Sharing our remote first processes, tools and guidelines for fellow corona-dodgers

Mar 4, 2020

At Super Evil Megacorp, we’ve been working toward becoming friendly to remote team members for a while now. Last year, we upgraded our goal from just being remote friendly to becoming a Remote First studio. To us, “Remote First” means being intentional about our processes, technology, operations and culture to ensure a feeling of equity, inclusiveness and fun in the work that we do, regardless of our physical location.

Today, as the new coronavirus is forcing more teams to consider remote collaboration, we thought we’d share what we have learned to date.

Below you will find the current state of The Remote Handbook of Evil, v1. We hope that it will help you and your team in considering what has become a meaningful and positive culture shift for us at the Lair. We would love to hear your feedback and thoughts; we know there are many others out there looking to hone work skills in a similar way.

Keep in mind that this doc is a work in progress as we intend to continue improving our approach as we go. Stay safe out there!

EDIT: the updated handbook is available at www.superevilmegacorp.com/handbook

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SEMC Q1 2020 REMOTE FIRST GUIDELINES

(a.k.a. The Remote Handbook of Evil, v1)

Objectives

This is a live document that sets out guidelines for:

  • Working Locally (WL) – San Mateo based staff

  • Working From Home  (WFH) – San Mateo based staff working from home

  • Working Remote (WR) – staff permanently based in a different location

What is “Remote First?” Why Will SEMC go Remote First?

“Remote First means that we are intentional about our processes, technology, operations and culture, to make it feel equally productive, inclusive and fun to work at SEMC regardless of location”

We are becoming Remote First in order to:

  • Be able to work with the best talent regardless of location or life situation

  • Enable all staff everywhere to do their best work, most productively

  • Be able to scale up cost-effectively 

  • Become the most diverse, accessible and inclusive company we can be

  • Add value to our talent by learning to work effectively in distributed orgs

There are entirely remote, highly successful software companies with online handbooks like Gitlab. But every company is different. We plan to be thoughtful and to learn this step by step by iterating as a team.

“Successfully working from home is a skill, just like programming, designing or writing. It takes time and commitment to develop that skill” -Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove

This document does not define an end-state. It reflects our iterative quest to constantly get better and better at working together as a team, wherever we are.

Rules to Enable “Remote First”

We tend to solve complex, shared problems faster when in the same room with our team. We need rules to make us equally productive while being distributed.

All rules are designed to be iterated on periodically to react to our experiences of what works and what doesn’t. These are the rules for Q1 2020.

These rules boil down to five general principles:

  1. Get your work / your team’s work done

  2. Be there to help others get their work done

  3. Be present over video to help others build a stronger connection with you

  4. Always document & over-communicate everything in writing in the right place

  5. Note down when these rules are not working to help improve them

GENERAL AVAILABILITY RULES INDEPENDENT OF LOCATION

  • Attend the daily 10:15 PST daily standup over video. The Lair (our main physical space) starts the update, folks on video go in alphabetical order by first name. Note who is before you. Provide your update in < 15 seconds.

  • Attend the weekly Tue 1pm PST all-hands meet over video. Expect a 30-60min broad update of what’s going on + announcements and Q&A

  • Publish your working hours in google calendar and slack to help others know how you work. Publish your vacations on the vacation calendar to enable all to see when you are not working

  • Be present and available at least 10am – 5pm PST (core hours) during work days. If you are 3hrs+ remote from PST, publish your hours and the core hour overlap and agree other attendance with your manager.

  • Communicate absences clearly.

    • If you are sick, tell your manager and communicate it on #masterminds-missing, stay home, rest, hydrate and get better.

    • If you must attend a non-work commitment during your working hours, communicate it in advance on #masterminds-missing on Slack and plan to make up for the lost time during the week.

    • If you must “go dark” to concentrate on a project that requires uninterrupted focus – please run it past your manager, communicate it on #masterminds-missing in advance and make sure nobody depends on you for their work.

    • Announce business travel in advance on #masterminds-missing.

    • Announce vacation in the vacation calendar and on #masterminds-missing

  • Be aware of the absences of others. Check vacation calendar and #masterminds-missing to be aware of who is available.

MEETING RULES

  • Always on time : Meetings start exactly on time to avoid frustration from waiting

  • Set-up 5min before : Organizers must start the zoom meeting 5 minutes in advance to avoid the start of the meeting being spent sorting out tech

  • Do not tolerate equipment failure or poor connection. If the audio / video setup is not working, or anything about it can be improved, fix it yourself or raise a flag with Ops immediately.

COMMUNICATION RULES

  • Maximize frictionless 1:1 synchronous communication : Call people when you need to talk – do not text first to ask if it’s ok to call. Expect others to cold call you on slack (unless cell is your preference). If you can’t talk when called, respond to say when you can talk.

  • Use of a slack call or zoom with video is preferred : By seeing more of each other’s faces we feel more local to each other. Use Zoom whenever possible. [Linkto: SEMC Zoom user guide]

  • Be responsive: Expect responses to internal email within 24hrs, internal slack DM within 12hrs. If it’s more urgent than that, call.

  • Make decisions in meetings with the right people present. Not on slack / email. Any decisions with dependencies or impact on others are made in meetings, and then communicated widely across email, slack etc.

  • Document everything in well structured documents. Save them in the Shared Drive, according to the SEMC documentation standards.

