Joining a company remotely

Edit: Nov 15th, since I posted this, there are a number of aspects that I believe differently. Want to make it clear that Shopify is my highlight of my career and the learning that I obtained there. Pandemic didn't make things easy on anyone.

It was difficult when I started working with Shopify in March 2020. The pandemic hit and we went into lock down. I was meant to fly out meet teams in Ottawa, but that didn't happen. All I had was video calls to get to know others on the team.

I've worked remotely with teams since 2009, first working with folk at Betaworks in New York on TwitterFeed and Bit.ly. So it's nothing new but I took away new learnings when joining as a Director and having to onboard with 100s of people.

Normally when I join a group that is distributed, I would hop on a flight out to the team and simply hang with them socially, saying hello, getting to know people, allowing them to understand my personal quirks, learn from them, and get a feel of the culture. This was not possible.

Because I was new and most of the others had existing relationships formed from in office, I naturally invested a lot of my onbarding time to instigate social time with others. This did change as we recruited more that were remote and Shopify switched to becoming a fully remote company.

I've been sharing some lessons with some folk I mentor so wanted to put this down and share out a bit more.

Social calls

Everything remote has be intentional, nothing happens casually, your calendar is your friend. So turn on your inner networking skill, reach out to folk that you'd like to just meet and say hi to.

Find folk to pair with on code or documents from different areas, this allows you to understand different roles, product and form relationships you could use later.

Remember to be mindful of giving time and space to others for their deep work, Shopify was great in that they encouraged a no meeting Wednesday something I'm going to keep in my future roles, it was great.

With some groups of people, I had setup informal lunch/coffee slots (when time zones overlapped). Just shared in the calendar event that there is no agenda, just want to say hi. Making it clear that the raise hand feature would be used, allowing all to chime in, encouraging open discussion.

Zoom Fatigue

Zoom Fatigue is real. To start with social calls worked great, the sun was out, folk were taking calls on their patios or outside. Joining a call with a beverage of choice and having casual conversation. But after a year it became difficult to encourage people to continue using jumping on video calls after a day of them.

Some tips to prevent this.

Shopify even invested in in house tools to encourage teams to get together. The challenges around this become getting everyone on, so set the time in the calendar for the end of week, a time before a town hall or when it works best.

"Zoom fatigue" as I've heard some call it, is real. Folks would end the week not wanting another video call. Even with friends, the novelty of video calls become shorter.

Different time zones

Sometimes not everyone can be on the same call. So we experimented with async videos. We kicked off a weekly video post challenge. Where one member in the team nominates a topic and you share a quick video recording with others over a slack channel. The best was "what is in your fridge?".

Share thoughts and align async

I found that writing a document that was simply sharing my thoughts or opinion on something helped align with others and learn more from the discussion it starts. Folks that agree or disagree will comment and share insight that you were unaware of.

Most companies have an internal blog, this is perfect for this. This normally would've happened as a casual conversation when you were heading out for lunch or grabbing coffee in the kitchen with your team.

It can be as simple as a document on GDocs that has a purpose statement at the top outlining that you simply want to share an observation, proposal, thoughts and looking for feedback.

This not only helps you learn more from others but more about sharing your thoughts with them also. Allowing readers to form connections on what you or your group are thinking about, allowing them to connect with you on a topic that you have insight on in the future.

Trust can be built through shipping

In my journey to better connect remotely, I found myself focussing more on doing the work with others rather just socials. I found that social capital was built through doing great work together with people. Through tough debates, hard problems, work that you're proud of together, trust ends up forming in how you do the work together.

This takes time, so be patient with it. I could even say that it takes longer to build trust remotely than it would typically in an office.