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6 Tools that Screenleap’s Distributed Team Uses to Stay Connected and Productive

At Screenleap, we have a distributed team that is spread across three continents (North America, Europe, and Asia). While we love the benefits of working in a distributed team, it isn’t without its challenges—the biggest of which is being able to communicate effectively. In an office, it’s really easy to walk over to team members to ask questions and get everyone together for discussions. It is more challenging to do the same, however, when your team members are spread around the world across different time zones.

We have come to rely on a number of online tools to help us overcome the challenges of working in a distributed team. Below we highlight our favorite tools that help us to stay connected and productive.

SlackOur Virtual Office

Slack is our virtual office. We use Slack to have discussions, brainstorm ideas, share files, and keep everyone on the same page.

You can organize your discussions in Slack using channels. Messages posted to a channel are viewable and searchable by all channel members. In addition to the public channels that you can create, each team member also has a personal channel that can be used for private one-on-one conversations.

Screenleap Slack Channels Time Zone Friendly

What we love about Slack is that is has all its little touches that help a distributed team to be more productive. We work in different time zones so it’s important to keep track of everyone’s time zone, and this is where Slack helps. Slack automatically shows you the local time for each of your team members so you don’t have to manually calculate it yourself. This makes it really easy to figure out if team members are likely to be available when they are not currently online on Slack.

Screenleap Communication Slack - Time zones

Integrations

Slack supports a large number of integrations. Some integrations allow you to pull in updates from the other tools that you use. We use Slack’s integrations to pull the following information from our other tools:

  • Task updates from Trello (our project management tool)
  • Mentions and updates from Twitter
  • Issues and comments from GitHub (our code repository)

Other Slack integrations allow you to add additional functionality. For example, Appear.in allows you to start video chats from Slack. We will be adding a Screenleap integration soon that will allow you to start screen shares directly from Slack. Stay tuned for more details!

Screenleap – Hassle-Free Screen Sharing

Screenleap is a screen-sharing tool that we built. We use it internally to streamline the onboarding of new team members, explain complex ideas (such as reproduction of steps for bugs), and demo features for our users.

We find Screenleap to be invaluable when onboarding new team members remotely. It is much easier to teach a team member how to use a new tool by sharing your screen with them and giving them a quick demo than by trying to explain it to them over the phone or using chat.

A lot of times text chats and even video calls become ineffective when explaining something complex, such as the steps for reproducing a bug. Screenleap is our go-to tool in such scenarios. Explaining complex processes becomes easy when you can see someone’s screen so you can guide them step-by-step through it.

Screen Sharing using Screenleap

The biggest advantage of using Screenleap is that your viewers do not have to install anything in order to view your screen. They just have to paste the share code or the link that you send to them, and they can see your screen.

Trello – Task and Project Management

Trello is a simple yet a powerful tool that we use to manage our projects. Trello allows you to organize your tasks into boards and lists. You can set up different boards for each department and create private boards for tracking your own tasks. 

Like other project management tools, Trello allows you to add standard information to your tasks, such as team members, due dates, checklists, and attachments.

How Screenleap's distributed team uses Trello

Its polished and responsive drag-and-drop interface is what sets Trello apart from the other project management tools. The interface makes it easy to create workflows and manage tasks that need to go through multiple stages (such as hiring or fundraising). With Trello, updating a task doesn’t seem like a chore.

Google Docs – Document Collaboration

We use Google Docs when we need to collaborate on writing anything, from blog articles to contracts. Google Docs allows you to easily invite other people to view your documents, provide feedback, and even make changes directly to them.

Screenleap--Google DocsYou can check who made which changes and keep track of all the changes. You can even revert to a previous version if you need to.

Streak – CRM and Support

Streak is a CRM tool built on top of Gmail. While Streak is marketed as a CRM tool, you can use it for a bunch of other things as well. We use Streak to provide better support, to manage our hiring pipeline, to schedule demos, and to track potential customers.

Streak has a feature called snippets that we use extensively when we’re providing support. Snippets are email templates that can be inserted into emails. We create snippets for our most common support questions and are religious about creating new snippets when we encounter a support question that we have not seen before and refining existing ones to make them clearer.

Screenleap--Usage of Streak for CRM

We use Streak’s pipeline feature to manage our hiring. The nice thing about using Streak is that it organizes all our discussions with a candidate together so that all relevant information about a candidate is easily accessible (including email, resumes, and comments). Candidates in our hiring pipeline start out at the “Resume” stage and progress through other stages that include “Scheduling Calls”, “Interview”, “Hired”, “Passed”, and “Lost”.

We use Streak’s API to integrate our sign-up system with Gmail. If you request a demo when signing up for a Screenleap account, Streak will automatically create a box for you in our “Demo Requests” pipeline in our Gmail support inbox. Your name will show up at the top of our support box until after we have contacted you and changed your stage to “Contacted”.

Streak does too many other things to list completely. Needless to say, we are pretty big fans!

Dropbox – File Sharing

We use Dropbox to store our company documents. It synchronizes all the files in our shared folder across all of our computers. Dropbox ensures that we always have access to the latest files no matter what computer we are on. Dropbox also removes the problem of forgetting to copy the document you are working on from your work computer to your home computer and not being able to work on the document because of it.

