Why some companies fail at remote work

Companies that fail at remote work focus too much on technology and too little on the process. Successful remote work is based on clear processes that support three core principles.

  • Communication: The ability to exchange information.
  • Coordination: The ability to work toward a common goal.
  • Culture: A shared set of customs that foster trust and engagement.

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Why Remote Work Thrives in Some Companies and Fails in Others

hbr.org

It can be difficult to explain complex ideas. The lack of face-to-face interaction limits social cues, which may lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

  • To avoid miscues and misinterpretation, match the message with the medium. Videoconferencing is the next best tool to talking face-to-face. Small, non-urgent requests are best suited to e-mail, instant messaging, or all-in-one platforms like Slack.
  • Frequency of communication matters. Provide regular updates, respond to messages promptly, be available at important times.

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Remote workers should be working in harmony, but people often don't know what others are doing and how everything fits together.

  • Create formal processes that simulate the informal way; for example, stopping by a colleague's desk or eating lunch together. These interactions serve as course corrections.
  • Managers should clearly articulate the mission, assign roles and responsibilities, create detailed project plans, establish performance metrics. They should also document all that and make it available offsite.
  • Managers should model and enforce the processes until they are completely incorporated.

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Remote workers who rarely meet with their teammates face to face tend to focus on tasks and ignore the team. A culture is vital to foster engagement and sustain performance over the long term.

Establish trust. Affective trust (based on feeling) is tricky to build virtually.

  • You may need to bring team members together for short periods.
  • Rituals, such as #toasts feed the culture and provide recognition for employees. Otherwise, schedule regular informal calls as a group or one-on-one.

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