For the past decade, Hubstaff has built software that not only helps businesses manage teams and projects remotely but also optimize their performance and reach their goals.
Something a lot of people may not know about us is that we actually use our own tools every day to get our work done.
In other words, we’re using our own products to build our products.
Every time we add a feature or make an improvement, we’re doing so with one goal in mind: To create an all-in-one business management solution for productive teams, including those who are remote.
But how do we actually go about getting our work done with a fully remote team? Let me give you the insider’s view on how Hubstaff gets it done.
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The free and affordable remote tools we use
Before we get into our process, we wanted to round up all the tools we use so you know what you’ll need.
Fortunately, most of the tools we use are affordable for remote businesses or even free.
- Hubstaff for time tracking, paying team members, tracking time off, reviewing productivity and activity metrics, and more
- Hubstaff Tasks for managing projects using Agile methodology and Scrum framework (Sprints, Stand-ups, Epics)
- Google suite for working documents (Sheets, Slides, Docs)
- Slack for team communication, culture-building, and one-on-one conversations
- Invision for design mockups
- Moqups for wireframing
- Github for development
- Gmail for email
- Zendesk for customer support
- Zoom for video chats with large groups and recurring meetings
- Woopra and Google Analytics for metrics
We’ll get into each one a little more as we outline our daily process.
Remote team structure
It all starts with how you set up your business.
Hubstaff is divided into a team structure that looks a little something like this:
There’s an important reason that we break out our team in this way. This structure makes it easy to see not only who is leading which initiatives, but also who you should reach out to for help.
We’ve found that having a team structure like this keeps individuals focused on the most important work. If everyone is involved with everything, it’s just too much. Too many people trying to figure things out, too many different directions to go in, and not enough of a clear path to follow.
Teams keep us quick, nimble, and effective. We’ve had good luck with this since the beginning.
Everyone from our marketing team to customer support to dev teams know who to contact and who they are reporting to, which is critical to outline when you’re running a remote business.
I’ve worked at companies where people just had their job title but no organization or direction — it’s confusing and often a complete mess.
The other reason we rely on this structure is so that everyone knows their role. We firmly believe that everyone can take ownership when they know how their work contributes to the overall goals of our business.
This empowers our team, opens the door for more creative solutions, and leads to better results.
Getting your team set up in Hubstaff and Hubstaff Tasks
Our entire company works from Hubstaff Tasks, our own Agile project management tool. Using the org chart, we can add the right team members to each project.
We’ll get into some of the task details in the next sections.
In conjunction with Hubstaff Tasks, we manage teams in Hubstaff — which is our comprehensive time and team management platform.
There are a number of settings you can adjust on a per-user basis, which makes it easy to pay team members, manage their hours and schedules, and create client invoices.
Here’s an example of everything you can adjust when adding a new team member.
We also adjust team lead settings to give managers the tools they need, including timesheet approvals, time off request approval, scheduling, ability to edit projects, team roles, and more.
This step requires a little bit of set up when you bring on a new hire, but it saves you so much time down the road by automating processes.
All-in-one remote team management
Everything you need to run a remote business
Planning out our quarterly projects
As a business, we have large, overarching objectives that we’re all working toward.
To meet those objectives, we create quarterly project documents, also known as our project plans.
Toward the end of a quarter, we plan for the next by mapping out the projects we’ll be starting.
Team leads start to build out project specifications for each task. We do this in Google Docs since it makes it easy to collaborate and comment as a remote team.
During this process, we decide:
- Which projects to prioritize based on customer need
- We’ll often ask what’s going to have the biggest impact
- Who owns each project
- What we’re currently doing for this goal
- What the requirements and enhancements are for each one
Here’s an example of a quarterly project specifications doc with an outline:
Once we have a plan and all the project specs mapped out, we move everything into Hubstaff Tasks. Typically, we’ll have team leads do this by creating tasks and adding any followers and first-step assignees.
In Hubstaff Tasks, you’ll want to have a project board and the right team assigned so that adding tasks and assignees at this step is simple.
Customizing our workflow
Let’s take a closer look at creating tasks and projects as a remote team.
In Hubstaff Tasks, each Kanban-style project board has its own unique workflow that we modify to fit our requirements.
It’s pretty simple to set up. Each column is a step in your process.
The easiest workflow to start with is: Backlog, To Do, Doing, and Done. Here’s a variation on that format from our marketing team.
Each white rectangle is a task (which you can click into for detailed information), and they all start in the Icebox column, then get moved forward as they’re worked on.
You can automate this step so that your task moves to the next column and assigns the next person with one click.
If you already have a set process, you’ll want to create your project board to match it. Maybe every task goes through executive review. That’s a column. Or maybe you want to start each task with a research component. There’s another column.
Customize and adjust your workflow as needed. It’s how remote businesses get more done.
With our workflow set and our quarterly specifications docs created, we break down projects into detailed tasks, which team leads can then assign.
Here’s a detailed task (what you see when you click one of the rectangles on your board).
So that things don’t get lost, we’ll also link each project spec in the task description.
Now, it’s important to mention that this step should be done with care.