You can add team members, share folders and files with team members, or create a simple link to share a particular file or folder for collaboration.

dropbox_file_sharing
What are your must-have tools?

Having the right online tools is essential to collaborating effectively with a distributed team. They help us to communicate, stay organized, and move the company forward.  I hope this post has given you some insights into the various communication and collaboration tools that we use with our team. We would love to hear more about what tools you find to be most useful for your team.

Share your favorites in the comments!

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6 Tips for Working Remotely That I Wish I Knew When I Started

It has been almost a year since I started working remotely. I started out as a freelancer and currently work at Screenleap, which has a mostly distributed team.

Before I jumped into remote work, I had no idea what it would be like. I just dove in and started doing it full time. Unfortunately, reality hit me in less than a month: the transition from working in an office to working remotely wasn’t as smooth as I expected. Some aspects of remote working that I was really excited about (like not having to commute to the office and being able to choose when I worked) made me feel good, but the unexpected negatives were wearing on me.

I found that I was less productive working remotely than when I was in the office. This is despite the fact that I was saving time from not having to commute. I’d often procrastinate and get distracted. When a deadline approached, I would rush to get the work done. Not only did the quantity of work that I produced decrease, but the quality suffered as well.

I wasn’t going in the right direction, and I was frustrated. I took a break from my work and tried to figure out if there were things that I could be doing to be more productive working remotely. I went through how successful remote workers from companies like Buffer, Automattic, GitHub, and Basecamp work. I noticed common practices that successful remote workers shared and I started working them into my own practice.

Below are six tips about remote working that I learned and wished that I had known when I was getting started. Maybe you can relate to some of them?

Test the waters and build up the necessary skills before committing full time

When you’re working remotely, you’re your own boss.

Even though you’ll still have someone that you report to, you are ultimately responsible for getting the work done and in a timely manner. There is no one around to make sure that you are working or to check that you are on track.

If you need someone to watch over you or to push you to get your work done, you should probably test the waters with a few projects before committing to it full time. Starting with a few projects will also allow you time to learn how to pick up the necessary skills to work effectively remotely and to adapt to your new work environment.

As our CEO Tuyen aptly puts it:

“Working remotely is a skill that, like every other skill, takes practice and time to learn to do effectively.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Create a dedicated workspace

I used to work from everywhere around the house. This went well for first couple of weeks. But soon I noticed its disadvantages:

  • I often write notes and other important things either in my notebook, on stickies, and on whatever I find lying around the house. As a result, I frequently lost track of important notes as they were distributed all over the place.
  • I had hard time handling the distractions that came from other people in the house. It wasn’t their fault though. I didn’t specifically set boundaries and let them know when I was working and when I wasn’t.

I learned that it is really important to create a dedicated space to be used exclusively for your work. The aim is to

  1. keep your work and personal stuff separate
  2. let others (spouse, kids, parents, pets…) know that you’re working so that you aren’t disturbed.

Stick to a schedule

Belle Beth Cooper, a longtime remote worker, explains neatly about creating schedules for remote work. She writes:

What time do you work best?

Depending on your natural body clock, you may work well at 2am, 6pm, or 9am. You might have a natural dip in energy in the early afternoon (many of us do), or you might find your energy tanks after dinner (mine does).

Everyone’s body clock is different, but most of us fall into one of three categories, known as chronotypes:

Morning larks: Also known as early birds, these people prefer to get up early and go to bed early. New Scientist reports about 10% of people fit into this category.

Night owls: At the other extreme, these people like to sleep in and go to bed late, usually after midnight. Around 20% of us are night owls.

In-between: The rest of us (the vast majority) fit somewhere in-between these two ends of the spectrum.

I’ve found that when I work in 2 hours slots (i.e. 11am-1pm, 2pm-4pm, 6pm-8pm, and 9pm-11pm), I can manage my energy better and I’m more productive. I do my creative work during the slots when I have the most energy.

Experiment and choose the time of the day when you tend to have the most energy (according to your body clock) to maximise your productivity. This might not be feasible depending upon the type of remote work that you are doing, but it has a lot of advantages if your work allows for it.

Take regular breaks

Breaks are really important. By working continuously without any breaks, you’ll start to lose focus and become unproductive. This is especially true when you’re working alone—scheduling breaks in advance can help you a lot.

Decide on lunch time. Take breaks for coffee or for any other small activity like walking the dog. It’s important to step out of the work once in a while.

Design your schedule in such a way that you can work when you’re most energetic and take breaks during your low energy periods.

Learn to communicate effectively using written communication

Since most communication in a remote team happens via text (emails, chat, etc.), it is important to learn how to communicate effectively using written communication. There’s a balance between saying too much and not saying enough.

