If you’re one of the thousands of teams being forced to work remotely for the first time, and you’re struggling to keep communication flowing, this article’s for you.  PREVIEW: we’ll hopefully get you to a pipeline review process that’s 100x better than what you did in person!

When our company decided to go remote 5 years ago, we had no idea what we were in for.

I had just moved out to Silicon Valley to work with a VP Sales who had deep knowledge in how to take our product to market.   I’d spent the previous two years in a tiny office with a small team that I’d gotten to know incredibly well; working together felt like magic and while we were nervous about remote work, it felt like this team could handle the transition better than just about anyone else.

Once the dust of the move had settled, it didn’t take long for the first cracks to appear.

When something urgent came up, a teammate would tell me on Slack that they were on it, and then felt like…. crickets.  Suddenly, I was getting bombarded with requests via email; every time I responded, they just wrote back with another question.  We were spending more time in meetings catching up and less time doing things.  And on, and on, and on.

It took us about 2 months to diagnose the problem and almost a year to fix it, doing dozens of small iterations until we figured out the equation (which we are now happy to share with you :)

Our path to success was composed of six core activities that we kept iterating over and over again:

    1. Understand how each person on your team works (Calendars).  Everyone is different.  Some people work late.  Some people need intense/deep focus time.  Some people need to take a walk mid-day.  Blocking off calendar time for each of these activities will help everyone understand when they can come to you for help.
    2. Identify the dependencies (Process).  It’s one thing to say ‘I need this from you’.  It’s totally different to say ‘I can’t do my job without this’.  Understanding how your work impacts others drives better prioritization, better collaboration and just more ‘get sh*t done’ attitudes across the team.   It also helps people answer ‘What’s in it For Me’ in the best possible way.  For example, telling a sales rep you need their notes in order to coach them will ensure that it’s top of mind.
    3. Build a culture of reporting (Document).   In the office, you can get away with major knowledge gaps just by walking over and tapping someone on the shoulder.  That doesn’t work with remote, where there’s a fix cost to getting someone’s attention and starting a Zoom session.  The way we thought about this was simple math; every interruption will cost you about 15 minutes (5 minutes of work and 10 minutes of regaining focus).  4 interruptions = 1 hour.  The average daily pipeline/note-taking/documentation activity was no more than 30 minutes.  So it seemed extremely logical to say “there should be a place where others can go and see my work progress and get just enough information that they shouldn’t have to ask me”.  This gave us serious relief because the answer to every question was – “go look at the board/pipeline/etc”
    4. Develop SLAs (Process).  Define what are ‘urgent’ vs. ‘important’ questions.  Many questions require an answer within 24 hours, and many can be batched and handled at once.  Very few questions demand an answer right there and then.
    5. Identify the right questions (Process).  The difference between a CRM field name called ‘next step’ and ‘what do you need to get this person to do to progress the deal and how are you going to do it’ is essentially night and day.  If you don’t like the answer, don’t tell the person they need to do better, revise the question.  Great questions get great answers every time.
    6. Limit the 1:1’s (Communicate).  In a small team, the chances are that any one problem or solution between two people will have downstream effects on others.  We spent a ton of time optimizing relationships 1:1 instead of thinking about the bigger picture and how we can build a system that worked for everyone.

By walking through these steps, we came up with a pipeline review process that we’ve come to absolutely love, which reduces micromanagement and increases the amount of pipeline review/coaching you can do by about 3x in the same period of time.

Here’s a video on how it works.

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