Working Remotely

You may have noticed that our friend Brett Harned has joined us on a few episodes. Well, this time it’s in a more formal nature—as part of our remote team. And that’s the focus of conversation this week: how to make the most of working remotely. The conversation touches on how awesome it can be, but also what to look out for. Topics covered include:

  • How TeamGantt got started as a remote company and how we thrive as one today
  • How to hire for remote teams
  • How to make the case for going remote
  • How to make the most of colocation
  • How to manage employees remotely
  • The challenges you’ll face as a remote team member

Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

About our guest


Episode Transcript


Nathan Gilmore:     Welcome to The Time Limit. The podcast about making the most of our limited time at work, and on each of our projects. Today, we'll be talking about remote work and the effect it has on our time.
                   Today I have the same crew we've had for a little while here. John is on from TeamGantt.

John Correlli:      Howdy.

Nathan Gilmore:     And Brett is with us today as well. Brett Harned.

Brett Harned:       Hey.

Nathan Gilmore:     And the cool thing is Brett is not on as a guest anymore. He is now officially part of Team Gantt. He has joined the team here full time.

Brett Harned:       Yes I have.

Nathan Gilmore:     Yes.

John Correlli:      Welcome.

Brett Harned:       Thank you, thanks for having me.

Nathan Gilmore:     Yeah, we're super excited about this new chapter with Team Gantt and Brett. If you've listened to previous episodes, you know a little bit about Brett's background and the expertise and experience that he brings to the podcast and to the company, so we're super excited about this.
                   So Brett, just to catch up with you. I know you have been doing some traveling recently and some events, if you want to fill everybody in on what you've been up to recently.

Brett Harned:       Sure. So a couple weeks ago I had two trips in, I think like three days or something like that. So I was in Minneapolis speaking, I gave a keynote at a new event for digital project managers. It's called Managed Digital, that happened in Minneapolis. It was a good time that had about 140 people for the first conference, was kind of fun.

Nathan Gilmore:     Pretty good.

Brett Harned:       Yeah, topics were great. They had breakout sessions, and keynote presentations is definitely a good one day event. And then I went home for about eight hours and turned around and went to Belize for an event called Owner Camp. And that was a three day event. Kind of like a round table style moderated conversation. So I actually moderated a couple of conversations about process and estimation, all with people who own agencies, so it's always a good time to go and meet some new folks, get their perspective on the way that they work, the way that they kind of have or do not have project management in their companies or how they're handling project management. It's always a topic of conversation there. So yeah, that was me. So now I'm back home for for a little bit.

Nathan Gilmore:     All right, welcome back. Speaking of travel, we are talking about remote working this week and talking about the benefits of it and how to implement it, and just different tips and tricks that we've all learned over the years with this. Our Team Gantt's a fully remote company. We want to start off just asking, John and Brett, what do you guys see as benefits of remote working? Or, what do you like about it?

John Correlli:      For me, I think it's like a focus and efficiency thing, where I'm really able to limit my distractions and I'm really able to just kind of get down and dirty scanning with what I need to do. And then oftentimes, when I'm feeling like I need to change, I do have control of my environment. I can go outside and work or I can go to like a park that's nearby or a coffee shop, you sort of get that flexibility. But for me, the big thing is, I'm just able to get that alone time where I'm able to focus and really just get to work and get stuff done.

Brett Harned:       Yeah, I totally agree. I think for me, the focus thing is a really big deal. I think being in an office especially in a project management role, you're torn in so many different directions and people can get your attention whenever they want. And working remotely, I mean, I think you have to work a little bit harder on those communications, but it's much easier to get that focus time that you need to get worked on.
                   Also think I like the flexibility of I, like you were saying being able to go and work in a coffee shop, for me it's not as much about going to a coffee shop as it is like going to sit in a more comfortable chair, sitting on the couch, moving around the house a little bit, sitting outside under an umbrella when the weather is nice, I love that part of it. I think it contributes to my overall happiness levels.

Nathan Gilmore:     Which helps with creativity and stimulates, you just move into a different room or different place outside and release them.

Brett Harned:       Yeah. So Nathan, you already mentioned Team Gantt is a remote company. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got to started?

