Ilma from MailerLite

Ilma6 min readRemote cultureApril 6, 2017

How to manage a remote team

How to manage a remote team

At MailerLite 16 out of 30 team members work 100% remotely.

Others can choose where they want to work from. Our office is like a co-working space. You can come there, but it’s not necessary.

For example, I prefer to stay at home when I write an article like this. In the wintertime our team loves to live/work in warmer countries. Sometimes there’s only one team member working in the office.

Does this sound like a chaos? Wonder how things get done?

#1. Communication management

“Communication works for those who work at it.”(John Powell)

One might think that having a remote team, all in different time zones, would be difficult to manage. All important discussions and decisions must take place online, to be shared with everyone.

Do you know this phrase? “Pics, or it didn’t happen.” At MailerLite it’s “Write it down or it doesn’t count.”

We manage projects on Trello and use Slack for daily communication. We have separate channels for presentations, social media, roadmap, night shift, design, workation etc.

The biggest concern in communication is that everyone should be willing to share the information online. If you succeed doing it, it’s super useful in long-run. You can share the written material with future colleagues and monitor the processes. For example, our developers have a Slack channel where they document the bug fixes and how they were corrected. Everything is explained in “a human-language” that all team members could easily understand. 

#2. Project management

“No one can do everything but everyone can do something.”

There are 2 ways how we decide upon a project.

First, we write down ALL customers’ requests and assess them on Trello board:

  • good idea
  • good idea/big project
  • part of the other project
  • integrations
  • too small impact
  • rejected

Once a month our CEO makes a presentation about MailerLite’s results and allocates future projects to team groups (usually, 1 designer and 1-2 developers).

The second way we manage projects is with pitches. Everyone can come up with an idea and make a pitch with arguments why a change or a new feature is needed. All approved pitches are placed on our Trello board. Anyone can choose what they want to work on. The person that wrote the pitch becomes the project manager. We believe that freedom to offer changes in the company keeps the team interested in the business. Especially when they can and will implement those changes.

The Trello board is a great tool for our support team. They can see the status of projects (approved, in progress, done) and inform customers about it. Moreover, they can write down customers’ requests. This is how we decided to make the Product Updates page. You can see all the updates and future projects there.

#3. People management

The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers” (Sir Richard Branson)

We don’t do annual or monthly performance reviews. We want to know how our team feels every single week. Not to evaluate them, but to know how they are doing, what they are proud of, or if they struggle and need help. We’ve noticed that writing-based communication appears to be deeper and in many cases more sincere than talking.

Every week, each team member answers these simple questions (we use 15Five App for that):

  • How are you feeling?
  • Goals & accomplishments this week
  • What do you intend to accomplish between now and your next report?
  • What challenges are you facing? Where are you stuck?
  • What’s going well? What are you proud of this week?
  • What do you find most exciting about work right now?

This gives us so many insights on our people: someone is sick, someone feels stuck on a project, someone is proud of a bug fix. These are all small details that matter to people and business, and can go unnoticed if you only do an annual or monthly performance review.

#4. Team management

“Last night we were the best team of the day”

The hardest part about working remotely is not project management, it’s team management. It’s harder to get to know people when you work remotely, harder to relate to them and find more in common than a job.

Once a month we have a Remote Day. It means that everyone works remotely. Nobody comes to the office. And then we have a remote meeting where we ‘meet’ all of the team members and share what we’ve been up to for the last month. Fun stuff, travel plans, discoveries etc. That helps us to know each other better and make daily communication more personal.

In 1969 an anthropologist Victor Turner found that when people are together, and they make that transition into this “new realm” where they suddenly have something very unique and special in common. People experiencing the same event, at the same time and in the same space, are in that sense “equals”. This has tremendous binding power.

Twice a year, the MailerLite team enjoys workation together. It’s a paid work trip that feels a bit like a vacation. The main purpose of the trip is for team bonding. It means doing fun stuff together, laughing together and creating memories together.

“Responsibility is the price of freedom.”

Managing a remote team is not that hard when you hire the right people for your team: people that you can trust 100%, people that value freedom, and are eager to take responsibility. The key to success is communicating in advance what you expect from them and how the team works.

Do you work in a remote team? What is the biggest challenge? What works great for you? Share that in the comments.

Ilma Nausedaite

Hi, I’m Ilma, CMO at MailerLite. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win (like being named one of the top 5 fastest growing SaaS companies). Email is my passion, although I took a rather unusual path. Before MailerLite, I worked in finance and art, which turned out to be the perfect mix for marketing.