How we improved our remote work productivity by 23%

By Neal - 02/28/2021

While many teams last year were suddenly thrown into the deep end and forced to figure out how to work successfully remotely, we already had a remote team. However, we had grown complacent. We had our remote processes, but we were so focused on our day to day work building online solitaire and brain training games that we had not taken a step back to think about how we can improve our remote work set up.

The pandemic changed that for us. With all the news about remote work, it nudged us to think about what we can change to make our team even more productive. While teams were adapting to basic work from home practices, how could we further evolve ours?

Measuring remote work productivity

We wanted to make sure any changes we implemented made a difference in our team’s productivity so it was important to us to find a way to measure it.

For our developer team, this was straight forward - we would look at improvements in our team’s engineering velocity. In particular, we would look at improvements in the number of story points accomplished sprint to sprint.

For our other teams like our marketing team, there were nuances that made measurement difficult. For example, we could look at content produced, but that can vary depending on the complexity of a topic.

Instead, we decided to look at overall employee engagement and self reported metrics on productivity.

Overall, over the past year we found that we were able to improve developer velocity by 15%, employee engagement by 21%, and self reported scores on productivity by 29%. Here are the changes that drove this:

1. Supporting mental health

We realized our team was stressed, especially at the onset of the pandemic. As an early stage company, some employees were worried about job security, while others were worried about their health. Some were stir crazy, and had difficulties being confined to their home and just a few activities.

To address this, we started covering the costs of seeing a therapist. Many people on our team took advantage of the offer and told us it was very helpful. Just the act of offering it showed our team we cared. Now we’re looking into services like ginger.io to make mental health services more readily available.

2. Work windows

Before the pandemic, we wanted everyone working at the same time. Our logic was simple: this improves communication with everyone being available during work hours.

We noticed though that this was impractical for some team members, especially those with families. Managing kids at home made it challenging for some to start at 9AM.

We decided to introduce flexible work windows where we expected our team to be fully available from 10AM - 12PM and 2PM -5PM. This gave our team the flexibility to have later start time if needed to manage their family affairs and even have lunch with their loved ones.

3. Required breaks

As a company dedicated to figuring out how classic games can improve brain training, we’ve always understood the importance of taking breaks. If you continue working nonstop throughout the day you’ll get burnt out by the afternoon, and lose productivity.

Our minds need rest, and need to recharge.

During our work windows, we made a policy where everyone on our team had to block the last 5 to 10 minutes of that hour to take a break. During those breaks hours, we encourage our team to take a walk, or even play one of games like FreeCell, Klondike Solitaire, or Spider Solitaire.

4. Moving stands up to chat, and addressing video fatigue

At 10AM, we have our stands up. For the longest time, we were doing them over Google Meet.

We started hearing from our team though that they were on too many video meetings, and as a result, had difficulties finding time to do other work. Moreover, they were finding it difficult to concentrate and add value to video meetings.

To reduce the amount of video meetings and give time back to our team, we changed our video stands up to chat based ones. Now our team discusses updates, questions, and challenges on Slack, and it has become a welcome change.

5. Email summaries and accountability

With a remote team, communication is critical. We found time and again, despite our video meetings and stand ups, there was always communication that fell through the cracks.

We started instituting an end of the day email summary similar to a standup, where everyone would send an email to their respective team about what they accomplished during the day, along with challenges and plans for the next one.

We didn’t want the email to be time consuming so we limited it to 100 words.

Not only did communication drastically improve, we found that it became an accountability tool. Because these were team wide emails being sent, everyone wanted to show they were doing their part, and stepped up their work effort.

What drove the most productivity improvement?

We didn’t run our employee engagement surveys after each of these changes, so we can’t say definitively how each change impacted productivity. Subjectively, everything made an impact that added up.

For our development team though, we noticed the biggest improvements in velocity took place after we moved standups to chat and asked for daily, teamwide email updates.

Our remote work initiatives underscore that there is always room to improve your remote team operations. From our experience, we know that if we continue to focus in this area, we’ll find ways to unlock more productivity.