The hacks that we use to keep our distributed team engaged

Author: Jose Ignacio Andrés, Founder and CEO of Nailted

Like many of you, I’ve been working at an office my entire life. So did all of my current colleagues. I’ve been a manager for the last 10 years, and it definitely wasn’t easy to keep the team cohesive and engaged. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to achieve as a leader.

We started Nailted as a remote-first company, which makes things easier now. But back then, we met every other day in person, so things like creating a sense of belonging weren’t even a deliberate action, it just happened spontaneously. Then, the lock-down arrived and we immediately moved to full-remote. Since then, we’ve doubled our team size and experimented with different routines and dynamics to keep the team together.

Remote working hacks from Nailted

Photo by Matilda Wormwood on Pexels.com

Some things worked out better than others for our team. Some worked for a while and we’ve replaced them when the context changed. But in the end, we achieved to maintain most of the “feel” of working face to face. Or at least, that’s what our conversations during one-to-one’s and our eNPS says 😅

  • Say hello, say goodbye.

We use Slack as our primary internal communication tool. It’s really important that like with any tool, you use it properly because this type of tool can be very noisy. But by using threads, we’ve managed to achieve a good balance between stay informed and not losing focus while working.
One thing we’ve adopted as a non-written rule is to speak “as if you were in the same room”. Meaning you can read many “good mornings” at 9 AM, a few “I’m going for a coffee” at 11 AM or I’m going to have lunch around 2 PM.
It could be seen as a non-relevant messaging and a distraction, but we haven’t had much trouble since we all work to a similar schedule. This can make us feel more “connected” because you always see some activity even from people outside your team.

  • Daily meetings as a “connecting moment”

I’ve always used daily meetings to keep the team in sync and detect bottlenecks and stoppers. Try to make it an ultra-lightweight meeting: two minutes for every team member, keeping it short and relevant to your working day. Once you detect an issue, take note, and have a separate meeting if needed, but don’t try to solve anything that takes more than 20 seconds there.

If you agree with this approach, this “hack” may horrify you, but it’s been working well for us for the last 10 months. Our daily meetings are now divided into two blocks: The first part is like walking into the office. We just say hi and talk about anything for around 10 minutes. Then, we start the “real daily”.

The first 10 minutes give us moments to see each other face to face like you’re in the office.. A moment to stay “human”. It helps people not feel so lonely whilst working from home, and I’m sure this has helped us build a much better relationship with one another and it helps raise team morale.

  • Tortilla talk!

Taking a 15min break to eat something together was one routine I always had and I see it as both, a thing that I personally liked a lot, but also a mechanism to connect with your colleagues and improve the fellowship of the team. Being in remote makes this impossible, so we scheduled a weekly meeting, on Fridays, to have a relaxed chat.

You are not required to bring an omelet while on zoom, but you may 🙂 This is a moment to talk about the latest show we are watching, to discuss some news or even just play a game.

  • Walkie-talkie tools

Tools are critical these days and with a distributed team they are essential. You simply cannot work without some of them, specially video-conferencing tools like Zoom or Meets. But you already know that for spontaneous chats, sometimes those are not as fast as click-and-talk. And because of this friction you feel is “hard” to connect.

To fix that, we’ve started to use a walkie-talkie style tool. They have similar capabilities to the previously mentioned apps, but they simply feel lighter. We adopted Tandem, which allows us to just click and talk. If you initiate the call you can even start talking while on the other side they begin the call on mute. You can later jump to video during the same call and, if you want, you can share your screen while seeing everyone’s mouse on it.

  • One-on-one meetings

Our killer hack. This is not really related to distributed or remote teams, but I found it specially useful and necessary in this context. If you have to pick one, choose this one.

You can schedule a one-on-one with peers or any other teammate, however, if you’re a manager, you should be doing one to ones with your direct reports at least once a month. It is even recommended to have it more often, but it depends on your company and working style. It worked well for us to do it monthly.

As a manager, this gives your colleagues safe space to talk. It’s a moment to talk about motivations, career, fears, or discuss things that don’t fit in anywhere else. It is important to have them regularly, acknowledge your reports achievements and let them know they own the meeting. Of course you, as a manager, can bring topics you may think are relevant. Here you have a list of questions you can ask as a manager and questions you can ask as a report.

So in conclusion….
I hope you find some of our hacks helpful when connecting with your remote team. They are working for us right now, but they may not work for you depending on your size, culture, or company stage. What you can always use is the essence: try to create habits to keep a continuous flow of communication and always try to think about the mental health of your team mates.


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