Me “totally working” from a hammock in Cambodia at AngkorHUB

8 Solutions to the 2 Greatest Remote Work Issues

Have a Team Work Remotely Is Possible but Not Easy

Danny Forest
Aug 17, 2018 · 7 min read

If you have tried it before, you know there are many obstacles to making remote work “feasible”: timezone differences, communication issues, spotty wifi, lack of proper schedule, environment distractions, and more.

I have been running Power Level Studios “remotely” since it started having collaborators over a year and a half ago. I say remotely in double-quotes because initially, it was all remote within the same city. Everyone worked from their own homes in Toronto.

Then in June of last year, I left Toronto to work from other places around the world, making me completely remote. I also hired people from Ottawa, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

During that time, I grew the company from 4 people to 8.

As far as I know, we have not had any problems with me being away and still “running the show”.

So let’s address some of the problems associated with having a remote team:

Communication Issues

This is likely the biggest issue of them all.

It’s already hard to have an effective communication system in place when everyone works from the same office, so of course it even harder when you can’t have face to face conversations.

At Power Level Studios, we have a simple but efficient system that has worked really well for us:


Have Everyone Remote

In the past, I have worked remotely for a company where pretty much everyone worked from the same office. I was left out frequently. And it’s not that I wasn’t an important part of the team, it’s just that when everyone else is there, sometimes you just forget the “exception”.

And that sucked.

I know I could have been way more productive if I felt like I was really part of the team.

By having everyone remote, everyone is on the same page. There aren’t many different ways to communicate. Everyone uses the same tool.

One of the previous companies I worked for removed their office and started working remotely. That didn’t stop them from making and releasing the successful Halcyon 6 game.

In Power Level Studio’s case, we released Soul Reaper: Unreap Commander as an Early Access game on April 3rd. The game was built from December 2017 to March 2018.


Limit The Need To Communicate Verbally

We never communicate verbally at Power Level Studios. It happened once for a brainstorm of a very important feature.

Actually, we rarely communicate at all. It’s all about our streamlined process.

We use the Kanban approach.

We have a series of steps a task needs to go through. When the person working on the task is done with the step, they move the card to the next step, where the next person in charge of the task will automatically be notified. In review steps, if it passes, the card moves forward, if it fails, it goes backward, where the person responsible for the work will automatically be notified.

It’s all about the automation and having a clear indicator of who needs to do what when.

We’re using Trello with the Trello Butler to achieve that. There are other products out there though.


Be Fully Transparent

With the Kanban approach mentioned above, we have different boards depending on the type of work. We have boards for Art, Design, Admin, Programming, etc.

Every board is public to everyone at the company.

I’ve got nothing to hide.

Everyone can see what I’m working on at any point. That is very important. People working with me need to know that I’m not just barking orders from the beach working on my sun-tan.


Trust Your Team

I rarely make decisions. I’m not sure if that throws my team off or not, but that’s my management style. I like to have everyone’s input on aspects I trust them on. I would not ask an artists’ opinion on programming, but I will definitely ask them about monster and loot design.

Everyone can submit their design ideas and we collaborate on it. I rarely get the ideas all by myself. We vote on design ideas, names of monsters, etc.

If my artist tells me A is better than B, I rarely argue. They’re the expert.

By trusting everyone, I know they trust and respect me more in return. They know we’re working towards the same goals.

Environment Issues

Spotty wifi, distractions, hard to follow schedule, loneliness — we’ve all been there. How do we overcome those things?

It’s all about making your environment productive and removing anything that goes against it.


Removing Distractions

I hate working from home. I’m way too distracted. I have games, books, and no one to judge me if I’m not working.

When I was working from home in Toronto, I would put console cables places where it would be so much work for me to get that I wouldn’t do the effort to get it.

In my apartment in Toronto, we didn’t even buy furniture, except for a mattress and the desk to work from. The place really was only good for working and sleeping.

Whatever it is you find distracts you while you work, change your environment so that it’s harder to distract yourself as opposed to doing your productive activities.

If your distraction is in your physical location, hide stuff, or better yet, make someone else hide it.

If your distraction is on your computer, use software that blocks access to apps and websites during certain hours. Have someone you trust lock the schedule behind a password so you can’t easily disable it.


Finding Good Wifi

Depending on where you are in the world, wifi can be an issue. Especially public wifi.

I’ll give you my favourite trick straight up: co-working spaces.

I’ve never been to a co-working space (yet) that doesn’t have usable wifi. I’ve seen anywhere from 10 mbps (slow but usable) to 1,000mbps (very fast).

Check using speedtest.net.

Never trust your Airbnb host or hostels to tell you their wifi is fast. It rarely is. Below 5mbps for me is hardly usable. In some countries, they call that fast. My 4G/LTE is 3x faster than that.


Fighting Loneliness

Building on the co-working space idea from above, having other hard-working people around you is extremely motivating.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m 10x more productive when I work from a co-working space.

It’s always nice to meet other people who work on their own crazy ideas. Entrepreneurs care so much about what they do that it’s contagious. You want to work harder and share your ideas with the others around.

You build great personal and professional relationships just from being there.


Keeping A Schedule

This is key to build momentum. I’ve written about this extensively in the past.

By working remotely, it’s hard to stick to a schedule because you don’t have office hours.

But to be honest, I don’t like office hours. Not everyone works great from 9–5. In fact, I don’t think anyone at Power Level Studios work from 9–5.

I start my day at 5am, but start my actual work at 9am. I take a nap during the day, usually around 2:00pm. I’m always super tired in the afternoon. I don’t work well unless I do a power nap. I try to reply to my messages only between 1:00 and 2:00, after lunch. I then finish work around 7pm.

I’m much better at sticking to this schedule when I’m at the co-working space. I know no one is monitoring me, but I need to feel like someone could judge me for not following my schedule.

Conclusion

Running a team remotely is possible but not easy.

I’ve been doing it long enough now and have found strategies that work for my video game company, but I know could work for other types of businesses.

Having everyone remote and limiting the need to communicate makes project management more efficient. Be transparent and trust your team. Apply these principles and communication will not be an issue.

Remove distractions, find good wifi, fight loneliness and keep a schedule.

Make your environment work for you.

You can do this!

Let me know what you tried that worked or didn’t work for you in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and sharing ! :)

Looking forward to reading your comments!

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Danny Forest

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Viking polymath writing for today’s knowledge economy, building a more skillful tomorrow. dannyforest.com

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