  • Post sneak peeks of work-in-progress work in #general. It is helpful for awareness and for building trust and understanding between teams.

  • Stick to simple Slack etiquette. Use threads. Post in appropriate channels. Channel owners keep their channel clean. If this turns out insufficient we will create a separate Slack Guide.

  • Write great emails. Short, precise, complete, descriptive subject, to the right people. Write it slowly so it communicates very clearly, avoids confusion and doesn’t waste people’s time by creating obvious questions or email chains.

RULES SPECIFIC TO WORKING REMOTE (WR) STAFF

  • Have a dedicated work space separate from family

    • SEMC can consider a remote work space for you if you do not have this space at home, but at minimal cost.

  • Have a fast internet (75Mbs down / 10MBs up minimum) where you’re working

  • Have a great headset and microphone (SEMC can supply)

    • Recommended headset for noisy environments (still TBC):

  • Be available during your working hours unless agreed otherwise with your manager. Lunch breaks, coffee breaks etc are fine. If you need to be away longer, please announce it as per availability rules.

  • Recommended: Be on the Always On Lair Zoom Link with a separate iPad : [linkto: zoom url] when at your desk. Feel free to mute it when you need to concentrate. Feel free to turn off the webcam if dodgy things are happening in the background. Get a loaner iPad and help to set this up from Ops if you need to! This is not to monitor you, it’s for everyone to see everyone’s faces and feel part of a team!

  • Recommended: Attend CEO’s weekly 30min Zoom coffee break : this is a 30min of random chat with folks around the company. See calendar invite

RULES SPECIFIC TO WORKING LOCALLY (WL) STAFF

  • Be in the office unless agreed otherwise with your manager

  • Keep zoom open in Lair rooms. All Lair rooms have permalinks :

    • The Lair – [linkto: zoom url]

    • Mastermind – [linkto: zoom url]

    • Citadel – [linkto: zoom url]

    • [linkto: General SEMC Zoom instructions]

  • Keep remote folks in mind at all times. If a corridor conversation is particularly interesting, think about any remote persons you might want to bring into the conversation, and just cold call them on Slack/Cellphone!

  • Do not make decisions without the right remote members present

WORKING FROM HOME (WFH) RULES FOR WORKING LOCAL (WL) STAFF

WFH is an earned privilege agreed on an individual basis based on consistent delivery and responsibility over time. It must be agreed with the manager and for a good reason such as:

  • To avoid passing on an infectious disease to others

  • To focus on a project that requires no interruptions

  • To avoid unreasonable commute conditions

RULES FOR MANAGERS AND LEADERS

Being a remote first organization puts extra pressure on good communications and management hygiene. These are the principles

  • We Over-Communicate and Over-Include : We serve our talent. We make sure our teams have everything they need to make great decisions and move fast as independently as possible. To achieve this we over-communicate information, decisions and plans and seek feedback at the 80% stage from the widest set of talent internally. If in doubt, communicate, and if in doubt, include. By doing this well we establish maximum productivity from everyone.

  • We are Planful & Organized : We, and everyone on our teams, are at all times clear on what our top-3 priorities are today, this week and this quarter. And we have a view on what we want to have accomplished in the next 6-12 months.

    • We organize weekly team meets to review & plan team activity

    • We organize (bi)-weekly 1:1s with our team to connect as human beings

    • We delegate ownership of decisions as far as possible

  • We Ensure All Information is Always Shared Digitally : We use Confluence, JIRA, Miro whiteboards and the shared GDrive to make sure all decisions, knowledge and work spaces exist in a digital form in the right place and stick to SEMC documentation standards.

  • We Lead by Personal Example : We understand that culture is the sum of the little actions. We treat the needs of our local and remote colleagues equally and set meetings at a respectful time. We work hard. We are on time to meetings, we act kind and respectful, we do excellent work with high attention to detail. We act the way we want our best performers to act.

  • We Hold our Teams Accountable. We nurture and coach our talent. But we take no BS. We expect the highest standards and commitment. Accepting consistent underperformance lets down the rest of the team

Useful Reading list

https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/

https://www.holloway.com/s/syllabus-remote-work

https://zapier.com/learn/remote-work/

https://anaxi.com/blog/2019/08/16/clearbits-approach-to-management/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-tips-working-from-home-remotely-succeeding-silje-m%C3%B8ln%C3%A5/

https://www.fredperrotta.com/remote-work-gone-wrong/

https://www.bridging-the-gap.com/join-your-distributed-team-in-virtual-celebration/

https://miro.com/blog/remote-work-2020/

https://workshopper.com/make-remote-collaboration-more-effective/

https://clearbit.com/blog/remote-work-growth/

https://clearbit.com/blog/managers-handbook-tldr/

https://clearbit.com/blog/gross-company-happiness/

Kristian Segerstrale
Kristian Segerstrale

Kristian is the CEO of Super Evil Megacorp. Living near Lisbon, Portugal, Kristian’s twin obsessions are figuring out the future of the game industry and crafting highly talented teams and cultures to work toward that future. Before Super Evil Megacorp, Kristian was among other things CEO at Playfish, EVP at EA, co-founder at Glu Mobile and Board Member of Supercell. In his spare time Kristian plays music, invests in and advises other game companies, and tries to figure out how to mitigate existential risk for humanity. Player Name: EdTheShred

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