ShipHero is a complete, cloud-based solution that provides eCommerce businesses with all the tools necessary to manage inventory, ship orders, and oversee warehouse operations.
Recently, we had the chance to interview Nicholas Daniel-Richards, the co-founder of ShipHero. We asked Nicholas to give us an insight into how ShipHero uses technology to keep their remote team happy and productive.
Q: Could you start by telling us more about ShipHero and what it does? Where are the team members located?
Nicholas: ShipHero is a cloud-based SaaS company. We provide the tools that enable eCommerce businesses to manage their inventory and products, process and ship customers’ orders, and run their own warehouses.
Our company is headquartered in New York, with another location in Argentina. We’re in the process of setting up an Australian office too!
Q: What challenges do you face when working with your remote team?
Nicholas: From a practical perspective, challenges are caused by time zone differences. However, the biggest challenge is building a cohesive culture across offices. We don’t approach remote team members as resources. We expect everyone to understand, participate, and collaborate with each other just like they would in a single office. Video conferencing alone doesn’t solve that.
Q: What is the role of technology in managing remote tech talent these days?
Nicholas: We use tech to enable direct communication and collaboration, exchange ideas, track ongoing tasks and priorities, and share what we’re learning and what we’re passionate about.
Q: What tools do you use for daily check-ins and what goals do they help you achieve?
Nicholas: For the daily standup, we mostly use video conferencing. All the discussions about our daily backlog of tasks and issues are kept in Jira. We also use Trello to track events and, finally, Slack — mainly for Giphy posts.
Our live chat support team is distributed across the US and Argentina. This team uses Slack for internal communication, Jira for internal tasks, and Intercom for live chat. The entire team works within one Google Hangouts room, which creates the feeling of everyone working in the same office.
Q: What other tools does your remote team use on a daily basis? How do they help improve team productivity?
Nicholas: The team uses Slack, and we’ve just started using Twist as well to try and manage the noise. We also use InVision for designs and prototypes, and Google Drive for file sharing. Google Hangouts is another important tool: people can hang out in rooms with video, which helps bring people closer together. Finally, we use Screenhero to share computer screens between developers for code reviews and pair programming sessions.
Q: What practices does the team follow to tackle the challenge of not being co-located?
Nicholas: It’s not feasible to document everything extensively when sharing information across locations, so we rely on the screen sharing and the good old talking. Google Docs are great for co-writing documentation and guidelines we provide to our customers. We’re also experimenting with room streams — just to create an extra opportunity for impromptu conversations to happen.
Q: We know that at ShipHero, you have the practice of switching locations every 90 days? Could you tell us more about it?
Nicholas: We have culture ambassadors. These are voted members of the team (picked by their colleagues) who spend time in different locations. We do this once a quarter — we’re a startup, after all, and the budget is tight. This practice has been a fundamental part of our team culture because it helps to build relationships and trust like nothing else. It breaks down the cultural differences between our countries. It also helps to make everyone feel like they have equal skin in the game. Just because you’re not in the home office doesn’t mean you’re not as important or have any less impact.
Q: What other practices do you use to help the team get to know each other better?
Nicholas: We run Lunch and Learns once a month. We have food delivered locally in each office, or someone goes out and picks it up. Then we all sit around our office TVs and cameras and share a lunch. Discussion topics range from how we’re building our product and what feedback we’ve received from customers to our favorite movies and TV shows.
It’s critical for teams to share what’s happening in their own worlds with the other teams, and this exercise is great for doing that. It also helps to build empathy and respect for the colleagues’ work and thinking processes.
There’s one more thing that we do. Each day, we all end our daily standup by shouting 3-2-1, and then the word of the day along with a clap. It can be quite embarrassing and awkward — especially when I force people to say made up words. My favorite is still “flyable-witty-dooble-wassle.”
Q: How do you maintain culture and team spirit across different teams? How does technology help you with this?
Nicholas: Culture and team morale can be affected by a couple of things. As a software company, we’re constantly pushing to improve our product. Sometimes we deal with a missed deadline, which is tough as we try and run a tight ship. Focus is also a big challenge. At times, we’re bombarded with dozens of tasks, and it can seem overwhelming.
What keeps us running when we’re stressed is being able to express frustration in a good way. Giphy integration with Slack works wonders for that.
We’re also testing out Ember Mugs. Keeping people’s teas and coffees warm is a nice touch :)
Q: Are team building activities and tools that you use documented in any way?
Nicholas: We have very minimal documentation on the tools and practices for a couple of reasons.
First, we’re constantly tweaking. Second, we want people to ask questions and learn the rules from others. During onboarding, new team members spend their first few weeks working in close collaboration with other team members. Documentation is available as “living” documentation for specific roles (software development, customer support, etc). Any team member can add notes and suggest revisions.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to a company leader who is considering working with a remote team, but hesitates because they think that remote teams are less effective.
Nicholas: The same rules you’d use for an office full of people should apply to your remote team. Communication. Accountability. Clarity of roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Practically speaking, time differences can make it more challenging — which is why we’ve chosen to stick with Argentina as our remote location due to cost management and minimal time difference. Last but not least, focus on making sure your remote team feel as valued and important as your local team — be very mindful of this.
Stay tuned for upcoming interviews.