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How to be Remote-First When You Still Have an Office

https://blog.doist.com/remote-first/

blog.doist.com

How to be Remote-First When You Still Have an Office
Learn remote-first communication and collaboration practices for operating as a hybrid or “remote-ish” team with remote workers and office employees.

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The challenges of hybrid teams

The challenges of hybrid teams

Most companies embracing remote work also have dedicated headquarters. But remote-ish teams have even more communication and collaboration challenges than fully remote teams.

For example, in hybrid teams, remote employees are often left in the dark. Office workers are often heard, recognized, and promoted, while remote workers are forgotten.

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Remote-friendly vs remote-first

The single biggest mistake companies can make is to opt to be remote-friendly instead of remote-first. Companies often accept the idea that remote is the future of work without creating an inclusive culture to ensure it works for everyone.

  • Remote-friendly environment: Employees are allowed to work remotely, but work is not optimized for it. There is a disconnect between office and remote employees and team meetings exclusively occur in a co-located time zone. Water cooler chat is a space for key decisions and presence is correlated with meaningful work. Communication is synchronous-first. Managers must work in the office.
  • Remote-first companies: Employees are empowered to adopt remote work. Real-time meetings are kept to a minimum and recorded. Decisions are made online and performance is measured by output, not by hours worked. Communication is asynchronous-first. Managers are encouraged to work from home.

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Connecting a remote-ish team

Hybrid companies function best when the entire company is optimized for remote work. Successful hybrid teams set up processes to help their remote workers thrive alongside their office teammates.

Leadership must acknowledge the various challenges remote workers face and create solutions. Create a remote work policy that keeps remote workers and contractors from feeling like second class team members. Remote workers should feel fully connected and not missing a thing.

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How hybrid teams can build bonds

  • Mentorship weeks and in-person onboarding. Extend new remote team members the opportunity to meet their office peers by flying them out to headquarters for onboarding. It builds personal relationships early on that ease collaboration.
  • Get office colleagues to work from home. Create work from home weeks for office colleagues to help build empathy and understanding of the pain points of remote work.
  • Offer company conference perks. Give remote and office teammates a chance to build relationships through shared learning experiences with conferences or professional development opportunities.
  • Host company-wide retreats. Whenever possible, bring the entire team together for a few days for a retreat or off-site to accelerate bonding experience.

While these opportunities are costly and require coordination, they pay ongoing dividends.

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Ensure HQ workers have flexibility

Create an explicit work-from-home policy for office employees that extends the benefits of remote work to office employees. Clearly outline the expectations of remote workers in documentation.

Ensure your guideline answers the following questions:

  • Can office employees work from home any day of the week?
  • How many consecutive days can office employees work from home?
  • What is the maximum number of days an office employee can work from home?
  • Do office employees working from home need to maintain certain working hours?
  • Can office employees work remotely while travelling?
  • Do office employees need to ask for permission to work from home?

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Creating differentiated policies

While treating both remote and office employees fairly, they don't necessarily need to be treated the same. Consider the unique needs of each group and create policies and perks that address them.

  • Office employees only can receive public transit credits, free coffee and snacks, Friday catered lunches, and an on-site fitness facility.
  • Remote employees only can receive a home office budget, healthy snacks or coffee shop allowance, and internet subsidy, one annual trip to HQ.

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Asynchronous communication as the primary option

Remote-ish teams should adopt asynchronous communication as the primary source of correspondence.

  • Synchronous communication, where a quick back-and-forth conversation is possible, falls short for remote-ish teams. Synchronous-first teams encourage an always-on culture, defaults to meetings, relies on time zone coordination and real-time collaboration.
  • Asynchronous communication serves hybrid teams, where participants communicate when they're available and discussion occurs intermittently. Asynchronous-first teams default to writing, choose their own productive working hours, and default to undisturbed deep work.

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Build a culture of documentation

A few important areas where centralized and accessible documentation should exist:

  • Company policies, core values, and operating principles
  • Project management system guidelines
  • Critical service outage instructions
  • Technical implementation resources
  • Product and project roadmaps
  • Career development paths
  • Decisions should be documented and the next steps put in writing

Clear and concise documentation is crucial to empower individuals and teams with the information needed to do their work. It allows remote individuals to work more independently without having to wait for an answer.

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Make synchronous communication accessible

Video calls and other forms of synchronous communication still serves a function. However, synchronous communication should be made available asynchronously:

  • For occasional synchronous meetings, find reasonable time for everyone. Ensure ideal time slots are rotated between team members.
  • Try having everyone call in from their respective desks and computers to eliminate side conversations.
  • Record video calls and make them available for viewing later in a central place for all team members.

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Real-time communication drawbacks

While real-time communication inside of a team might lead to solving faster some issues, it also has various disadvantages. 

For instance, having your colleagues come to ask you questions to which you feel pressured to answer on the spot leads to you being continuously interrupted, which results in being less productive and feeling stressed or even getting a burnout, as you try to do everything in proper time.

The asynchronous workplace

When the employees are provided with control as to when they are willing to communicate with their co-workers, there are many advantages that emerge. 

For instance, having the freedom to decide exactly how your working day should look like leads to more satisfied employees as well as to better communication within the team. Further benefits vary from feeling less stressed due to better planning to greater transparency and more efficient work.

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Keep teammates accountable

Creating accountability is a great way to manage the work remotely. Accountability is shifted to the teammates, who are now supposed to be responsible for their own work and decisions.

One way to build accountability in remote teams is to assign groups and let teammates hold each other responsible. Also make teammates share their work experience and any issues they face, publicly (within the team) so that it acts as a ready solution for others, reducing repeat work.

Document Everything

Even if the team is small, document, formalize and map each process, making it scalable and automatic.

Standard Operating Procedures, if used correctly in a remote setting, can act like a central nervous system.

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Common Challenges of Remote Work

Even high-performing employees can face a decline in job performance and engagement when working remotely. This can be due to:

  • Lack of face-to-face supervision, which leads to a two-way communication gap and even mistrust.
  • There is a delay in the procurement of information as remote workers aren’t able to sense the atmosphere and real-time events at the workplace, leading to a lack of ‘mutual knowledge’.
  • A sense of isolation among remote workers, leading to a feeling of less belongingness within the organization.
  • Distractions at home due to unplanned work-from-home transition, with employees balancing childcare and many other responsibilities along with work.

Improving Engagement And Productivity

A few specific, research-backed steps that can be taken to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees:

  • Establishing Structured Daily check-ins, by establishing a daily call or touchpoint.
  • Providing several different communication technology options, using virtual communication tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc., and making use of video conferencing.
  • Establishing clear rules of engagement for communicating with the coworkers or the managers, according to the levels of urgency.
  • Providing opportunities for remote social interaction by talking about non-work activities, thereby reducing the feeling of isolation among remote workers.
  • Offering encouragement and emotional support by listening to the workers, acknowledging their stress, and keeping their needs and issues in focus.