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Planning our annual international conference, Satellite, takes a village—product development and launch preparations, event planning, traveling, onsite coordination, and much more. To keep our community safe during the global COVID-19 pandemic, Satellite was converted to a virtual event and our marketing team quickly pivoted to ensure a meaningful and successful event. As we’ve learned in our remote work series, GitHub is built on the power of asynchronous and remote collaboration, and with two months to build an online event with purpose for our community and attendees, we applied our collective experience to making this year’s Satellite virtual.
Events around the world have needed to quickly transition to become an online experience because of COVID-19. I can tell you this is no easy task. By going virtual for Satellite, we were able to reach a wider and more inclusive audience, but we needed to optimize for an all remote experience. We had to consider which platform to use (compared to a physical venue), content and format to keep virtual attendees engaged, and other surprising and fun experiences—like our always-on “rooms” where attendees could drop in to ask GitHub product questions or visit our play track for session breaks. Before this week’s event, I chatted with Sherrine Tan, GitHub’s Director of Product Marketing, Brandon Rosage, GitHub’s Website Growth Manager, and Brian DeMott, GitHub’s Event Manager on marketing in a remote-first world, along with some of the best practices they use to keep their teams productive and engaged.
Sherrine: Make it a point to get to know your colleagues, not just what they do at work, but who they are as individuals outside of work. Establishing a personal connection helps build rapport and a healthy working relationship. And turn on your video if you can—it can make a HUGE difference. It’s also a good way to make sure everyone is engaged, present, and can keep multitasking to a minimum.
Brandon: Remote practices are injected into every aspect of my work. I expect most communication will be asynchronous, which means that each individual needs to have a clearly articulated and directed message for the team. Being able to organize and form your thoughts, questions, and updates for chat tools like Slack, for example, can mean the difference between a successful five-minute interaction and an hours-long thread. I also like to be aware of coworkers’ personal schedules, such as when they need to run an errand, so I can steer clear of sending communication during that time. Finally, I try to create only a few documents or links for my coworkers to have to reference as a way to reduce the number of files or tabs they need to have open in order to work with me.
Brian: For me, I try to make myself available for my team whenever they need me whatever their hours might be. There are family and other obligations that we’re now facing as we all work from home. In the case of one coworker who has young kids and reduced work hours, having a clear hand-off is key. Being able to use team members’ calendars in order to know when they’re unavailable due to personal commitments is important.
Brian: When it comes to planning a virtual event, it’s critical to be flexible. Planning for a virtual Satellite has been a complete 180-degree shift for everyone involved. It’s important to remain open to new ideas and new ways of doing things since this is an entirely new experience for everyone. Every aspect of our Satellite event that we’ve seen in the past was flipped upside down. Like a live event, just about everything that occurs in a fully virtual event is totally raw—expect errors and glitches, anticipate that it’s a live broadcast. By the same token, you should also expect to have fun.
Virtual events are a lot more accessible to the community in ways that we haven’t seen in the past. The greatest experience with planning our first virtual Satellite is how incredibly willing people were to help, even outside of our team. As a company, we went from zero to full throttle, so it was all hands on deck. My advice for anyone else having to plan a virtual event is to ask for help.
Brandon: I agree with Brian. It’s been great to see the care, time, and attention that people put into making sure virtual attendees have an amazing experience. I also recommend thinking just as much about discoverability—how people will learn about the event and what communications will look and feel like.
Brian: Prior to COVID-19, my events team would meet in-person in the office. This is the first time that we’re all working remotely. The biggest impact has been the emotional roller coaster that we’re all experiencing at different times. We may have our great days and also our horrible days. Having our teammates there as our sounding board and just having people who listen to you, has made a big difference. Here at GitHub, we make it a point to be emotionally available to just vent or be there for each other. I don’t want anyone on my team to feel that they need to fake it if they’re not okay. Having open and honest communication is key.
Sherrine: During this challenging time, the well-being of my team and co-workers comes first. Everyone is going through a lot right now, many are wearing multiple hats, having to juggle between work and personal commitments. We need to be empathetic and even more thoughtful in how we engage each other. It’s important to give space and respect the fact that our teammates may need to take time off from work or have an adjusted work schedule during this pandemic.
Brandon: COVID-19 has changed the way that I, personally, interact with my coworkers in real-time. For example, I make it a point to use our time carefully, while also focusing on individuals’ well-being upfront and then getting to the specific information we need to share, so we can get through a meeting as quickly as possible. This also requires an awareness of the compressed schedules many coworkers are currently operating in and valuing their uninterrupted blocks of time.
Sherrine: At GitHub, we’re remote-first, not just remote-friendly. This has provided me with the opportunity to work with talented people across the world that I might not have been able to work alongside, otherwise. And as a mother to two young kids, I appreciate the flexibility to stay close and have more hours to spend on work itself over long commutes.
Brandon: I like the empathy that working remotely creates between coworkers. Remote working allows them to demonstrate how autonomous and trusted they truly are amid the rest of their personal responsibilities and interests that they’re juggling daily.
Sherrine: My best advice for those new to working remotely is to be sure to write things down and then over-communicate. Written communication can be easily misinterpreted, so the more shared context and understanding there is, the better assurance that your message is received with the right intention. Also, be sure to take care of yourself. The line between work and personal life often blurs when working from home—block off time for breaks, meals, and walks.
Brian: Personally, what’s really helped me when it comes to working from home is keeping my morning routine the same and getting ready for the day as I would normally when working in the GitHub office. This has helped me a lot and has kept me sane. Also, as Sherrine mentioned, it’s really important to take a break for lunch and a break from work in a different location. And don’t forget to get outside for a walk and just get some fresh air!
Want to learn more about best practices for working remotely? Check back next week as we continue our series to help you make the most of working in a remote environment from our next interview. And share these useful tips with others who may be new to working remotely.