Streamline Workflows For Better Remote Work

At Spade Design, our marketing team wears a lot of hats. We spend time on everything from customer support to interviewing candidates to cleaning workspaces—in addition to our time-intensive primary job responsibilities.

We’re a busy group, so we’re always on the lookout for ways to streamline workflows for better remote work and automate everything we can to save time. At the beginning of the year, we diagnosed a major issue that was slowing us down: we were having too many ineffective—and often unnecessary—meetings.

Over the past few weeks, we have implemented several rules and best practices to have fewer meetings and make the meetings we do have more productive. The result? We’ve saved hundreds of hours.

Below I’ll discuss four of the strategies we’ve implemented. They might not all work for your company, but even if you pick and choose a few that make sense, I hope it helps free up the amount of time you spend in your own conference room.

1. Require an agenda for every meeting

Slack and Google Calendar have made it wickedly easy to throw an invite on your colleague’s calendar. Google even has a new-ish feature that suggests a time when you and your coworkers all have availability to meet. But just because it’s easier than ever to schedule a meeting, but that doesn’t mean you should have the meeting.

Keep in mind, that in order to keep up with our growth, last year I decided that all staff will work remotely. This allows a bit more freedom for my staff to work as they wish, even when they wish, as long as deadlines are met and quality is not impacted. Since schedules and time windows can be crazy to match, we’ve implemented the following policy: if you schedule a meeting, you need to create an agenda. Otherwise, the meeting is a no-go.

When you require an agenda, you force the meeting organizer to stop and thoughtfully consider the purpose of the meeting, who should attend—and if it’s necessary at all. Sure, it adds a bit of work to a host’s plate. That’s the point. If the meeting organizer can’t or doesn’t want to create an agenda, it’s likely the meeting won’t be valuable and probably isn’t needed.

Not only did this leave us with fewer meetings, but now, when we do have a meeting, everyone is better aligned. It reduces wasted time at the beginning of the meeting because everyone enters the room with an understanding of what topics will be covered—and they know how to prepare for the discussion. The meeting is also more likely to stay on track, and the agenda becomes a resource for the team to refer to even after the meeting concludes. Everyone wins.

 

2. Bring others into the room (Zoom Conference Room)

As our clients already know, we’re big fans of transparency at Spade Design: we’re very clear about the long-term strategy and direction of our company, and we give honest direct feedback in all situations. For that reason, we’re huge proponents of bringing people into the virtual room when they’re mentioned during a meeting.

It’s only natural to make references to people that aren’t in the room. In a meeting, someone might say something like, “Well, Austin [our Senior Web Designer] said that wasn’t possible the other day.” To which someone else may chime in with, “Yes it is. I don’t know why he would say that he knows we’ve done it before.”

Here’s what happens in that scenario. A conversation snowballs about what was said, why it was said, and the effects of the comment. It wastes time—and it’s rare that we’ll end up with an answer. In a courtroom, you can’t use hearsay as evidence. We feel the same way about mentioning someone in a meeting they aren’t attending.

Whenever someone is mentioned in a meeting conversation and they aren’t in the room, we’ll bring them in. This helps reduce the wasted time (and potential BS), but more importantly, it lets everyone share their own point of view. Rather than guessing someone’s opinion, we go get it.

 

3. Have a daily huddle and a weekly all-hands

Yes, I’m suggesting adding meetings as a way to have fewer meetings. Hear me out…

Not all meetings are bad. In fact, regularly scheduled meetings can help align your organization and reduce other, unnecessary meetings.

At Spade Design, there are two meetings we have regularly:

  • A daily stand up or huddle. Every morning at 8:00 a.m., we used to gather in the conference room for a team meeting. Every one meets, we share all of the tasks ahead of us for the day, and we make general announcements (often about office events, updates, guests). The meeting is conducted by me, then and our project manager for our design sprints, then our Senior Web Designer to follow up and close—but anyone on the team is welcome to chime in with questions or announcements.

