Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, many Nulab team members all over the world have been working from home or remotely. While the transition to everyone working out of office isn’t always the smoothest, already having some protocol in place made the transition easier when circumstances demanded that we stay at home.
In Singapore, my teammate Jenny and I had been working at our satellite office NuSpace, which also functions as our community space for Nulab users. Even though we usually worked in the same space and directly with our users, we moved to work from home starting mid-March.
Most people can agree, being in the same office makes it easier to have work discussions — you can easily walk over and talk to your coworker to quickly resolve any issue. But even before the health crisis, we work with Nulab members in other offices in different timezones, so in a sense, we were already operating as remote or distributed teams.
As the trend to work remotely continues, we have some insight to share on how we’re working remotely from Singapore to collaborate with our team members in New York, Amsterdam, and Japan to successfully complete marketing and support work.
Organizing tasks online using Backlog
Firstly, I should mention that we don’t use email at Nulab internally. At all. I was surprised by this when I first joined the team two years ago. In my past experience, for most companies, email is the most common way to communicate with coworkers, since it helps you document work and you can look up information in it.
Instead, we use Backlog to organize our tasks and discuss them with team members. We believe in our products, of course, we use them internally!
For example, the marketing team has a project called ‘Marketing’ that lists all marketing-related tasks and each member assigned to the task, or issue.
Collaboration for bigger work objectives
When we’re managing a project that involves several team members, for example, a website landing page involving developers, copywriters, and designers working together, it’s useful to use parent-child tasks to organize work between all members.
It’s easier for team members to be aligned with the work direction when everyone can see how their individual tasks contribute to the overall goal.
Auto-register issues for product support
Our product support inquiries are also managed using Backlog. When a visitor submits a message through our website’s contact form, it’s automatically registered as an issue in Backlog (through the “add issue via email” feature), and our global support team members are notified via email or Backlog notifications.
Upon picking up the inquiry, they will reply to the sender and update the status (“open,” “in progress,” or “resolved”) of the issue. All discussions on the issue also happen within the comments section of that task. If it’s highly technical, it may be escalated to our tech support members in Japan.
Because the discussions are all in one place, it’s really easy to track each inquiry. It even helps other support team members to follow up further when they switch shifts. Team members are kept in sync — which is especially important when we’re working remotely from separate locations.
Sharing using Wikis
We also use Wikis to organize and share information that’s important for team members to know, like workflows, procedures, project details, etc.
Digital footprints, marketing workflows, etc.
Support processes & guidelines, etc.
Release details & guidelines, etc.
Having all this in one place makes it easier for us to retrieve and refer to information from one team member to the next. Similar to issues, we can also attach files or images to Wikis.
Searching for project information
If we need to find certain work information, the first place to start looking is Backlog, because it contains all the past and current tasks, information about our projects, and work matters. In a sense, it’s like our Google for work. Need to find information about a process or task? Just search in Backlog.
At this point, you can probably see why we do not use email at Nulab unless it’s for communication with an external person like a user or a journalist.
Chatting on Typetalk
For spontaneous or brief work conversations, we use our online team chat app, Typetalk. It’s useful for having quick discussions about work, like when our remote members are online at the same time or a pressing issue arises.
We also have topics for more casual, non-work chats. It helps us to get to know the more personal side of coworkers outside of their career and helping users.
Let bots handle routine matters
We use bots in Typetalk for various purposes:
A Typetalk bot to remind us about regular meetings, like a Monday meeting every two weeks. It’s extremely useful to let bots handle the routine work so that we can operate smoothly and free ourselves to focus on more important work matters.
Another example is a Typetalk bot that shows which member is handling technical support that day.
Leave a status message
If we happen to be in an online meeting or away for a while, Typetalk allows us to set a status message for everyone to see when they pull up our conversation. That way our team members know we’re busy or stepped out for a bit and can expect our response later.
Besides desktop- and browser-based apps, Typetalk is also available as a mobile app, so it’s easy to stay connected while running an errand or if there’s an after-hours emergency. Responding on our phones is just as easy.
Collaborating visually using Cacoo
Missing the ability to grab a room and have a group brainstorm? Using visuals can be clearer or may spark more ideas for a creative mind — that’s where Cacoo comes in handy. It allows us to communicate visually and share diagrams in real-time in the cloud with team members.
Here are some ways we use Cacoo for remote collaboration:
For project planning:
During online video calls or meetings, Cacoo can be used as a whiteboard to have discussions or brainstorm ideas. It supports multi-user real-time editing, so we can edit and work together on the same diagram, like Google Docs.
If we’re working in different time zones and can’t be online at the same time, we can leave comments for team members directly on the diagram, so they can reply in the same thread when they’re online later.
Other tools for remote working
Besides Nulab tools, we also use other online services like Google Docs and Sheets.
They’re useful because, like Nulab tools, the work files and information are all stored in the cloud, so it’s smooth to transition to work from home and continue to access the same data without the hassle of servers or downloading.
In transitioning to fully remote, we had no problems with our work continuity. We could pick up the next day the same as we had left off in the office. It’s also easier and faster to share documents and diagrams via the cloud, simply by sending URL links.
As for video conferencing and online meetings, we mostly use Google Meet and GoToMeeting.
Thoughts on remote work and collaboration
Thanks to the ability to work remotely, we have more flexible schedules and save time by cutting out the commute. However, working remotely also presents challenges to teamwork due to the distance between team members.
Online collaboration and communication tools are useful for bridging the gap, but as guest speaker Ace Htike at our recent remote work webinar said, “Companies cannot expect employees to provide the same level of productivity by just giving them a tool. It takes time for team members to be comfortable with the tool and build up effectiveness in using it together”. This is something that resonates with us.
What we have shared here today is only our way of remote collaboration in Nulab, and we know that ours is not the model answer: Each organization will have its own culture and way of working together. That being said, we hope that this has been helpful in shaping your team’s ability to work together while being apart.