Definitions, principles, tips and tools for remote work. Given the global COVID-19 / Corona situation today more and more companies advice their employees to work from home. I will not write about Corona, there are much more educated professionals to do that, but remote work and work-from-home (WFH) is something I have some experience with. Therefore I thought I would summarise my perspective on remote work.
What is Remote Work?
Work from a place that is best situated for us to get our work done.
That is my definition on remote work. I know other might define it different, but at any normal day I would say that this is a pretty clear and general definition of what the term “Remote Work” is all about.
Note that “remote” does not have to be at home. It can be at a client, at a cafe, on a different continent, on a plane…or at home.
Per definition I can feel that the term remote is flawed since it gives the perception that remote is the edge-case and in-the-office is the normal.
There are a few things that become more important then when everyone is in the office. These principles are not in any way just connected to companies that go the remote work-way but to all companies today.
A company today is based on trust, transparency, accountability and accessibility.
- Trust not control
To be able to work remotely we need to trust our co-workers. This is rather logic, but many companies still apply control before trust. In a remote work environment it is of importance that every co-worker feel empowered by the company and sense that the company trust him / her with the task at hand.
With trust comes accountability. If the company trusts you with important tasks, you are also accountable for those tasks. It is not that much about getting hanged if you do not finish on time, but rather that you do everything in your power to deliver the task. It can be asking for help in time, making appropriate changes for better results etc, but most important that we do not expect “others” to do things or “it was not my responsibility” or simply letting things slip. This is not only an individual topic, but applies to teams as well.
The company needs to apply a public-first philosophy to all information. Also important that information is written / recorded and not informally delivered by the coffee-machine. All things cannot be public due to business risks or legal consequences, but those are exceptions, not a reason to keep other things non-public.
Being transparent is not the same as pushing every snippet of information to all co-workers in the #general channel in Slack or a company-all email, it is about making information accessible to everyone.
We need to a larger extent to keep everyone updated on what we do and also being accessible to co-workers that want to get in touch. This is not an “always-on” feature, but being open with when we are accessible and not.
- Asynchronous communication (bonus bullet 1)
This is more of a practically very important bullet. The internal culture of many companies rely on almost real-time expectancy on replies in chats, email or similar. In a remote work environment it is important that all communication is asynch-first. We cannot expect everyone to constantly sitting by the computer waiting to reply to co-workers. An even more important part is that we can no-longer expect everyone to have the same working hours, but everyone work when it suits them best from a business and private perspective.
- Family first (bonus bullet 2)
With remote work companies can also send an important signal to its employee, family comes first. This from several perspectives. In most cases, remote work means more time with family and a possibility to join more activities with your kids or other family activities. Simply put, a more present family member. Secondly it also integrates the family in what you do at work. This gives the opportunity for co-workers to meet at other co-workers home and meet family members.
Myths about not working in a company office
There are so many myths and wrong assumptions about remote working and working from home. Many people I have talked to over the years simply say either…
“My work can only be done from the office”
“My company does not allow us to work remotely”
I understand that some roles at certain companies are tough, but most information-workers today can work remotely without any disruption or problem at all. This is solely a relic from bad management or a culture that needs a significant upgrade.
Forbes recently put together a list remote-work myths. Worth a browse.
Are tools the solution?
I currently see tons of posts about companies trying to promote their product as the solution to remote work. A tool is never the solution to a change in work procedures. The might help having a great screw-driver, but to build a house you need a great architecture and a reliable construction, regardless of how great your screwdriver is. The real-solution lies in aligning around values / culture and that every process needs to be updated to support remote-work and processes also needs to be written down in a format that everyone can adopt to regardless of where they work.
Given my background in collaboration and online communication I see a lot of similarities. No tool would make a company better at corporate collaboration or online communication, it is about enabling every necessary process with the right features.
