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Tango's Remote Playbook

Tango's Remote Playbook

Did you start your company in the middle of a global pandemic? So did we.  Here’s how we built a thriving remote team of 20 in a matter of months. 

It’s no secret: starting a company is hard. When we incorporated Tango in June of 2020, we were met with skepticism: starting a company remotely will be near impossible. Founders, investors, and candidates valued the fluid communication and camaraderie associated with co-location. And so did we. Prior to the pandemic, it was all we knew. We mentally prepared for an uphill climb carrying cinder blocks in a rainstorm.

We quickly found inspiration in GitLab’s Remote Manifesto, which details how remote work can be a competitive advantage when embraced fully. Today, GitLab is the first fully remote company to go public. We soaked up their approach to onboarding, collaboration, and core values while adding a Tango twist.

Through the lens of the employee experience, I wanted to share Tango’s Remote Playbook with the Product Hunt community. Below, you’ll find tools, tips, and tricks that can make your company a great place to work. Even if that “place” is 20 different addresses across nine states 🤯


Onboarding

An employee’s first few weeks are critical to providing context, building relationships, and setting expectations. Our team members complete the following during their first week:

  1. Bios and user manuals. New hires select their spirit animal and answer fun questions (i.e. Where would you go in a zombie apocalypse?) during our weekly All Hands. On a more practical note, they also define how they prefer to receive feedback and where they need support (e.g. organization, articulating thoughts). 
  2. Dogfooding. Everyone starts by providing 10 pieces of feedback on the current product. Not only does this give us a fresh perspective, it’s an easy way to communicate what’s in progress and who owns which parts of the product.

There are a few tools that help us execute on a great onboarding experience:

  1. Rippling handles our documents, device management, and payroll. Their PEO-model allows us to seamlessly integrate new states into our payroll run.
  2. Macro provides a handy checklist for new hires to complete tasks and give visibility to their manager as they make progress.

Collaboration

Having a remote team necessitates a higher bar for communication. Since you can’t easily tap someone on the shoulder, we’ve designed frameworks for how we share information and work together:

  1. Slack norms. Our favorites include “Thread, don’t spread” and “Provide context.” These principles provide guardrails on what otherwise becomes an unwieldy product.
  2. Hackathon. We dedicate three-day sprints to exploring unplanned, unique ideas for the product. This gives us a chance to pick our heads up and get creative. 

Communication takes many forms. We’ve complemented standard written communication and Zoom meetings with:

  1. Tango allows us to answer how-to questions quickly and outline new releases of the product. Bonus: it makes for exceptional dogfooding. 
  2. Slack huddles reduce Zoom fatigue and are an easy alternative to struggling through a misinterpreted, written back-and-forth. 

Alignment

We’ve continued to get closer to single sources of truth for goals, metrics, and upcoming milestones. Two channels have proven particularly effective at reinforcing where we’re heading and why:

  1. All Hands. This weekly, full-team gathering provides the best medium to talk through goals, customer feedback, and key issues we need to solve. We also like to make it fun (see more below).
  2. Launch runbooks. Tactically, we use runbooks as checklists that dictate what we are and are not doing ahead of a major milestone. These are sacred documents that keep everyone on the same page. 

Trusted systems enable creative conversations about goals and milestones. At Tango, we rely on these tools to be the infrastructure for our goal-setting: 

  1. Posthog is our event-tracking and feature flag tool that gives us real-time feedback on user activity. We strategize user feedback efforts by segmenting customer journeys. 
  2. Coda templates help us run our sprint retrospectives so that every team member has a voice and we arrive at a clear understanding of what was achieved.

Accountability

Several elements of our operating cadence (read: process) are focused on measuring progress and identifying our shortcomings. This allows us to make adjustments and ensure we’re working on the most important things. If alignment is the lighthouse, accountability is the tugboat.

  1. SOWs. Start of Weeks, or SOWs, are individually submitted updates that highlight achievements, upcoming priorities, blockers, and kudos. 
  2. Culture survey. Our semi-annual survey helps team leads identify improvement areas and facilitates open conversation so we can continue to do our best work. 

It’s a priority for us that accountability feels lightweight and authentic. We’ve adopted these tools primarily due to their ease of use: 

  1. Linear is the fastest, most intuitive way for our engineering team to stay in the loop on progress and new issues. Hate JIRA? Try Linear. 
  2. Typeform has two use cases at Tango: (1) surveying new and existing users and (2) sourcing updates from the team (SOWs, Culture survey) to populate in a Slack channel.

Recognition

Outside of semi-annual performance reviews, we create informal opportunities for team members to recognize their peers. Showing gratitude is a key part of our core values:

  1. Mango snacks. We allow team members to give unlimited Mango-centric gifts (hot sauce, beverages, fruit) to support their peers. Melissa’s Produce is the best!
  2. Core value spotlights. During All Hands, we open the floor for team members to call out awesome displays of our core values in the past week. 

Providing perks to team members to celebrate quick-wins or major milestones is hard without an office. These services have tailored their product and distribution to remote teams: 

  1. Snackpass gives teams the ability to ship snacks that are typically found in an office. The best part? Every employee gets to pick out their favorite snacks. 
  2. Swagup provides design, production, shipping, and storage services for bulk swag orders. Swagup makes sure you love your designs and never have to think about logistics.

Team Building

Our first culture survey in February of 2020 highlighted we had plenty of room to improve how close our team members felt to each other. Since then, we’ve emphasized team cohesiveness through:

  1. Hot seat. Every week during All Hands, one team member sits in the Tango Hot Seat and answers three random questions. This forum is an opportunity to continue to learn about each other. 
  2. Team offsite. In August 2021, we began holding regular team offsites to new cities. We kicked off in Denver, where we hiked, ate, and made big plans for the product. 


Virtual events are tough replacements for in-person gatherings like our offsite. But, these services come pretty darn close to creating an authentic, meaningful virtual experience: 

  1. BarNone Games offers hosted, virtual trivia for teams of any size. We thrive on healthy competition!
  2. Airbnb Experiences complements the competitive nature of our team with unique events like painting classes or knife skills training. Thankfully, we still have all our fingers. 


Needless to say, our playbook is a work-in-progress. We’d love to hear what helps your remote team succeed!

November 11, 2021
Ken Babcock
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