I happened to attend a super hip tech conference. And as you would expect from an event boasting craft beer, barista coffee and seaweed burgers, remote work and being a digital nomad came up a lot in conversations both on and off stage.
Remote work is especially a big topic in tech, and even though there are a lot of companies still trying to figure it out, in Messente, it's been our reality for the past few years.
This got me thinking that there's a lot of blog posts and books out there on why it makes sense to work remotely. There is, however, very little advice on how to actually pull it off and not lose in efficiency. So, here are a few suggestions both to managers and individual contributors on how to get started.
Firstly, if you're a manager considering whether remote work is something your company should go for, here are a few things you should consider.
1. Remote work is a fundamentally good idea
Just to get this out of the way early on, I'm going to say to all the managers out there that remote teams/people are not a thing of the future or a "management challenge" you can choose to avoid.
It's a no brainer.
It vastly expands your hiring horizons, and it allows people working in your company to be ... well ... free. And trust me - it takes a lot of ping pong tables, office yoga sessions and fancy coffee machines to compensate for lack of freedom.
2. But how do I know if those remote people are working or not?
This is the most common reaction I've from managers I talk to. And, to be honest, it's a fair question.
My question to them would be, "but how do you know whether people are working in the office?" The only thing you do know is that everyone is physically present, but that's hardly enough, isn't it?
Remote work and split teams put a much bigger emphasis on planning, goals, milestones, and communicating them clearly. You manage by measuring progress and results, not by observing people merely going through the motions on a daily basis.
It also drives you to make better hiring decisions - picking people with more internal drive and ability to self motivate.
After all, if you're worried about people in your company not working, then you have a much bigger problem than whether to allow remote work or not.
3. Make the cultural switch to "long format work" in your team
The term "long format work" in this context might have been coined by Jason Fried, but regardless of whether it was him or someone else before him, the principle has really stuck with me.
More and more collaboration (especially while working remote) happens in the form of written chats (think Slack). And chats, particularly the way they are mostly used by people, are a fundamentally inefficient way of communicating ideas.
Before you know it, you're getting drowned in an ocean of threads of clunky conversations with different people jumping in and out, having to scroll up and down for information they might have missed and decisions being buried in the clutter.
Long format work is the antidote. It means that if you have an idea, take 15-30 minutes to write it down. All of it. What is the situation? Why is it a priority? What are our options? Does not have to be very long - write 2 paragraphs for starters.
The first thing that happens during writing down a whole idea instead of revealing it to seven people at once, one sentence at a time, is that you really think it through once more. Sometimes you might discover that your idea is not that great. Or perhaps you even find a solution to the problem at hand.
And if after writing it all down it still looks like it's worth involving others, at least they can get all of the relevant information to form an opinion, think for a bit and write down some "long format" suggestions.
Secondly, if you are the one working remotely, the last three suggestions are for you.
4. Always have a decent connection speed
This one is for everyone having their first real go at remote work. It's almost too basic to be overlooked. So that's why I'm surprised how often it's being ignored.
If you are working in a geographically split team you will be making a fair amount of calls - skype, zoom, webex, you name it. It's up to you to find a decent enough internet connection well ahead of time and test it if need be.
In most cases trying to using your local Starbucks wifi to join a four-way conference call with your team is going result in a train wreck of a meeting. Instead, use a hot desk at a local WeWork or any other shared workspace. You'll get decent wifi and make great new friends as a side bonus.
5. Share ... and then share some more
Come to think of it, this one is actually true not only in case of remote working but as a general practice.
Make it a part of your everyday task list to meticulously share what you're working on - what did you get done or what are you stuck on. Do it even if your manager or team lead doesn't tell you to.
Most companies use some sort of a collaboration tool (Basecamp in our case). Those virtual offices make sharing super simple. But even if yours does not, get creative.
Make your task list public and keep it updated. Drop your team a brief note every morning. There are lots of ways.
This kind of sharing has two significant benefits:
- planning out your days and having clear
daily goals helps a lot to manage your focus consciously
- it often really helps you to put your manager at ease (see point #2)
6. Make sure others in your team are aware of your daily routine
If you travel to a different time zone or you need to babysit your kids in the morning for a week or maybe you're simply trying to carve out chunks of time for deep focus work - make sure others in your team know your rhythm.
Simply publish a quick note in your
collaboration tool or let your team know some other way. It's perfectly fine to
have time slots during which you are not super responsive. However, I've seen
it avoids a lot of confusion when everyone in your team knows you might check
in slightly later and will be working evenings instead.
If you want to read more about remote work -
here are two of the best books written on the subject in my opinion:
“The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work” by Scott Berkun
“Remote: Office Not Required” by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried