There is no doubt that remote work is at the top of the list of accelerated trends due to Covid-19. Here at Devsu, a remote work methodology has been a feature since day one, through the decade and years of experience we have building software solutions. We work with a hybrid model of distributed teams and individuals.
Enabling a remote workforce goes beyond transitioning from the office to home and from in-person communications to digital communications. There are critical differences in managing in-office and remotely. Therefore, the business processes have to adjust. There is not a one size fits all playbook for remote work. Leaders need to understand the benefits and challenges of remote teams and how it fits into their company processes, culture, and strategy.
It is clear that a remote workforce produces a net benefit. But, there are also several challenges that leadership needs to be aware of to address them and mitigate their impact. Here are some of the benefits and challenges that have the most significant effect when establishing your remote playbook and what to think about them.
Makers / creative schedule
A remote set up helps roles, like software engineers, writers, designers, etc.. to have more extended periods of work without interruption. There are fewer distractions, less impromptu meetings, and people can organize better around planned meetings. All team members can assign “office hours” to their schedule and work around those.
When it comes to working from home, most people do not necessarily like the fact that they are working from their house. They like the flexibility it provides, such as not having to commute -this is a big one- and more time for their families and personal matters. Work from home employees have a lot more non-work related distractions (kids, pets, family, etc) during the day. This flexibility tends to impact people’s schedules, making it hard to distinguish personal and work life. It is essential to have processes designed around a culture that sets boundaries between work and life.
A remote setup allows companies to tap into new markets to find talent and stay competitive. Geographic arbitrage will not be a competitive advantage for a few companies anymore, but a common practice. It puts pressure on both companies and employees to become more attractive in the job market.
A recent study showed that there is virtually no productivity lost when people worked from home. However, every company is different. It is a good idea to monitor productivity to make sure there is no negative impact. Remote work also helps to expose underperformers faster, and management will have even more pressure to fix this issue when it arises.
Organizations need to rethink how they want to organize the flow of communications across their remote teams. The time zone plays an important role in this decision. For example, due to Devsu’s collaborative nature, it makes more sense to have the team’s time zones aligned. We only work within locations that have a four-hour overlap from our core team. We prioritize asynchronous communication, but we realize that direct and real-time contact is also an important aspect of our job.
Communications and quality of meetings
An essential aspect of a manager’s job is communication. Whether we like it or not, meetings are an important part of our daily interactions and work. We know from research that in-person meetings are more effective than online meetings. There is an impact on people’s cognitive load caused by online communications. The same goes for creative teams; collaboration under the same roof is more effective than online collaboration. The great thing about a remote organization is that it pushes the team to be more organized and schedule only meetings that matter.
Managing an all-remote team is much like managing any other team. It all comes down to trust, psychological safety, communication, and alignment of the company’s shared goals and vision.
The communication workflow is a critical aspect of knowledge work and services businesses. Remote work tends to increase asynchronous communication. For a lot of companies, the flow of communication needs to be synchronous and needs to happen fast to avoid bottlenecks and wait times for internal and external teams. Remote team communication tends to be more mechanical, and informal conversations happen with less frequency. This is why remote companies need to double down on text-based communication. All companies should strive to write things down— to document everything from meeting notes to OKRs. Documenting everything enables a stronger, more informed, more trusting, and more connected team.
People that work remotely have reported having more challenges with their career and professional development. A lot of professional development opportunities happen in the hallways of the office, impromptu social gatherings, and meetings. These social situations are almost non-existent for remote workers. Distance also decreases healthy competition among teammates. Be explicit about creating specific spaces where informal communication happens -things like coffee chats, book clubs, and social hours.
Work tools and set up
Working from home can accentuate inequality, as people that are better off are going to have better conditions in their houses -private room, equipment set up- to work remotely. It will give them an upper hand in being more effective and productive. If your organization does not provide an option to go to an office, do provide reimbursement for a co-working space and access to the right tools. This will level out the field and ensure all your teammates are accommodated with the right tools for the job.
Learning happens in both formal and informal ways. Remote workers tend to have little chances of overhearing an interesting conversion, having a discussion in the hallway, or just making an impromptu comment that sparks a thoughtful discussion. Thus, look for effective strategies to promote learning. Adopt a self-service and self-learning mentality. Remote teams thrive through documentation. This requires team members to follow a process of continuously documenting everything, creating a virtuous cycle of self-searching, self-service, and self-learning. Your culture and processes should always reinforce this expectation.
Going remote is not easy to scale. Big companies have reportedly had a hard time transitioning to a remote workplace. Create your roadmap and playbook, including a robust onboarding process. Add the relevant information on your company’s handbook and make sure everyone reads it.
Managing an all-remote team is much like managing any other team. It all comes down to trust, psychological safety, communication, and alignment of the company’s shared goals and vision. Having the right roadmap to go remote will become a key attribute of successful digital transformation efforts. It forces organizations to be more efficient and do things better. It helps teams to mature quickly and instill discipline that sustains culture and efficiency at scale. Companies should look to amplify the benefits and minimize the challenges of moving to a distributed workforce. The pandemic should not be the main reason companies implement these policies in the long term.
At Devsu, we choose to have a remote work policy, not because of the status quo, but because we believe this approach to work makes us more competitive, efficient, and better.