A frame for tackling your transition to remote work

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Luke Shipley
March 13, 2020
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Workplaces with forward thinking people and talent functions have been raving about or implementing remote work for sometime. For everyone else, this topic just got thrust to the top table. Everywhere a physical workplace isn’t essential, remote work is currently being considered.

The reality is that being part of a remote team makes parts of work trickier than being in the same room. There’s huge benefits and even more motivation currently, but remote work is hard. It takes greater organisation, better management and most importantly more sophisticated communication skills.

I’m no remote work specialist, I’ve done stints of part-remote and fully remote work throughout my career. But I help run Zinc, a startup that offers employee background checking tools. We’ve recently considered going from partially remote (1–2 days per week) to fully remote but had ultimately decided against it, due to reasons I’ll share. At that time, remote working had less of a necessity than it does with the impending global health crisis. But I wanted to share the decision-making process we’ve been through, since I think it can help remote transitions.

Here’s the thinking process you need to go through in order to consider taking your team remote.

How to avoid making a remote transition disaster

  • Is this a temporary or permanent policy? 98% of people who work remotely want to continue working remotely according to a recent report. It’s therefore not a good idea to consider implementing remote as a short-term solution unless you’re also looking to up attrition too.
  • Do you have an appropriate team for remote work? Think deeply about how crucial the environment is to your team's success. If your team often openly collaborates in meetings/ideation or feeds off the office environment, it’s probably not suitable. Some report that engineering teams are more successful remotely than sales due to the importance of a ‘buzzy’ office environment. If you have empowering and autonomous company values, then you’re probably a good candidate.
  • Do you have enough documented process? This is where the dinosaurs do have it over startups. Most startups do not have enough documented process which makes written communication too time-consuming and complex. It does depend on how complex your team and business function is too. But unless it’s very simple, you’ll need a tonne of a documented process.
  • Do you have a remote work expense policy? 48% of companies don’t offer any expenses for remote work. But you need to think this through, your employee's physical setup is paramount to success which makes it paramount to yours. Matt Haughey has some specific advice on headphones, webcam etc to physically With daily video streams being essential, poor internet connections are inevitable. Hence, fibre optic is your friend.
  • Team tools 🧰 Do you have a team chat app? Team communication forums like Slack, Discord are a must. Email as a communication protocol will not foster the right collaboration. It doesn’t have to be a trendy one, Microsoft teams will do. Do you have a stable video communication tool? Yes, face-time is key and phone calls won’t cut it. Studies show the team will be feeling distant without structured, daily FaceTime. Do you have real-time doc collaboration? It is commonplace these days unless you work at a dinosaur, but important to underscore, it is a must.

Things that will make your remote success harder

  1. Has your team worked remotely before? This is a key consideration, I certainly see remote work, i.e working independently as a skill. If you are working with teams of first jobbers or people that haven’t fostered the skill of working individually (like at university), then there will be an upskill period. Over 90% of people report thinking they are fit for remote work but that’s optimistic. To the point above, is your team suitable for remote work?
  2. Will you entertain different work timezones? This might not feel like an immediate issue if you’re currently all co-located. But soon your team will ask if they can work from different locations. I want to underscore that communication is the toughest part of remote working. Asynchronous communication is another next level-up. Unless you have everything else ticked off, I wouldn’t attempt it.
  3. Do you have a clear work cadence? Draw clear lines in the sand in terms of unplugging from work. If you have grafters in your team that often pull 12 hour days, this will be exacerbated remotely. You need to get better at defining work boundaries and telling people to switch off.
  4. Are you planning on making the entire team remote? Part-remote is tricky because it leaves some feeling isolated. This is one of the most common pitfalls since most companies currently fall into this bracket — 43% of companies are said to have split remote & onsite teams. Put a policy in place to combat loneliness, especially if you’re discouraging people from working from other co-locations like coffee shops. This is said to be the 2nd largest downside to remote work.
  5. Do you struggle with accountability or are you the type of business that everyone has a clearly defined ownership level? has a great company value: ‘It’s never not my job’. If you don’t have this level of accountability in your team then you’ve just 2x the difficulty in managing a remote team.

If you’ve ticked off the above and you’re actually thinking you could pull this remote thing off, here’s what you can do to make it a success.

Musts for a higher level of remote work success

  1. Handbook for working with you. If you’re not sure where to start with this,  can be a great place. Request to see your latest reference checks and include your previous colleagues' advice for working with you. Zinc has a remote worker referencing tool.
  2. Transparency by default. This is a tip from the pros. Zapier says that every channel in their Slack is public. GitLab have an incredible library of Transparency brings the availability of written information to the surface.
  3. Document everything. Some remote teams record every call and keep a library, which seems like overkill. But we probably under-appreciate the information that we get from physically being surrounded by your team & company. Written communication is more time consuming and taxing than verbal communication. If you get tired of people asking you something in the physical workplace, you tend to write it down. In the remote world, it’s good practice to write everything down.
  4. Coach your team on chat app best practice. Zapier conducts coaching on Slack communication. It is a real skill and you cannot expect people to pick this up without coaching. Obvious things to help your team navigate are under communicating and over-communicating.
  5. Culture is a verb, not a noun. The closer you can move the needle on your culture becoming more trusted, autonomous and accountable. The more fulfilling remote work will be for your team. You will have to make a more concerted effort to foster culture and collaboration without the proverbial water cooler.

The reason Zinc wasn’t ready to go fully remote was being unable to check off point 3 of the must haves: documentation. Don’t underestimate how time-consuming this practice will be. The pace of change in our business at that time was too rapid to commit to keeping updated documentation in place.

When looking in the mirror at an inevitably increasingly remote future, start by shaping your own skills in: proactive written communication, concise written communication, simplifying written communication. Insight trust autonomy and accountability in yourself and others.

These are ultimately skills of highly performing workers and teams in any domain. You need to have your eyes wide open to the challenges above. But incentivising these behaviours and values alone will likely improve the effectiveness of your team. The other benefits that remote can bring are well documented.

Remote is a shift that many teams will be making in 2020. As remote becomes rapidly more popular and the world shifts this year, the remote competitive edge benefit will diminish. If you are ready, act now.

This post was written in collaboration with (www.recruitingbrainfood.com).

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