With everything that is happening right now in the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of companies are getting ahead of quarantine orders by asking all their employees to work remotely. I believe that tech organisations (and those working with tech organisations like me) should lead by example by going full-remote because the nature of our job and our easiness with digital tools make us fortunate enough to do it. Since I wanted to write about managing a remote organisation for some time, I thought this week would be a perfect occasion to do so in a pragmatic way that can help you make some decisions in the coming days.
The future of work is remote
I think my view on remote work is somehow biased since I spent most of my employee life working remotely. Between 2007 and 2013, I was living in Paris, working for an American company, with a manager living in another European country and colleagues all around the world. I could work from wherever I wanted and spent my days between planes and conference calls. And it worked.
What’s amazing is that, at the time, we didn’t have any of the tools we have today to make working remotely easier: no Google Docs to collaborate on the same documents, no Jira to follow-up on roadmaps, no Zoom to have smooth videoconferences (damn you Skype) and no Slack to chat with colleagues and customers. So because these tools are now available, more and more companies are now going full-remote, with no offices to show. Companies like Gitlab (probably the largest full-remote company), Automattic (the maker of Wordpress) and Zapier are making the headlines, but there are now thousands of full-remote companies (see this list).
There are countless advantages of working remotely: individual contributors are less interrupted (unless they don’t turn off Slack notifications), they save time on commute and companies can now tap into a global pool of talents instead of just looking in their city.
But even with all these advantages and tools, a lot of companies are still wary of allowing remote work for their employees, and usually have a light remote policy (1 day a week or only for exceptional reasons). The main reasons they state is the potential lower productivity (because there’s no boss over their shoulder), out of sync teams (because they’re not in the same room talking to each other) and lower employee loyalty (because they don’t hand out with their colleagues in the same office). I’ve found all these reasons to be false if the right policies are put in place.
How to make remote work
The very first rule of going remote is to make sure that the same rules apply to both remote and non-remote employees. Mainly:
- All meetings should be done online so that anyone can log in and participate. It’s even better that each participant logs into the videoconference system even if some of them are in the same room. And if no remote colleague is participating, you can always record the meeting and have available online for future viewers
- Everything should be documented and accessible, like meeting notes, issues, questions to colleagues... If everything that is discussed is written down, it can be searched and accessed by anyone (remote or not)
I understand that these changes could be hard to implement, but don’t be fooled by the easiness of using verbal communication. Companies that have a strong documentation culture and transparent decision processes are more immune to talent churn (knowledge doesn’t go away with them) and have better employee satisfaction (because, well, fewer politics).
How to prepare employees for remote work
Not everyone is naturally prepared for remote work. With the management of at-home distractions and loneliness being the main challenges faced by remote workers, it’s the company’s responsibility to help them cope with these challenges. Here are some tips to facilitate the transition to remote work:
- Have a dedicated work environment: the kitchen table is fine if the person is working remotely from time to time but it’s better to have a special location with the appropriate gear (for example, Shopify has recently given its employees $1,000 each to furnish their home set-ups with whatever equipment needed to work remotely)
- Respect work hours
- Have frequent interactions with colleagues over videoconference
- Change locations and work from local coworking spaces (that’s for after COVID-19)
If you’re serious about implementing a remote policy within your organisation (remote-friendly or full-remote), I recommend the following resources:
📖Remote: Office Not Required - David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried (David and Jason are the founders of Basecamp, a full-remote company)
📄GitLab’s Guide to Remote Work (very detailed handbook about GitLab’s remote policies and best practices)
💻Remote Tools (a website that helps you discover top remote tech products)
One last thing, according to GitLab’s Remote Work Report, 86% of respondents believe remote work is the future. But it’s also the present, as evidenced by 84% of those surveyed saying that they are able to accomplish all of their tasks remotely right now.