It’s vital that everything about the project — the timeline, due date, budget, assignees, resources, links, inspiration, art files, or literally anything else pertaining to the task — is added. If we were to, say, send off a blog task to one of our writers without giving them any info at all, they’d be extremely confused, and we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot.
To be productive, you also have to be proactive.
Here’s a good example of a detailed task.
Use Sprints for focused work
On a weekly basis, we plan out Sprints for each team. Sprints are one- to three-week durations where everyone agrees to what they’re working on in advance.
Sprints keep us focused on only the highest priority work. Nothing in or out of your current Sprint unless there’s a really good reason. Not having enough time or needing something unexpected to get done right away are not good reasons.
We plan for the next Sprint during our weekly Sprint meeting. Everyone goes over what they’re currently working on, what’s coming up, and any roadblocks that will keep them from completing their tasks.
Our marketing team works in one-week Sprints, so they meet on Thursday mornings ET to go over what’s coming up.
In Hubstaff Tasks, you can drag-and-drop tasks into different Sprints, plan up to two Sprints ahead, and click on the task to open it in full view and edit directly.
When a task is complete, it gets crossed off in your Sprint.
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Manage remote work with Sprints and Stand-ups
Wrap up the workday with Stand-ups
At the end of each day, we ask our team to submit updates using our Stand-ups feature in Hubstaff Tasks. Here’s what that looks like:
It’s easy to see what everyone worked on that day, what the plan is for tomorrow, and if there are any potential roadblocks or issues. Managers are responsible for helping to clear roadblocks.
This means that our managers don’t have to stop what they’re doing just to check in with their team members. And, it gives our team the freedom to work as they’d like, so long as they’re getting the work done.
At the end of the quarter, we host a retrospective over Zoom, where we discuss how we believe our projects went and the results we’ve seen so far.
We’ll typically let team leads handle their sections, and those with benchmark goals will be given the floor to inform the team how their quarter went.
That’s, in general, how our team manages work. But that’s only one part of the remote work puzzle.
Let’s get into how we manage our teams, their hours, and our profitability as a company.
Keeping track of work hours, productivity, and more
A question we often hear from remote business owners is, “How do you know your team is working?”
The need to make sure everyone is working on the right projects and making progress is the reason we started Hubstaff in the first place.
Our team tracks their time to the right project and task using the Hubstaff desktop, mobile, or web app. Because Hubstaff Tasks and Hubstaff are built for each other, this makes it easy to see exactly how long a project takes and how much time each person is spending on any given task.
Beyond hours, Hubstaff also gathers key productivity data for remote managers. For example, you can turn on screenshots and app and URL tracking, and get a clear picture of what’s being worked on and when.
Activity rates give you insight into efficiency high and low points based on keyboard and mouse usage. We use these to identify trends. For example, if someone is usually in the 50% range, a day at 15% might signal not enough work or another potential issue.
On the other hand, if someone is suddenly at high activity levels and projects aren’t getting completed, they might be overloaded and another person might need to step in and help.
These features are customizable on a per-user basis, which means you can use them during onboarding, forever, or not at all.
All of these data points are factored into how our remote team operates.
We can also easily run reports (there are over 17 different reports available), which leads to better estimates and better project planning in the future.
To save even more time, I like to schedule reports to be emailed to me on a regular basis. This one, for example, shows activity rates, screenshots, and hours. They’re fully customizable to what you want to see.
With time tracked so accurately, we can see hours spent on a project, task, and team member level.
This makes our invoices and budgets extraordinarily easy to create and makes paying our hard-working team extremely simple. A win-win in my book.
Another task that can take a while when you’re running a remote business is scheduling.
Our customer support team works from around the world, which is great for being available for our customers.
However, scheduling these shifts can be time-consuming.
We use Hubstaff to set one-time and recurring shifts for our team. Built-in attendance features send an alert when a shift is started late, left early, or missed completely.
Our managers can then check-in and see what’s going on. All of this information is also available in a detailed report for individuals and the team as a whole.
Paying teams easily and accurately
We pay our team weekly using Hubstaff’s payment integrations: PayPal, TransferWise, Bitwage, Gusto, and Payoneer. You can set it up however you’d like, but from what we’ve seen, weekly payments work best for us.
The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure you have set hourly or fixed rates for each person, plus a payment integration selected, and a pay period set. You can modify these in the Members page of the Hubstaff dashboard.
Once a week of work has been tracked and completed, the team member will receive an email saying they need to review their timesheet. If everything is in order, they can easily submit their timesheet with one click.
When a team lead receives a timesheet to review, they are also able to review any associated screenshots, activity rates, and URLs. These features are customizable on a per-user basis so you can use or turn off features as needed.
From there, direct managers easily approve or deny the timesheet, and payments are processed within a day or so.
Once everyone receives their payroll for the week, the amount they’re paid is imported into Xero for accounting purposes. Then, once the next week starts, we rinse and repeat.
If, for some reason, someone lives in a country where wire transfers are preferred, they create an invoice in Hubstaff based on the time they tracked for that month. We simply wire them their money manually, and I mark them as paid.