A post like this one from Slack “Adapting the way we work when offices need to close” lacks a lot in regards of processes and values. Slack is imho not a tool that increase the result of remote work in any significant way out of the box. In 2016 I wrote this post about “Cutting the Slack“, that describes why I consider Slack more of a productivity-hostile tool.
Slack definitely can be a tool that help when working remote, but it is not in itself the solution. A better company to look at is GitLab, that is a truly remote work company, or all-remote as they call it.
GitLab takes a more all-in-perspecitve and describes everything very public. It is extensive, detailed and very good. They seem to truly live up to most of my principles above and without a doubt the trust and transparency parts as well as the two bonus bullets Asynch-communication and family first.
Just go to their all-remote section and you dive how deep you want.
Basecamp is another company that is all-remote and uses simplicity and simple logic when describing their way of working. I have nothing less of admiration for them. Below are some resources to take a closer look at if interested. A lot of worthy reading on their blog Signal vs Noice as well in their Podcast Rework
They have also written a book on the topic, Remote. I have read the book a few years ago and is a good summary that is built on tips & trix that will help you as an organisation to be better at remote work. It is not a deep dive, but it gives you the essentials.
Top 3 things to focus on for co-workers
All companies want to improve its business when making a decision like this. It could be to avoid loosing employees, increase revenue, productivity or decrease sick-days, cut travel costs etc etc.
So, when the values are in place, people are working from wherever they want at what hours they need, what is left?
We need to make sure our co-workers are happy, deliver and evolve. What do I mean by that?
Since we do not meet our co-workers on an every day basis as when all co-workers are in the office, we need a way to find out how our co-workers are feeling. Are they happy, sad, stressed or angry etc.
Solution: A simple way to catch the sentiment of all company co-workers on a daily basis.
There are usually all kinds of project management and task solutions in a company, but many of those are cumbersome and becomes more of a formal tool to update when different tasks are solved. How can we as co-worker and peer, in an easy way, follow what tasks we are working on today and during this week?
Solution: Daily and weekly checkins. Every co-worker submit what they will do during the day and also a weekly checkin for the bigger picture (naturally with follow-up). This gives everyone in the company a glimpse of what everyone does on a daily basis as well as a weekly overview. These checkins are visible to everyone and should not take more than 10s to fill in.
- Evolve (feedback)
Feedback is generally overlooked in my view. It is given too rarely and often by the wrong person in the wrong manner, but that is a post for another day. To be able to stay motivated in a remote work environment, constant feedback is necessary. We need to know if we did great things and if we did things that could be improved. Feedback also needs to be given in the right manner, by the right person at the right time. Feedback is also a constant loop and should be done regularly, not only in the yearly manager-review.
Solution: Update the personal development process to support more iterative feedback over time that is driven by task, team and personal development. Feedback could be triggered automatically, by peers or requested by yourself. This topic relies heavily on the core principles trust, transparency and accountability as well as company and personal values.
…from a management perspective then?
Well, this should naturally not differ anything from what we already do, but some things are worth to highlight.
- Goals and KPIs
There is a huge benefit of remote work that is often missed, the fact that most information now is in a written or recorded format. This gives the opportunity to follow-up our business sentiment, both operational and productivity. With all information now digitally available we can in a simple way (well) get an almost real-time overview of our operational efficiency and sentiment.
Since most companies have business goals and many trickle those business objectives down to business units and often individual levels it is now rather easy to implement KPIs on all levels and present those in dashboards.
If we share what we are working (openly), how we enjoy our day (personal only, but aggregated in dashboards for management to catch trends in departments etc) and constantly evaluate or performance (person-to-person, so not open, only overall rating could be aggregated in management dashboards) it also gives us the opportunity to get a better view of our own performance and by that evolve as individuals. This must be one of the most important benefits of remote work that would be hard to get with values and processes that are not remote-work ready.
Photo credit: My private photo. Taken in Chang Mai in Thailand. I was not remote working there, but could have been.