Nathan Gilmore:     Sure, this goes back to, really we started remote out of kind of out of necessity because it was just John and I at the start, and we just would start Saturday mornings over at my house in the basement, and we would just work together then. And then when we eventually transitioned to full time, then we just continued. John worked from his house, I'd work from my house, and we would plan usually like Tuesdays, I think we got together over at his house for a while, actually in your parents basement for a while.

John Correlli:      Yeah, then the shed.

Nathan Gilmore:     Then the shed, we worked out of a shed for a while.

John Correlli:      It was a nice, it was an office shed, don't worry, I had air conditioning and a lot of Windows.

Nathan Gilmore:     Yeah. We had that for a while, and then we did just out of our houses and then just recently we actually got a little office space for everybody. Even that we still, we typically all work from home most of the week and we come in, just like a day and a half or so in the office just to get a little face-time and work on some specific planning or different projects that we need to discuss different things. But we're still primarily remote. Most of the company is remote. We hired everybody as remote employees. And, everyone's kind of spread out throughout the US. That's why we started that way. It was just natural, it just fit. It's what we were doing, and there was no reason to spend the overhead and money on an office for two of us.

John Correlli:      Yeah, I mean, it wasn't Brookes.

Nathan Gilmore:     Exactly.

Brett Harned:       That definitely makes sense. We should mention we're actually in the office now-

John Correlli:      That's true.

Brett Harned:       ... which is cool. There is a meeting place.

John Correlli:      Yeah, so we can record our podcast.

Brett Harned:       Yeah, we don't have to go to a family member's house to record a podcast or video which is cool. So it's nice to be here. So I think a lot of companies want to be remote. They read all the articles and resources online. So, maybe you can build on that a little bit. What are some of the benefits of being a remote company?

Nathan Gilmore:     I think you know something a lot of companies have started doing recently. I was reading an article recently in Fast Company, it was talking about Amazon, but it was really talking about how Zapier and GitHub and WordPress and Vision, Buffer, Dribble, all these companies are remote. These are pretty big tech companies.
                   There's so many benefits with cutting out travel time, cutting out the chatter time, it's a big recruiting thing. We've definitely hired a number of people that they want to come here because they were looking for remote job, and there were people that were really talented and really good and would have been hard to get and we probably couldn't convince them to move to Baltimore.

John Correlli:      No way.

Nathan Gilmore:     But they were people they're like, "Hey, if I get the chance to work remotely and I like the company and the culture and what they'd be working on, then it's a really great way to recruit people.

Brett Harned:       Opens up that talent pool.

Nathan Gilmore:     It's huge, because if we had to go just in Baltimore, I mean, there's certainly time in Baltimore, but it's harder to find and then that's huge when you open up to remote working. Of course, you save on office budget, we went without an office for-

John Correlli:      Eight.

Nathan Gilmore:     ... eight years, something like that, eight years, probably. And even now, the office we have is small and it's set out in the country. It's in the middle of a bunch of farms. So, it's still very low budget office, but it's nice and it's central to where we work.

Brett Harned:       For me, benefits definitely come in speeds. I think just being at home and having my own space is something that I really like. I live in the suburbs now, before I was in the city. In the city there was a lot more for me in terms of connections and meeting people for lunches and stuff. Sometimes now, I feel a little bit kind of on my own, but that's why working with a team like TeamGantt and being active and interactive with people throughout the day is kind of important to me, but I really don't think that I would ever give it up. I really like working remotely.

John Correlli:      Yeah, same here. I think just being able to really control your environment and limit your interruptions.

Brett Harned:       I totally agree. And I think for me another benefit is that when I started working from home, we decided we could get a dog. Our kids had been begging us for a dog for years and we couldn't do it because we were never home, and there's no way you're going to get a puppy and just like leave it all day. It's those kinds of things, quality of life I think just kind of goes up when you're able to be more flexible and kind of control your schedule a bit more, it's nice.
                   What about ... thinking about other companies who are trying to step into this or people who are working at companies and they're all located in one place but really trying to make the case for going remote. Do you have any recommendations for those people?

John Correlli:      Yeah. I think the first thing is try it out as a test, whether it's good. Just a couple of people within your company or division, just try it out. Give it a couple of weeks, give it a month, and just see how it goes.

Nathan Gilmore:     I think a lot of it too is just, one of the first thing is earning your boss's trust, making sure that you've kind of got that that relationship in place, that's going to help in a lot of ways when you want to get things done, especially if you want to try and get someone to change, because some people are pretty stuck on. They want to see you in your office in your seat, and they think if you're not there, you're not really working. So, you got to have that, trust is one thing.
                   And then another is being able to explain all the benefits of working from home. So, I think if you can do that, and you can ease their concerns a little, mentioning that it's a test, it'll probably help so they don't have to commit long term.
                   And then, using a good project management tools, keeping things updated, regular communication and being available to talk and just you know, showing the results, and in the end you really just don't screw it up. Just don't screw it up and show them that you can get things done, and I think just run that test, it would say a lot if it goes well.

John Correlli:      Yeah, I think you can tell them the benefits all day lon, but until you're able to actually produce results it's not gonna matter.

Brett Harned:       That's so true. I worked for a company that was located ... So when I was at Happy Cog, an agency, we were in Philadelphia, and then we merged with another agency, and that agency moved to Austin, Texas. So we were co located. So we were kind of remote working, not really, but nobody was really working from home. It was kind of like an honor system, if you had to work from home for the day you would.
                   And that shifted over time, I think, because as people, well, first of all, as a manager starts to trust the people who are working on their team, then it makes it easier. And it's like, if you trust someone, then you're okay with them working from home, maybe they might not end up being in front of their computer all day like they would be in an office, but they're making up that productive time in other ways.
                   But I think, it's a much bigger challenge to go from being located in one place and then being co-located, and then going fully remote. Some of the biggest issues we're dealing with is, time zones. One team working in Central Time, one team working in Eastern Standard Time, that would kind of lead to this weird feeling of like, "Oh, well, they got to jump on the day. They're doing more," or, "They're doing less," really weird things. And I think-

John Correlli:      Or they're working late, they're getting more done that I am.

Brett Harned:       ... Right, or just like, an important conversation needs to happen first thing in the morning. And that first thing in the morning happens to be like 7:38 AM for the people in the other time zones. It's like you have to think about what's fair and reasonable for those other people, and that's the same for us. We have co workers in other time zones, so it's definitely always a consideration, the communication challenges.

John Correlli:      Did you guys ever run into like, office A thought it was better than office B kind of thing?

Brett Harned:       Definitely.

John Correlli:      Yeah, the competition.

Brett Harned:       Definitely. I wouldn't say it was like always, it wasn't like a prevalent thing, but it was always a consideration. It was always like, one team was larger than the other so there is a lot that we had to do to kind of make up for those poor communications, like putting all company status meetings on the books. So, like everyone saw each other every day, and doing that at a time that wasn't necessarily the best time for the people in the East Coast. But it was like, you have to forsake some things for the other people that are at a little bit more of a disadvantage.

Nathan Gilmore:     So you had every day, everybody saw everybody.

Brett Harned:       We did, up to a certain size, and then it became weekly.

Nathan Gilmore:     Was it a stand up meeting or?

Brett Harned:       Yes, stand up.

Nathan Gilmore:     Okay. What size was the company then?

Brett Harned:       35.

Nathan Gilmore:     Wow. So 35 people would stop working, and then all-

Brett Harned:       It was a quick meeting. It was probably like a 15 to 20 minute meeting.

Nathan Gilmore:     So, everybody said something.

Brett Harned:       It was what I did yesterday and what I'm doing today, and any major announcements.

Nathan Gilmore:     It was real quick.

Brett Harned:       It was really quick. I like that meeting because I feel like it gives you an opportunity, first of all to understand what's going on outside of your narrow lane in a company, but it also just builds camaraderie and like this feeling of a team, everyone working on similar things, sharing ideas. I think that that ... there's no way to quantify this, but it definitely turned into more like Slack conversations. Like, "Oh, I heard you say this one thing. Can you tell me more? Can you show me something?" And I think that just leads to better communication, better ideas, lot of things come out of that.
                   I think that was a challenge that turned into kind of a benefit in some way. I guess on that kind of note, what are some of the challenges you all find with working remotely?