I used to write things that weren’t necessary because I thought that the extra info might help my clients or coworkers to understand things better. I also used to write things in an ambiguously clever way in failed attempts to make conversations more interesting. But when I started getting replies like “From what I understand, I think you’re trying to say ….” and “Oh, you meant to say… Is that so?” more often, I understood that it wasn’t a good practice. I started applying what I learned about writing content (which by the way, I’m still learning) to my communication with my team:

  • Be clear: Clarity is essential and key to effective communication. Leave no room for ambiguity in your writing. Reiterate what others ask you to do to you to make sure that you understand correctly. Ask clearly what you need from others.
  • Use numbered lists when you are discussing more than one thing at a time. It will be less cluttered, easier to understand, and easier for the other person to reference when responding.

For example, here is a small conversation we recently had on Slack:

Written Communication at Screenleap

Works well, right?

  • Sometimes it’s not easy to explain something using text. It can be helpful to elaborate using screenshots. Or better yet, jump on a quick screen share when you need to explain something. We use Screenleap a lot for this.

Find social outlets to prevent loneliness

Isolation is inevitable part of working remotely. Feeling isolated is not.

Even people who aren’t social need to be around others every so often. To combat loneliness, you can:

  • Join a coworking space.
  • Work from coffee shops.
  • Chat with your coworkers more often. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about work. Most of the remote companies have rooms in Slack or HipChat for water cooler/general conversations. Use them.

Over to you

What advice do you wish you had heard when you first started working remotely?

I’d love to hear your experience and what you’ve found helpful along the way. Please share them in the comments. 🙂

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5 Powerful Questions to Ask During Sales Calls

As a salesperson, you are expected to deliver revenue for your company. In order to do this, you need to focus your limited time on the prospects that are the most likely to buy what you are selling.

The sales call is your best opportunity to figure out which of your prospects are the most likely to buy. Before you spend a lot of time showing your prospects how great your solution is, you need to figure out 4 things about them:

  • Do your prospects have a need for what you are selling?
  • Can they afford to buy it?
  • Are you speaking to the right person?
  • When do they plan to buy?

Below are 5 powerful questions you should ask during your sales calls to get the answers to the above questions, so you can focus your limited time on the ones that are most likely to convert.

1. What specific problems are you trying to solve using our product?

The purpose of this question to help you understand your prospect’s pain points so you can figure out how closely they align with the pain points addressed by your solution. The key to this question is to listen carefully and allow your prospects to do most of the talking.

You will also want to ask follow-up questions to try to determine how important a problem is for your prospects. If you are launching a new solution, you will want to focus your initial sales effort on prospects that view the problems addressed by your solution as critical to their success. These are the prospects that are more likely to take a risk and buy from less-established companies.

2. This problem that we talking about solving for you: how are you doing it today?

Once you know your prospect’s pain points, you will want to know if there are any steps that your prospects have already taken to try to solve the problem.

Are they trying to address the problem with an internal solution? Are they currently using a solution from another company? Why aren’t their current solutions working for them?

Understanding how they are trying to solve their problems today will allow you to see what you are up against and help you to position your solution.

After you’ve uncovered your prospect’s needs and pain points, AND established that your solution is a good fit, you can ask the next question, which will help you to further determine how likely they are to buy.

3. Do you have a budget?

Asking this question is a quick way to figure out how ready your prospect is to make a purchase. It will also help you to determine whether your prospects will be a good fit for your solution. If you are selling an expensive solution and your prospects are not able to afford the solution or are not willing to pay the amount you are charging, then it is pointless to further engage with the prospect at this time. Your time is better spent on prospects that are more ready to make a purchase.

If your prospects don’t know what their budget is yet, it could mean that their pain points are not enough of a problem for them to be seriously looking for a solution. You can share your pricing with them to gauge their interest and to see if it’s something they are willing to pay.

4. Besides yourself, who else is involved in the purchasing decision?

Who are the key influencers you need to get in touch with and involve in the sales process? Are they the CEO, the CFO, the CMO, the VP Sales, or the IT department? Is the prospect one of them?

If you are not selling to the decision makers, it won’t matter how much the people you are talking to like your solution—it will be very difficult to close the sale.

You will need to eventually involve the decision makers so you might as well figure out who they are and get them involved in the discussions as early in the process as possible. This will not only help you to sell more, but it will also help to shorten your sales cycle.

5. Can you tell me the process you have previously used to bring aboard a vendor like us?

Even after you have determined that your prospects have a need for your solution and are ready to buy, you may not be done yet. You may still need to navigate the purchasing process in order to complete the sale.

An important part of the sales process is figuring out who the stakeholders are and what steps are needed to complete the purchase. This is especially true for larger companies where multiple stakeholders may need to sign off on a deal before a purchase can be made. Your prospects can guide you through the purchasing process if you allow them.

By asking this question, you can figure out whether your prospect has successfully navigated the purchasing process before and what the actual process is. Are there people that can block a deal that you need to identify early on and manage? You will be able to use their answers to create a roadmap that will maximise your chances of completing the purchase.

Asking the right questions will help you sell more by allowing you to focus your most limited resource (your time) on the prospects that have the greatest need for your solution, have a budget to buy what you are selling, have the authority to make the purchase decision, and have a timeframe for making the purchase.

Over To You

We would love to learn from you: what effective sales questions do you use during your sales calls? Let us know in comments. 🙂

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