectives and key results (OKRs). We check in on team and customer updates and areas of tension—all to ensure that we are on track from a high level. These meetings set the tone for each week and keep us cohesive. We believe in holding each other and ourselves accountable. Sure, tension rises from time to time, but the discussion goes on until it is resolved. When it comes to disagreements, our culture of transparency, support, and knowledge-sharing transforms conflict into creative opportunities.

And when we do get to see each other…

No matter how efficient we have become, we still think it’s important to connect in person. We bring everyone together once a year and have quarterly strategy retreats. We work and play together, and allow fresh air to open up our perspectives. We return to our respective homes supercharged and cohesive, crystal clear on the high-level objectives developed during the retreat.

Unlimited communication channels

As a lean, mean and distributed team we’ve maximized a few special benefits of working remotely and globally:

The Daily Boost. All team members join a Google Hangout for 15 minutes each morning (or evening for those who live closer to the prime meridian). We begin by establishing an intention for the day and meditate on it during 60 seconds of silence. Then everyone quickly shares triumphs from the previous day and priorities for the day at hand.

We never sleep. Some of us lay our heads down in San Francisco, just as our lead developer is waking up and tackling the development pipeline we’ve laid all day. Our East Coast office has a few hours on the West Coasters, so by the time the cycle starts again the latest work is ready for feedback.

Maximize technology for face time. Whether it’s via Google Hangouts or Skype, we perform weekly 1-to-1s using video, pulling up our saved agendas and anything that requires follow-up. Facetime is not to be underestimated, even if it is via video over the Internet.

Allocate time wisely. We openly allot focused time for specific projects. This enables us to avoid distractions and maintain clear focus. For example, on the development team, 10 hours of time each week are dedicated to marketing efforts and front-end development. We use Trello to manage these efforts every Tuesday and Thursday.

Freelancing is the new hiring

Why limit yourself to a talent pool within a 30-mile radius when you have global options at your fingertips? We enlist talent on a contract basis, and hire them after they prove themselves as committed employees and a solid cultural fit. Since our processes have been well-defined since day one, it’s easy to plug new team members in.

I personally work with the most external talent: SEO specialists, social media marketers, PR teams, and a slew of creative contributors and copywriters. We source new talent from all over the world using several online platforms, including oDesk.

These freelancers not only help me reach my many objectives and performance goals, but they also enhance our organization. Because they have a long-term role in sight, we ask specific questions in their weekly 15Five reports. Their answers often spur some great conversations using our various communication channels: where they get stuck, how did they perform, are they happy, etc. This helps us fine tune and create new processes that are beneficial for everyone.

We religiously adhere to our communication structures. Maybe this seems obvious; we’re in the business of communication. But practicing what you preach isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. We’ve parsed types of information into specific channels: quick questions go through HipChat, questions that require more thoughtful dialogue go through email, and we keep running agendas for everyone in the company so we can bundle non-pressing matters and prevent overflowing inboxes. And of course we try to save and condense the most important info for our own 15Five reports!

What are your distributed team best practices? Share them in the comments section below!

Lauren Anderson

Brand & Content Manager of 15Five

Lauren Anderson is the Brand & Content Manager of 15Five, a SaaS company that enables organizations to streamline communication and feedback. Hailed by Fast Company as the "15 Most Important Minutes of Your Work Week" 15Five creates an internal communication process that allows the most important information to flow seamlessly throughout an organization, to surface issues before they become problems, to celebrate wins, discover great ideas and stay tuned in to the morale of the team. Follow her @ideeahh