Remote work diary: Spanish startup Jeff discovers remote collaboration challenges (and solutions)

4 min read
Abby Sinnott
  •  Jul 21, 2020
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Welcome to week three of the Remote Work Diary, where Juan, Andres, Diego, and Elisa—members of the tight-knit product team at Spanish startup Jeff—share their thoughts about the new challenges of WFH.

Last week, we read about the tough decisions management at Jeff made due to the economic downturn of Covid-19, including team restructurings. This week, as the dust settles, many team members join new cross-functional squads and face remote collaboration and work prioritization challenges.


Juan Pablo – Head of product design

This week HR created a remote work survey for the entire company to try and determine if people feel they are productive working from home, if they’re getting the support they need to do their jobs, and how the situation can be improved if not. The results will help us decide if we can adopt remote working permanently once the lockdown lifts.

When you’re working together in the office, you have all of these collaboration tools available. During meetings, you can just jump into a whiteboard and start brainstorming as a team—not being able to do this remotely is a big challenge.

Some of us are using Freehand, but we want all of our teams to learn how to incorporate it more into our daily work. I’m used to grabbing a marker and sketching, and now I need to learn to do that with a mouse. I also want to learn how to use Freehand to moderate a virtual room.

Juan Pablo Costanzo, head of product design at Jeff

Andres – Head of engineering

Many people changed to new squads and the situation was a bit tough, so we had alignment meetings to introduce new members and try to reduce as much friction as possible. One challenge is defining objectives during this moment of high uncertainty. Before COVID, Jeff was kicking off our grading table, which outlines everyone’s roles and responsibilities, so we’ve returned to these and our 1:1 framework to help us work remotely. At the end of the week, I had my personal OKRs review. The result was good enough; even with the urgent, recent challenges our team stayed focused on our strategic objectives, which can be complicated.

I’m starting to prioritize some projects over others, even when some high priority things get undone. If I try to achieve too many things at once, I have many things in progress but nothing actually gets completed.
I also spent a lot of time this week giving personal support to some team members.

Andres Rodrigues Perez, head of engineering at Jeff

Diego – Engineering team lead and senior frontend developer

My focus this week is catching up with new squads and starting to take on the responsibilities of my new role as engineering team lead.

Diego Pertusa Irles, engineering team lead and senior front-end developer at Jeff

Right now I feel that I am saturated with information, but I’m doing my best to keep focus so that I don’t get blocked. I have a lot of things to do and I will not be able to finish everything this week as I hoped. I’m starting to say “no” to people, prioritize my workload, and give myself breaks between meetings. There are not enough hours to do everything I would like, so I am setting myself one main goal per day, and if I meet it, I try to push to the next one.
Everyone is in the process of adaptation and so we lack organization, but I understand that’s normal when so many things are being changed.

Elisa – Product designer

The design team has a lot of new processes and I’m loving it. The truth is that although it’s been a hard time, I’m super happy with the new shape of the team, how we’re improving everything and starting from scratch, and how we’re questioning everything we already had in order to improve it.

One challenge is that we have a lot of meetings and people are starting to use Workplace, our messaging tool, as if it were a Facebook chat, like:

“I wanted to ask you”
“When you have a moment…”
“Blah blah blah…”

Conversations drag on and are not productive. I understand that this is a time of uncertainty, but I think that people waste a lot of time chatting or “demanding” immediate answers. This may seem silly, but it’s better to write the whole message in a single post, because otherwise the chat won’t stop ringing and warning balloons will appear. This breaks my focus and creates a false sense of urgency. I think we need to create some guidelines and best practices for remote communication.

At first I thought working remotely was temporary, but now that it may become a permanent arrangement, I’m starting to think more about solutions (online and offline) that will help our squad work more efficiently. Although I miss some physical materials we had in the office (big whiteboards, post-its…), we’ve started using Freehand to brainstorm as a team in real time, which is working well.

Today I took a virtual coffee break with a new colleague from the design team and I loved it. She’s from the USA and we got to know each other a lot better. She also practiced her Spanish and I practiced my English. A colleague of mine did a live performance. It was super funny and inspired the team.

Elisa Babiano, product designer at Jeff

Week 3 Recap

There’s no doubt that it takes time (and practice) to get used to the changes that come with working remotely. Some tasks take more consideration, but distance does not have to impede on your team’s abilities to create and collaborate. Remember, outcomes derive from people, not places—the key is getting the right approaches, mindset, and tools in place.

Jeff discovered that collaborating remotely in the absence of physical tools, such as whiteboards and post-its, is one of their biggest challenges. While it’s taken some time to master sketching with a mouse and screen, rather than marker and whiteboard, Jeff started using Freehand—a virtual whiteboard—during ideation sessions.

The important thing is that you and your team are willing to try new approaches, fail and continually iterate—slowly building that new remote work muscle—until you find the tools and processes that work best for you.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard