Jenn Sutherland-Miller: Staying connected is vital for remote organisations

Jenn Sutherland-Miller

At Tortuga, ‘on your terms’ is not just a snappy, feel-good corporate slogan, it is a way of life. With a team of 10 fully remote employees across three countries, two continents, and four time-zones, staying connected is both challenging and vital.

Tortuga’s culture is one of trust and outcome-based assessment, where each employee has a clear jurisdiction and autonomy within it. Communication is key, and a combination of software and process scaffolding closes the distance between home offices, co-working spaces, and aeroplane seats as we live, work, and travel on our terms.

Slack is our virtual office space. Rather than a suite of rooms in a central building and a water cooler to congregate around, we have Slack channels for every aspect of our work. Whether managing the writing team, marketing, product development, or web development, it happens in Slack. In the ‘break room’, we share the things that matter in our day, wish a teammate happy birthday, or swap turtle memes on a slow afternoon.

Because Slack is an asynchronous communication platform, it allows Guilia in China and Patrick in Virginia to collaborate without sweating the time-zones.

15Five, meanwhile, is our weekly virtual staff meeting. Each team member sets goals and reports on them every Friday, with an option to share what is important in the upcoming week with the entire team. Because we are more concerned with productivity than logging hours, this lets us share outcomes and level-up as a team, both weekly and through semi-annual reviews. The phone app means that it is easy to update from anywhere in the world, which is the essence of our ‘on your terms’ ethos.

Having processes in place is also key to communication within a fully remote company. At Tortuga, this means a weekly one-on-one with the chief executive officer for every team member. We also have other standing meetings with relevant teammates, but only if there is something to talk about. Working on our terms means never wasting time in a useless meeting.

Monthly reports from each segment of the organisation allow us to share successes and struggles across the board, while monthly updates from the chief executive officer help track our progress on organisation-wide goals.

Once or twice a year, the entire team takes a retreat together to work, play and connect in a new location. We have been to Lisbon, Montreal, New Orleans, San Diego, and, in April 2019, we are heading to Prague. These retreats are vital to building connections as a team, and improving communication when we are apart.

Success or failure as a remote organisation is determined by the quality of communication, and remote work requires greater diligence and intention in how and what we communicate.

Jenn Sutherland-Miller is the editor and content manager at Tortuga Backpacks, and has worked remotely for more than 10 years. 

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