John Correlli:      I think for us, it's finding the right people. We're very specific in what we're looking for, we're looking for people who are self starters, people who are motivated, we don't really ever want to micromanage anybody. So looking for people who can kind of take something and run with it.
                   A lot of times we give a test project to someone. So, on the dev side we'll sort of pair program through that. So we can see sort of how they're thinking, how they're solving problems, what they do when they run into an issue.
                   Nathan, maybe you can chime in a little bit more on the design and the marketing and what we do for those people.

Nathan Gilmore:     Yeah, we've done times where we just give people a project and usually it's not a real big project, is maybe a day's worth of work, but they usually have other jobs. So, something I work evenings and everything on. We'll specifically not give them a deadline and we just kind of say, "hey, here you go, here's this project. And then, we kind of watch and see like, how do they communicate with us today? Do they ask, when should this be done? Do they just say, "Hey, I think I get this done in a few days. I'll get done over the weekend." Do they ask questions about it? Do they interface with us while they're working on it? You can kind of learn a lot about how they work remotely when you give them a project to work on remotely, and then you just see how it goes, and how they do without any oversight for that project.
                   And then we also ask them just a lot of questions, culture questions, especially in the first interview. Have you worked remotely before? Do you like it? What problems do you have? How do you set up your day working remotely? And you can kind of see, why do you want to work remotely? And you learn a lot from their answers to those questions as to, do you think they can really handle it? And have they handled it before? Have they done it before?

Brett Harned:       That's really interesting to me too, because I do think that like, when you're hiring for an in-person role, is that what you even call it, I don't even know. Like, you're certainly able to judge on fit, right?

Nathan Gilmore:     Yeah.

Brett Harned:       Like when you're meeting someone in person, like cultural fit, how they'll do. Remotely, it's a little more difficult. It's difficult to figure out if you're talking to somebody who's gonna, first of all, follow through on being a good remote working employee, and do the stuff that they're assigned to do well. But it's also like, how are you going to communicate when we're not here in person, and we're leaving you up to be a self starter, and to do the things that we expect you to do. So, I imagine that's got to be ... I mean, obviously, it's a little bit of risk when you're hiring, right?

John Correlli:      Absolutely.

Brett Harned:       Are there any things that you do to try to sort that out? Or is it a gut feeling?

Nathan Gilmore:     I think it's a couple things. One is, we pay a lot of attention to the written communication. So, over emails, someone's will invite them to a Slack or something to kind of work with us through stuff, and you learn a lot about how they communicate there, because that's really important when you're working remotely, the written communication, to make sure they know how to come across in the right way and use emojis right. So you just know that they can communicate well.
                   And another thing is just, our first remote higher was Aaron. And I don't think we did video chat with him. We only did over the phone, which was interesting.

John Correlli:      Yeah, probably.

Nathan Gilmore:     I just did over the phone with him. And I remember like being a little nervous like, "I think he's gonna be good," but it's like you don't feel like you know them well if you don't see them and talk to them. He turned out to be fantastic which was awesome. But on a few interviews we do, we always do Google Hangouts now. And that really makes you feel like you know the person because, I know then after that when we hire people, and then they come into town meet us for the first time, we feel like we already know them.

John Correlli:      We're already friends.

Nathan Gilmore:     We're already friends.

John Correlli:      I think too, the Google Hangouts where it's a face to face, you really can't, some of it is that gut feeling, but just by observing them and body language and how they're sort of like, are they paying attention to the thing? Do they feel like we're asking dumb questions? You can really see how you interact with the person, and sort of what their makeup is by having that sort of face to face virtually.

Brett Harned:       That makes sense, so once you've hired those people, do you have any practices around managing folks when you bring them in? Are there any tips that you would provide around good management?

