Many companies are becoming remote-friendly or even remote-first. The benefits are great: more flexibility in your daily life, no commuting, the ability to work with world-class teams without having to move to Silicon Valley, etc. But you should also be aware of its challenges and understand it isn't for everybody.
Its been 3 years since I founded Vordem as a remote-first company, and I'd like to share my experience both as a founder and a remote worker myself. This isn't supposed to be an article telling you should work remotely, it is more about sharing my experience and letting you make that choice.
One of the key aspects of being remote-friendly is hiring because even if it allows you to hire great people from around the globe, you need to make sure they're not only good at their job but also good remote workers.
The main quality of a good remote worker is written communication because most of the communication will be through email, Slack, Github issues and Google Docs. Something that has worked for me is hiring people who have worked remotely before, and running the first steps of the hiring process through email to see their writing skills.
Another key point is hiring people you can trust. If you need to micromanage someone, it's already too late: you will need to let him go and the fault is all yours because you didn't hire carefully enough. Instead, you should hire doers: people who make things happen and don't need to be constantly supervised.
Good written communication is a must, but it is also important to have good communication guidelines written and enforced. Why? Because remote working adds a communication overhead that needs to be managed or else it can create chaos.
Most people think Slack will solve their communication needs, but since it is a real-time chat people expect an immediate response when talking to a colleague, which isn't a healthy way to collaborate and can kill productivity very easily.
Instead, establish a tool for each kind of interaction. For example, here are some things that have worked for us:
- You may use Trello for issue tracking and keep relevant conversation inside each card. Some people prefer Basecamp or Github Issues.
- Use Slack for alerting and general conversation, but if important decisions are being made you should also notify everyone through email to keep them in the loop. They may not be reading Slack at that very moment.
- Videoconference for daily standups works wonders at it is very good for bonding.
- Turn your camera on videoconference. Your body language says a lot and it also reminds people there is a human behind that username.
- If you're not speaking, mute your microphone. I wish I didn't need to say this but people struggle with this at first.
- Don't ask to ask, just ASK. People will respond when they have the chance.
- Don't ask for a Google Meet or a phone call right away. Be respectful of your coworker's time and tell them what the problem is first. They may give you a written answer without having to stop what they were doing.
- Don't wait for a document to be finished before sharing. Just put everything in a shared folder so everyone can find anything without depending on someone else.
Remote work does not mean working independently
The ability to work independently is the wrong motivation when looking for remote work. I say this because when I started hiring I found a lot of people who wanted to work their own hours, not having to report status to anyone and showed hesitation to adapt to the collaboration guidelines.
And don't get me wrong, people shouldn't need to tell when they're working and you should hire people you can trust, but remote work isn't a replacement for collaborating and communicating with a team. So ask yourself: what's the motivation behind your pursuit of remote work and how does it benefit your team?
Being an efficient and sane remote worker
Working remotely usually means working from home, and since people usually separate their work and personal lives by going to an office, it can be a real challenge for remote workers.
1. Don't work on your pajamas
It may be tempting to work from your pajamas, but you need to dress for work to get into the right mindset and be productive. Also, take into account that you may need to turn your webcam on.
2. Don't work in your bedroom
You should design a space that is dedicated to working, comfortable and free of distractions. Working from the couch or your bed may be tempting but your brain will relate them to work and your ability to rest will be affected.
3. Establish rules with your family
If you have a spouse or children, they will naturally think you're available since you're home but that's not the case: you're working. You'll need to talk to them and establish some rules to avoid constant interruptions.
4. Working from home != Working less
One common misconception about remote work is that you'll work less, but that's not the case at all. Just because you don't have people looking at your screen doesn't mean you can procrastinate. Remember: you have a team that trusts you on delivering your part just like in any on-site job... you just happen to do it from home.
5. Separate work/life at home
Don't use your home office for leisure and establish a strict work schedule so it's easy for you to tell when you're at work and when you're not. It's important for your mental health to make the distinction so you're able to relax. Long hours are strictly forbidden.
6. Get out of the house
If you're an introvert or you're not an outdoors guy, it's very easy to spend weeks without leaving your house when working from home. But going out and talking to people face-to-face help us de-stress, so don't forget to see your friends or go to events and meet new people. It also helps to occasionally work from a coffee shop or a coworking space.
Remote working is being implemented in more companies every year, it works and it has plenty of benefits, but you should also know about its challenges and how to overcome them. To make it work everyone in the team has to be a great communicator and self-organizing.