Our approach helped the team avoid common remote work pitfalls
People use Dashlane for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the unifying factor for all Dashlane customers is knowing the importance of online security.
For many users, their interest in security online doesn’t stop at their own devices and passwords —they want to extend the security they have with Dashlane to their families and friends. This is why we built the Family Plan: a bundle of six Dashlane Premium accounts under one subscription, so users can help keep themselves and all their loved ones secure while browsing, shopping, working and learning online.
In this article we will share our experience building the Dashlane Family Plan. We’ll discuss some challenges we faced as well as strategies and tactics that we found helpful in building team cohesion given the added difficulties of the quarantine and remote work.
According to Tuckman’s stages of group development, communication is even more critical than usual during the initial “forming” stage of a team. In this stage, team members are orienting themselves to the tasks at hand and to each other.
In order to set the groundwork for open communication, it is critical to create an atmosphere where all ideas, challenges and thoughts are encouraged. This is about building trust so people feel comfortable being open and honest. There are five important tactics we found helpful in cultivating this atmosphere.
- Experiment – New ideas should be seriously considered and tried out. There’s no damage done if the experiment does not work. For example, in one of our meetings an idea came up to improve the usability of Family Plan. The idea was to enable the Family Admin to more easily invite new users into the Family Plan by sharing a public link (rather than sending an email to specific people). We decided to take the idea seriously and do a technical spike (investigation) to test its feasibility and market fit. Not only did we discover this was indeed an improvement to the customer experience; it also reduced the complexity of the implementation. This win was possible because our team chose to listen and act on new ideas.
- Set pragmatic goals – Challenging but achievable goal setting can go a long way in developing rapport amongst team members. This is because goals are essentially a contract between team members. When contracts are broken (by unobtainable goals) this can tend to lower the overall trust of the group. On the other hand, goals that are too easy don’t challenge the team. Overcoming real challenges is an important part of relationship building in a team.
While building the Family Plan we experienced the difficulty of unachievable, ambitious goals. Our team originally planned to launch in April, but since the team was not yet fully formed this was unrealistic, and so we revised our plans and came up with a more achievable goal, while still being somewhat ambitious. With the adjustment our team felt more empowered, which was reflected positively in the energy and communication within the team.
- Encourage transparency – The leaders of the team must set an example by being up front and transparent with the team. This means that whenever a product decision is made to prioritize one aspect of the plan over another, the team gets an explanation. When roadmaps are shared outside the team, it’s done only after the internal team members have signed off on the plan and have bought in.
- Communicate continuously – Communication does not stop when the meeting ends. Small things like commenting on JIRA tickets, engaging in Slack (chat) conversations about active work, and keeping up to date documentation on Confluence were especially important for us. Sometimes things were shared multiple times. We found out it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate, so everyone stays on the same page.
- Do more planning up-front – One way that remote work is harder than in-person work is the feeling that everyone is on a different page. Without regular, continuous communication, people can fall into the trap of making assumptions, which can be costly and require rework of designs or code. What we found on our team is that it is much better to spend the time up-front in a meeting to reach consensus instead of finding out later and having to rework an existing solution. In practice, this meant that as a group we spent more time in Refinement and Planning meetings to root out any incorrect assumptions which could slow down the engineering process. We promoted things like early stage architectural discussions, shared decision pages and engineering discussions at the white board to openly explore possible solutions. With these habits in place before the COVID quarantine, the seeds for early planning and open architectural discussions were already in place.
Find your Own Workflow
While working together remotely for six months, six new contributors joined the team at different times. We found that the addition of each new member invariably disrupted our flow, since we needed to provide onboarding and orientation to the team’s ongoing activities, like our regular Planning and Refinement meetings, JIRA workflow, and testing process. It can be easy to resent disruptions to a comfortable process. However, in time the disruptions and subsequent adjustments became our greatest strength as a team, because we constantly refined and improved our shared processes. Regardless of the adjustments made, the team first aligned on our interest in using Scrum best practices, which guided our process and provided a helpful framework for making decisions about what to change and what to keep the same.
For example, in the beginning, the creation of a simple JIRA task sufficed for the whole team of three to be aligned, but once additional members joined, this approach was not flexible enough to track the various dependencies of the team. As the team grew into a cross-platform effort involving both front and backend engineers, our stories matured to be more business-driven, which we called the “umbrella” user stories. Beneath that “umbrella” story, all the design, copy, backend and frontend sub-tasks were built and discussed.
Our workflow also evolved to include two Refinement stages. First, a product stage where we defined the high-level business deliverables. Second, a technical stage to help us add detailed the specifics of the task, identify constraints and create the sub-tasks needed.
The team had regular bi-weekly Review meetings where we would share our accomplishments with stakeholders and others in the company. Since COVID made it harder to attend all the meetings we used to, we decided to record our Reviews. In this way people could still keep up with our progress, but do it asynchronously.
At first, these workflow disruptions felt uncomfortable, but we soon had a much more robust workflow that helped keep the team aligned and working effectively together.
Communicating Across Time Zones
Setting up a new team required us to effectively collaborate with the full eco-system of stakeholders. This includes teams involved in marketing, user support, data analytics, Customer Relationships Management (CRM) and Product Research. Fostering these relationships is critical for any team within a larger company. For the Family Plan team, we had to navigate access to different contributors across both remote work and distributed work scenarios, since Dashlane operates in three timezones.
For example, the office in Lisbon is one of Dashlane’s largest User Support hubs. The Family Plan team was also located in Lisbon. This provided us with a great opportunity to interface with those interacting most closely with Dashlane customers. This relationship enabled us to have a quick feedback loop as features were released. If customers report a production issue, User Support is the team that can provide the information necessary to reproduce, investigate and fix it. Having User Support agents attend our Sprint reviews, participate in brainstorming and exchanging regular feedback helped us ensure a higher level of quality for the plan and reduce the turnaround time for critical fixes.
On the other hand, interfacing with teams in a different time zone presents a unique challenge. For example, Dashlane’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) team is based in New York. At Dashlane, CRM is responsible for generating customer facing email templates. Since the overlap of working hours is reduced (Lisbon and New York share about four working hours every day), the strategy here required our team members make ourselves available in that shared window of time so we could progress on our shared goals quickly.
The experience with these two teams taught us a valuable lesson. That is, to adjust the communication considering the context and to take full advantage of the resources that are readily available. Generally speaking, a clear understanding of the eco-system helped our team to make accurate estimations and better qualify decisions about the MVP.
Communicating During COVID
The confinement during COVID made team building more important than ever. Interaction and even confrontation are essential to building a team that can work together efficiently.
One of our team’s strengths in the office was communication. Whenever something was not clearly defined, it was only a matter of swiveling the chair around so we could talk briefly and reach a consensus. At times, coffee break discussions would end up at the white board clarifying different perspectives. With quarantine, much of this impromptu communication was lost. Although tools like Slack help, they do not replace face to face conversation.
To solve this, our team found that we needed additional space on the calendar to discuss things that would normally happen more organically when we’d been in the office together. For example, when we defined a contract, frontend and backend engineers used a shared document to take the place of the office white board and a dedicated meeting to follow up, allowing us to anticipate problems ahead of time. We also tried to reverse the tendency to communicate over Code Reviews. It’s comfortable to just submit the code for reviewing without giving context. In the “work from home” paradigm, clarifying the context basically requires another Zoom call. So even though working remotely affected the team in that sense, the nature of our way of work was already put in place before, so we were aware of this and able to contradict the tendency.
We found ourselves extending the usual ten minute time constraints of the daily Stand Up meetings to share how each of us had been impacted by confinement, to allow some space for more organic human interaction. Some other meetings expanded to accommodate the work discussions that were flowing well, promoting all the organic touch points that would happen in the office between meetings and during coffee breaks.
We also put in place some specific informal meetings, in order to regain some semblance of social bonding which is so important to team chemistry. We named those “Weekly Chill Out” sessions, where we usually played skribbl; an awesome free interactive online game. Not only was it fun, but a really successful team building activity. The fact that this meeting is still intact, even after some team members have moved on to other teams within the company, is a tribute to the value of spending time together as people, and not just coworkers.
Communication and Remote Work Takeaways:
- Spend more time up-front debating, planning and clarifying the breakdown of work in order to avoid assumptions which can cause costly rework and slow down your flow. Communicate everywhere: in meetings, in Jira tickets, and on Slack to make the most of asynchronous working conditions, such as those imposed by quarantine.
- With Scrum or another agile framework as your guide, make Jira and other tools work for your team. As you add and orient new team members, review the team’s working agreement and refine your processes for how team members write Jira tickets, produce contracts between front and back end engineers, and how stakeholders can stay in touch with your team’s deliverables.
- Time zones should be factored into your team’s meeting schedule so you can make the most of the time you share with external contributors from other departments.
- Spend time together as humans, not just as coworkers. Playing games, having remote coffees and making space for friendly debate creates more opportunities for team cohesion and trust, which in turn enhance team communication.
(P.S. Shameless Plug: We Sell Family Plans)
In Dashlane’s Family Plan each member’s information is private and of course, secured with Dashlane’s zero knowledge architecture. We built a Family Plan where each family can have up to six members, with an affordable price for families (less than the cost of two Dashlane Premium subscriptions!). If you’ve already paid for an individual Premium Subscription, the price of Family Plan is automatically discounted at checkout. If this plan interests you, learn more about Dashlane Family Plan here.
We are proud of what we accomplished with the Family Plan, especially when considering the many challenges posed by working remotely during COVID. We come to work every day because we know how important online security is and how impactful internet privacy and security can be for our customers. Having one’s online information compromised can end up taking time, money and energy to resolve. Perhaps even more importantly, it is also an invasion of one’s privacy which is not quantifiable. Dashlane is in a fight for a better internet and for the safety of everyone that uses it. We hope the Family Plan is a small way for more families to sleep soundly knowing that the digital identity of their loved ones is secure.
👪 Article co-written with Tony Oreglia and André Vidigal