John Correlli:      Yeah. I think a big thing is, as the manager, one, don't let yourself get isolated, leave yourself space to spend time with whoever's new, whoever's just joining on, but also don't let them get isolated.
                   So, we recently just brought on a new developer. And for his first I think, two or three weeks, we pretty much just paired with him through almost everything. So, he was able to get good exposure across all of our different platforms. He was never really left alone, so you feel like you're part of the team, and it really speeds up a lot of that onboarding process.
                   Other pieces of that are, I do one-on-one meetings with everyone. And it just, again, it goes back to what we've been talking about all along with communication where the communication is key with remote work. So, keeping contact with everyone. We use good tooling for that. We've got Slack, we use TeamGantt, we've got comments and documents and sharing through all of that. It's important to just keep everyone in the loop, make sure everyone knows what's going on, make sure we're getting face time, whether it's virtually, or if it's a meetup. For the dev side, once per quarter, we normally all get together and spend some time working out. And then occasionally there might be a little like one offs where two or three people get together. It's just going back to everything we've talked about, it's really important to just have really good communication.

Nathan Gilmore:     I think there were times too when we first started hiring a few remote people, where John and I really used to not necessarily communicate in time during the week but we were kind of used to it but other people were like, "Hey, what's going on?" And it was just, we knew they were doing a good job, they were working, so we weren't doing one on ones and they would ask for more communication. It was kind a little bit of a wake up call that we had to learn.
                   It is important that everyone knows what's going on, and just for morale and everything to keep that communication going. It's a really important thing.

John Correlli:      Yeah. And that was definitely a struggle for me in the beginning of just being so used to having my head down and focusing on just what I need to do. You sort of alienated some people early on.

Brett Harned:       Suddenly, you have 18 employees that you need to be in touch with, on top of all of the other stuff that you're doing. I think that happens to a lot of people in your position. I think what you're doing well is listening to people, knowing that there are times that they want to communicate with you, and just making sure that you make the time to do it and make the space to do it.
                   I think the meetup is a really important one, that was something that we did back at Happy Cog too, and people always love that. And the way that you approached it with having part-time working together, part-meetings or presentation about how things are going, and then also just time to bond and hang out, is just really important. Because I do think, when you're when you work remotely, you definitely feel the need to be connected to other people who are working on the same thing. That connection doesn't always happen so naturally, either helps.

Nathan Gilmore:     Even Google Hangouts, you get to know people, but you don't quite form that bond that you do. When you spend a week in town with people, and you go jump on trampolines and do all kinds of weird fun things, then you get to know these people really well. And that strengthens the bond for the whole year, you know how they communicate over Slack and everything.

Brett Harned:       So I'm going to go back to the question about challenges, because I think I have a couple of things to add. So for me, and this is something that I figured out pretty early on. My wife works full time and I have two daughters in school. That meant that there was going to be kids coming home in the afternoon at around 3:30 every day, which is pretty much like in the middle of the afternoon. There's still a few hours of work left. So we tried to set up schedules.
                   Thankfully, my wife's job is also pretty flexible in that she goes in early, so I get the kids out. And she's usually home at the end of the day to get the kids off the bus. But there are days when that doesn't happen. So I'll have a kindergartner stepping off the bus, actually now first grader, oops, stepping off the bus and coming in and saying, "I need you to help me do my homework. I have to read to you." I'm like, "Oh man, I'm right in the middle of something." We've been on phone calls when this has happened.
                   And usually, it's like, "Dad's in his office doing work, try to do something else." And they're usually good about it. But you do have to kind of like set boundaries if you have to work with the people who are in your family and in your house, but also people who are just in your circle of friends and family, to set boundaries as well. I've got parents who live close by who wouldn't mind stopping by in the middle of the day and hanging out for an hour and they need to know that that can't necessarily happen either, especially if you're on a phone call or recording a webinar. Like you can't just stop by when I'm doing this stuff.

Nathan Gilmore:     But Brett still loves your mom and dad [crosstalk].

Brett Harned:       Totally. Just not when you interrupt.
                   So, I think there's that, controlling those distractions. The other thing for me is sometimes just because I'm on my own, and I don't always have somebody to bounce ideas off of quickly, I get this feeling of isolation that leads me to feel like maybe I'm not being as efficient. I think ways around that are, first of all, every morning I wake up and work on a to-do-list to make sure that I've got goals for the day that are mapping up to long term goals, and making sure I'm not losing sight of that stuff. I think also just overall, like tracking progress on things. I love that we have in TeamGantt an A team room where everyone's going in every day and updating the work that they're doing. That alone makes me feel like even though nobody's probably reading it, at least I'm sitting down and saying like-

Nathan Gilmore:     I read.

