How To Work Remotely

Working Remotely is a Skill

When you first work in an office, you learn how that office works. You learn where the coffee comes from, where the toilets are, who controls the music, where the good lunch spots are, what to do if there is a fire, how to book a meeting room, and so on. Remote work is no different - it starts with learning the basics. That's what this document is for.

Challenges and Solutions

Working remotely has a few challenges which are different from those you get in an office. Here are the big ones and how we deal with them:

1. Alienation

The most obvious challenge to remote working is the lack of community and shared culture. A casual conversation about the weekend on a Monday morning, a few jokes by the coffee machine, a beer after work on a Friday - those all help to build team connections and a sense of belonging. A team that knows each other, and supports each other, is more productive and better at retaining talented people. All of which is compounded by offset timezones and cultural differences.

How we deal with it:

  • Regular meetups. At the moment the team is very small. As we grow, we plan to introduce regular company meetups, at least annually.
  • Regular contact. We use Slack to stay in touch. We are all encouraged to check in regularly and update Slack with what we're working on and what we've achieved.
  • Embrace the difference. The things that can lead to alienation are the same things that make remote work so great for people - when you benefit from it, talk about it! If you've spent the day skiing and are working the evening instead, tell everyone!
  • Be conscious of your colleagues and how they might be feeling. Remote working can be lonely, so make a point of saying hi at opportune times.

2. Asynchronicity

When you're in an office, it's easy to grab someone for a meeting or have a quick chat about something. That doesn't work when you have remote team members, regardless or whether the entire team is remote or not. It keeps the remote workers out of the loop, increases any feelings of alienation they may have, and stops them from contributing their knowledge and experience where it might be beneficial.

How we deal with it:

  • Everything written down. If it's not written down, nobody can refer back to it later.
  • Use asynchronous communication wherever possible. If you have a question, add it to the relevant Crisp task or comment in a Google Doc.
  • Where asynchronous communication isn't possible, make sure to document the work-related parts of the communication.
  • Default to sharing. Try to use Google Docs and Sheets for documents, and make sure they are in the company shared drive so that everybody can access them.

Further reading: Asynchronous Communication

3. Apathy

There are several issues which can lead to apathetic people, when running a remote team. It is hard to see, unless everyone makes an effort to share it, what the rest of the team is up to, and that can lead to feeling like you're the only one working hard. It is hard to get people to buy in to company ambitions when they're not in daily face-to-face contact. And be definition it is hard to spot the signals of someone who is becoming apathetic, because they naturally will become quieter in the typical communication channels, and that means less interaction with them, which in turn can increase that dastardly apathy.

How we deal with it:

  • We encourage regular sharing of work - both in progress and completed - on Slack.
  • We try to be aware of when someone drops off their usual level of involvement and communication.
  • We share our successes and try to learn from our failures.

4. Accountability

In some office workspaces, the typical measure of work is time spent sitting at a desk. Work hard and tick off every task you've been asked to do but go home at 5pm and you'll still be seen as not committed enough to the company. Spend most of it on Twitter trying to win a free phone but stay until 9pm, and you'll be seen as a hard-working team player. Those aren't hypothetical examples, by the way. Presenteeism is a terrible thing for motivation, and it's a terrible way to measure real productivity.

At Added Bytes, we believe that if you're in a funk and you're not achieving anything, you should get up and go do something else. Don't sit at your desk feeling miserable, take a walk or cook something or nail some bits of wood together. Change your context and get your mojo back, and then get back to work when you're ready.

Of course, that flexible working has its own challenges. It requires finding new and better ways to measure productivity and understand when things are inefficient. It requires breaking down work into more measurable chunks than time. And that, in turn, requires understanding that (for example) sometimes it really can take an entire day to produce one line of code.

How we deal with it:

  • We all have key accountabilities for our work. That might be tickets resolved, number of subscriptions cancelled, website traffic, blog posts written, social media shares - whatever it is, it needs to be agreed with the employee and the company and reviewed regularly.
  • We value transparency and responsibility. It's important that we can all see what we're each working on and the results of that work, and that we are able to make changes to our working domain when appropriate.
  • We make sure all work goes through whatever piece software is most appropriate. For developers, that's Asana. For customer success people, it's the ticketing system (Crisp). The result is that everybody can see what everyone else is up to and achieving. It's surprisingly motivating, knowing everybody can see when you're slacking.

5. Actuation

Hiring people in multiple remote locations adds a level of logistical complexity to employment. In some cases, you would need to set up a subsidiary to hire some in that location, which isn't always possible. Employing someone in some locations will make you eligible for sales tax in those locations. Sometimes there are limits on money you can transfer to an employee in a country. All of which is to say, there's a little more work needed up front to hire in each new location.

How we deal with it:

  • We are flexible with employment. Sometimes the best solution is for the person to be an employee. Sometimes a contractor. Sometimes the best option is Professional Employment Organisation.
  • Logistics shouldn't affect the employee directly, any more than they are happy for them to do so. Some people prefer to work as a contractor, some don't. Either way, it isn't the employee's responsibility to make sure the company is treating them fairly or that their employment is secure and their rights protected.

This work by Added Bytes CC BY-SA 4.0