Now here’s the thing, I mentioned we went 100% remote last year. So we’ve revised this a bit. We now have our daily stand up (or huddle as some companies call it) but we do it in an automated method through Slack. Each member is automatically asked a set of questions that they answer in detail, then the answers get posted to a specific channel for everyone to see. The last question that is asked is very important because it lets us know if there is anything blocking progress. This way everyone posts their answers within the available time slot and we move on with our day unless something is blocking progress- which is always addressed, first thing, by whoever is tagged.

  • A weekly all-hands. Every Wednesday at 3:00 p.m., we have an hour all-hands on deck meeting. The format of the meeting includes updates from every department (often including demos), good news updates (both personal and professional), account updates, and Q&A sessions.

We do this by video conference using Zoom and have cameras on. This way everyone can actually see and interact with each other, this gives us a sense of belonging and builds comradery- it also encourages everyone to make themselves presentable. Video is great for giving remote workers a sense of being part of the team and builds relationships.

 

4. Set quiet hours

I’ll be the first to admit: I was not a believer in the potential of quiet hours. While the concept of quiet, tranquil office space is great in theory, I figured it was impossible in our open office environment. I figured we might be able to manage it for a while, but we’d eventually fall back into our old habits of constantly having mini-meetings.

I was wrong.

Every morning after our daily huddle concludes, around 10:00 a.m., we start our quiet hours until noon. We snooze slack, close our email apps, and focus on work.

Of course, quiet hours doesn’t mean conversations are banned. We only ask that conversations that occur during this time should be through one on one private channels.

The result: our team started reprioritizing their workflow to best take advantage of these hours. Personally, I spend my mornings writing on our services and marketing topics like business coaching, automations and email marketing. I also get some of the management level tasks done, sending emails, strategizing what we’ll write next, as well as other tasks that take a little more deep thinking. I leave my afternoons open for meetings, client calls, and coaching sessions. During tasks that don’t include others, I put on my work music and get in the zone.

Depending on your team, you might want to host quiet hours at a different time of the day or at limited points in the week. Maybe you’re a team full of early birds that like to do deep work in the a.m. or maybe your mornings need to be open for meetings with an office in another time zone. As creatives, most of our workforce tends to be night owls, but ask your team and find out (there are really cool polling apps that you can use for slack or email).

Create a structure that works for your unique remote team. The most important thing is that you end up saving the time that would be spent on impromptu meetings as someone passes by your desk and asks a question or when you overhear a conversation on the other side of the office.

What Hasn’t Worked

The four strategies above worked out great for us. But we also tried plenty of things that didn’t work. Here are a few of the things that didn’t go according to plan:

1. Shortening our daily huddle. In an attempt to reduce the hour count of meetings at Spade Design, we tried out a speedier version of our daily huddle. Rather than talking through the individual tasks each team was working on, we tried to make each team have a two-sentence update. It backfired. We stopped sharing relevant information and our team got a bit out of sync.

2. Eliminating our all-hands meeting. We’ve tried several different structures for our all-hands meeting—even eliminating it altogether. Getting rid of it led to a disconnect among the team and ended up with more meetings to replace it.

3. Shorter meetings. This is an idea that sounded great on paper but proved difficult in execution. To avoid Parkinson’s law—give humans a period of time, and we’ll fill it—we tried scheduling shorter meetings on the calendar (e.g., 30 minutes instead of an hour). But in reality, we’d go over our scheduled time, which would not only make us feel rushed and unproductive, but would also require scheduling yet another meeting.

4. Monthly meetings instead of weekly. Again, we thought this was a good idea. After all, we have slack and a ticket system to track issues and streamline communication for easier and faster results that are supposed to be real-time. Why have weekly all hand meetings when those tools are accessible, right? Well, it didn’t work. This left too much time in between important tasks and things fell through the cracks. We switched back to a weekly all-hands and this provided the accountability we needed to meet our monthly schedules and deadlines.

We’re consistently re-evaluating our process and looking for ways to improve. Sometimes our plans work, lots of times they don’t.

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