Brett Harned:       ... Do you read them, awesome. So, you'll notice when I forget to do it. Doing that is gratifying in that it's like, here I can math the things I actually got done today, the things that I did. So, it's like the opposite of having that to do this, it's like the output of that. So I think having some way of reporting on that, and just showing that you're making progress tends to make you feel a little bit better about the work that you're doing, because you're not in an office and in a space where you might feel like you're being watched, if that makes sense.

Nathan Gilmore:     Yep. What Brett's referring to there is, instead of doing the daily stand up every day, we have a project in TeamGantt where everyone has one task on each day. And we just go in and we leave a comment and say, "I worked on this today and tomorrow this is what I'm planning on working on. And then that way, just everyone sees what's going on. And that was something other people have been asking for. So we've put that in place, and it is a nice way to keep up on what's going on.

Brett Harned:       I like it.

John Correlli:      It's great too for blockers, we'll put that in there as well. So if I know I'm blocked on something because I'm waiting for somebody else to finish something, it's easy to quickly tag them in the comment and just say, "Hey, I'm waiting on, this design from Nathan." Or, "We're waiting to hear back from something else." This is a good way to really see and communicate with people if they are blocking you on something.

Nathan Gilmore:     And we decided to do that instead of an actual stand up because we are spread across three different time zones. And it's not like we can say, "Everybody at nine o'clock, let's do this," 'cause that's nine or ten, or eleven.

Brett Harned:       That's not possible.

Nathan Gilmore:     Yeah, and it's worked pretty well.

Brett Harned:       I definitely think so.

Nathan Gilmore:     So, what do you guys favorite tools for remote work?

Brett Harned:       Slack. And I think Slack is probably the tool that everyone uses remotely and universally, whether you're all located in the same place or not. Lots of people complain about Slack, I find it super refreshing how TeamGantt uses Slack, having been in other places where Slack is just a constant distraction. I feel like Slack is not a distraction with TeamGantt. I don't know how that played out, if it's just the way that you guys use it, is the way that everyone else tends to use it. But I've been in places where Slack is just like a constant source of chatter that's not related to stuff you need to get done. And that's not how it is at all.
                   I also love the Google suite. We talked about Hangouts, I think Google docs are amazing for just creating, in my role particularly, like writing content and getting feedback on it. I think it's great.
                   John, do you have any others?

John Correlli:      Can I say TeamGantt or is that too...

Brett Harned:       All right. So, those are all really good resources. We've shared some really good advice already. Are there any other resources you'd like to share with anyone who's interested in starting remote work or is having challenges with it currently?

John Correlli:      Yeah, I think for us, I would echo you on Slack there. We also use Zoom a lot for screen sharing. And then the service called AWW, it's a web whiteboard, just gives us a chance to sketch out a few ideas and then be able to follow along as well.
                   As we talked about a lot of really great advice and some tooling to help, anybody have any sort of last last thoughts on advice or resources that would be good for anyone who's looking for remote work or maybe looking to get started with remote work?

Brett Harned:       I think we talked about a lot. I'm not sure how many resources are out there. I think for me the one book that I think about is 'Remote by Jason Freed' from Base Camp. I think, if you're looking for maybe some like out of the box ideas on how to work remotely, how to structure your team, structure your days, I think there are some really interesting ideas there. I've talked to a lot of people about it, who think that a lot of what that book says is not achievable. But I know that, when I was working at Happy cog, and we were trying to figure out the co-location thing, we took some tips from that book. So, I do think that there are some good practical ideas there.

Nathan Gilmore:     Well, thanks everyone, for listening to another episode of Time Limit. We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any feedback, please send us an email to timelimit@teamgantt.com. We'd love to hear from you; positive, negative, anything will just let us know you're listening. So we know people out there are listening, let us know if you enjoyed it. Please rate us on iTunes and leave a review and let us know what else you'd like to hear about and for us to talk about. And we look forward to talking to you again. I hope everyone has a great day.

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