Finding areas of improvement from your own business data
By having team members track time to projects and tasks, you can learn a lot about how your remote business operates.
In Hubstaff, we can dig into reports about:
- Time and activity: Hours, activity rates, screenshots, apps and URLs used, and more
- Payments: Sent payments and amounts owed
- Budgets and limits: How much has been used and what’s left for weekly hours limits, project, and client budgets
- Time off: Balances and transactions for each team member
- Invoices: Outstanding and aging invoices for clients and team members
- Schedules: Late, abandoned, or missed shifts
- Job sites: When team members entered or left a job site
As mentioned in the payment section, you can set pay rates for each team member that can help you track costs. You can also enter separate bill rates, which is what you’ll use to invoice clients and determine profitability.
Looking at all of this, we can understand costs, budgets, how much to invoice, how to better estimate projects and timelines, and more.
Basically, we can see our profitability at a glance and make adjustments to our business as needed.
Using data and best practices to stay on track
As we go through each quarter, we keep in mind a couple key practices that keep things efficient and help to manage our teams remotely.
One of the better ways we’ve found to track progress and set goals for our team members is by tracking key performance metrics (KPIs).
We typically break them out in a Google Sheet and ask everyone on the team to submit their updated numbers weekly.
Usually, one person will have one or a few different goals that they are responsible for reporting on. This is a great way to measure progress and productivity in the team as projects move through the Sprints.
Everyone is invited to contribute to our SaaS metrics Google Sheet, which is one giant collection of data that gives a clear picture of how each team is performing.
Though we’re a fully remote team, we actually communicate more than teams I’ve experienced in a real office.
Communicating well is one of our strengths, not only from an efficiency standpoint but also in terms of company culture.
We use Slack to stay up-to-date on project progress and get in touch with one another.
We also use it to update everyone on our families, adventures we take around the world, and explaining and getting feedback on new features we’re looking to launch.
Our team shares what they’re up to outside of work hours, which helps us learn more about each other’s interests and hobbies.
Communication is also built into our project management software, Hubstaff Tasks.
Each task has comments, so it’s up to the person assigned to add their updates along the way.
Within comments, you can tag colleagues and let them know what’s needed. This also makes it easy for managers to see where each task is at. The status is in the comments, so it’s clear what’s left to do.
When you’re mentioned in a comment, you’ll get an email and in-app notification. Everyone who is a follower on the task can also see the conversation unfold, giving them a heads-up for what’s coming next.
As mentioned above, we use the Stand-ups feature to keep teams informed, as well. A quick recap of the day and what will be worked on tomorrow gives managers an easy way to stay on top of projects without having to stop what they’re doing just to ask.
Our remote meeting style
We thoroughly believe that there is such a thing as “too many meetings.” Read more about remote meeting best practices here.
That’s why we try to limit the number of meetings that we have on a daily and weekly basis.
Here’s a quick rundown on the types of meetings we conduct.
Quarterly project planning
As we are planning the upcoming quarter, we have meetings with each team at Hubstaff to establish our roadmaps.
Each team — leadership, development (client and server-side), product, Hubstaff Tasks, success, marketing, and support — will chat about the planned projects with the leadership, and we’ll talk about which we believe are the highest priority and which tasks we expect to take the most time.
The only other meeting we have with these teams, not counting our Sprints calls, is our quarterly retrospective.
Weekly Sprint meetings
Once a week, each team will have a Sprint meeting where each individual member of the group, lead by a manager, will go through their projects for the week.
Sprint planning meetings are an excellent way for us to go over timelines and for people to ask questions to the rest of the team.
Each team member will go over their overarching projects and goals for their current and next Sprint. We also ask them to cover one or two focus items for the next week.
Managers at Hubstaff will have scheduled one-on-one meetings with each member of the team. These meetings happen weekly or bi-weekly. During this time, managers will catch up with their team members to see how their tasks are going.
The key to these meetings is to see how the team is handling workloads. If they are overworked or stressed, their direct manager can reallocate tasks while making sure everything is getting done by the end of the quarter.
The numbers meetings
Another meeting that we always have is the numbers meeting.
These will happen once a month, and we’ll discuss the team’s KPIs and progress with tasks.
Leadership can’t always be a part of Sprint meetings, so this is typically the best way for them to stay up-to-date with how we’re tracking.
We’ll go over what goals we’re tracking toward and make any recommendations or adjustments that need to happen.
The leadership meeting
This one is pretty standard for most companies but is crucial for remote teams.
The leadership meeting is, obviously, with the leadership of Hubstaff, and we’ll go over the big picture items for the company.
If any ideas or thoughts come out of these meetings, we’ll relay them to the team managers to consider for future quarters.
The key to remote success
There are numerous companies like ours that are entirely remote.
Though we are not the only ones, we do believe that we get one thing very right: We plan and communicate well.
Because you lack a physical office to actually interact with your team, being able to communicate appropriately goes a long way to running a successful remote business.
Hubstaff isn’t a perfect company (no company is), but we do believe that when it comes to remote work and remote tools, we know what we’re talking about. Which is exactly why we developed Hubstaff in the first place — to make remote work easy, streamlined, and productive.