Remote work isn't new, but thanks to technology and changing norms, it is growing. It allows for more flexibility for workers, and brings new opportunities for companies — a wider hiring pool and lower overhead among them. But it also brings a unique set of challenges to be met.
Remote workers need boundaries image via Shutterstock
Brought to you by Telstra’s Workforce Mobility Solutions, empowering your people with the collaboration and mobility tools they need to act in the moment.
While offices can be distracting places, with loud co-workers and endless meetings, remote workers often face the opposite problem — isolation and a lack of communication.
Not everyone can handle this, and one of the most common refrains is to hire people you can trust and who will thrive with less socialising and oversight.
Zapier, a software startup that has always had a distributed team, offers this warning: "the truth of the matter is that remote workplaces are usually less social than co-located ones. People on remote teams need to be ok with that. And the best remote workers will thrive in this type of environment."
Even so, there are some simple strategies to ensure the wellbeing and productivity of remote workers.
Technology blurs the lines between work and play — our devices are always connected, the emails never stop. This effect is compounded for many remote workers. While officeworkers often have a routine and commute to separate their worlds, many remote workers enjoy no such thing.
Writer and podcaster Stephen Dubner also talks about the importance of this separation, saying “it’s important to have a place to go to every day”. Dubner rents an apartment across the street from his home to act as his separate space, but it could be a co-working space or even an empty bedroom. The key is that it is separate from the rest of your life, a place you can go to exclusively be in "work mode".
Part of what's driving remote work is the explosion in communications tools and accessories — it's never been easier to keep in touch with you team. Whether it's Slack, Hipchat, Skype or something else, there tools to suit all kinds of companies and workstyles. The key is to use them effectively — so that no one is forgotten.
Automattic, the company behind Wordpress, is illustrative of how to do this right. Automattic is now fully distributed — without an office, but when it did have an office, all communication was done through chatrooms, Google hangouts and blogs regardless. This meant that everyone — no matter where they were located, could be part of the conversation and see what was going on.
Keep everyone updated
Scott Hanselman, who worked remotely for Microsoft for many years, writes about the feeling of guilt that often arises in remote workers. When your co-workers can't see you, they can assume you aren't doing much.
"Remote workers need to make it easy for folks to answer the question "What is that person working on?"" writes Hanselman.
In order to keep everyone on the same page, Hanselman instituted a simple way to keep track of everyone's productivity - they would set goals and check up on them weekly. With this system there isn't any need to be constantly keeping track of who is doing what, when.
"we'd send out a list of three things each Monday that we wanted to accomplish that week. We'd follow up on Friday with what happened to those three things - what worked and what didn't," writes Hanselman.
Nomatter how good your workers, policies or environment, nothing beats face to face communication. This is why most of the bigger distributed workforces regularly gather everyone in one place to catch up — Buffer invites families along, Zapier goes to interesting places for retreats, and Automattic are famous for flying in workers from all around the world for a week of team building and events.
Meetups don't have to be as extreme or expensive as these examples — these companies also regularly fly individual workers around to get together and collaborate. Scott Hanselman would visit Microsoft headquarters once a quarter for meetings, but would take time to hang out with co-workers outside of work as well. It's all about building that chemistry that doesn't transmit through screens.