Continuing on this series, this part will tackle remote-only work. Remote for many was a completely foreign idea up until a couple of years ago when lockdowns made it mandatory. Funnily enough, I believe most companies are better off going for full remote than most hybrid setups. Let’s see why.
By this point, there’s some dichotomy. Some people would rather work from home as much as possible, while others are entirely fed up and go to the office even if there’s no one else there. There’s no right or wrong here. It just means that companies need to decide what they are going to do. As we saw in the previous part, this should make up part of your hiring strategy so that you attract people with the right cultural fit. Make up your mind and go with it. When does remote only make sense?
Companies with global markets: If you’re going to sell or work with clients globally early on, having your workforce mimic that makes a lot of sense. In the previous part, I discussed the importance of having R&D close to the customer. If the customer is everywhere, so should you be.
Senior teams: Remote can work even with juniors, but if your team is mostly senior—or that is the type of team you intend to hire—then remote becomes easier. It also seems that seniority is somewhat correlated with a propensity to prefer remote teams. Many senior personnel tend just to be older. They, therefore, value family life and the ability to be in the suburbs more than fresh out of college juniors who enjoy city life.
Helps with lowering costs: As opposed to the burden of having to hire all your talent within the same geographical location, remote provides you with ultimate flexibility. You save on office space costs as well as have the ability to bring on people from all over the world. Especially for companies that have offshore development going on, having everyone be remote in the first place makes it easier to integrate contractors as part of the team. It’s not just them who are “not in the office,” it’s everyone.
Aids with diversity: There’s no denying that remote allows more people from different backgrounds and in different conditions of life to join the company. This will be wasted if your startup mainly aims to hire people of the same mold, e.g., alumni of the same university.
Culture of articulation: Remote rarely works well if you fear creating even simple processes and putting anything in writing. I’d say that remote only shines when the company’s key people lead by example and regularly summarize ideas, approaches, and decisions to share with everyone. Thus, you slowly create a culture based on articulating thoughts and enabling everyone to stay connected and involved regardless of working hours.
Making Remote Work Work
Much has been written about remote work, so I’ll keep this strictly to things I haven’t seen talked about enough or that too many still fail to do.
Let go of management crutches: If you’ve managed teams pre-pandemic, surely you’ve grown accustomed to having all sorts of little aids that a colocated team offers. For example, you can spot a “debugging huddle” and understand that there’s probably a problem (or a really funny meme). You can notice that an engineer seems to be socializing less. These crutches are not as readily available, and your management team’s style has to be updated to this new world.
That’s worthy of a series of articles by itself, but I commend you to research approaches for remote management. Mainly, this should include different communication patterns for coaching and management, as well as moving to outcomes-based management. You can no longer assess how hard someone works using “butt-in-seat” metrics (those never worked anyway).
For God’s sake, get good equipment: Having remote collaboration with poor equipment isn’t impossible. It’s just very close to what I imagine torture is. People are barely audible, their faces not clearly visible, with a patchy connection that means we have bad delays and miss out words every now and then. It’s a nightmare to work with people together in this manner day in and day out.
It is much more helpful than the other swag pack new employees get. Equip them with a good webcam, mic, or headset. Subsidize solid internet connections at home. That’s small change compared to office real estate and improves everyone’s workday, not just of the employee that uses the equipment.
Offices aren’t verboten: Even remote teams can enjoy the benefits of offices if those make sense. Some companies provide their employees with access to coworking spaces, so those who don’t or won’t work from home have a proper office to use. That also means that if you have several employees in the same area, they can work together from time to time. Just ensure that this doesn’t devolve into half-baked hybrid teams, to be covered in the next installment of this series.
Bring people together: Every remote company I’ve worked with that had in-person offsites reported a noticeable improvement in communication and collaboration. There’s something about how the human brain works that benefits from seeing people in meatspace, even rarely. That turns them from 2D squares on a Zoom screen to 3D people with whom you have a real connection. These should be performed at different levels of the company and several times a year. That way, even if someone can’t make it to one of these, they don’t miss out for an entire year. It also means that new employees don’t wait to have this essential experience for too long.
Write: Mentioned it in the previous part, but it is well worth repeating. I’ve yet to see a remote-only company that runs well without an abundant writing culture. This manifests in well-crafted emails, effective Slack communication, and documents that make meetings much more impactful (or replace them entirely).
In the next part, next week, we will cover hybrid teams. Subscribe to my newsletter, so you don’t miss it!
Get a sample chapter
Get the best newsletter for tech executives online, along with a free sample chapter of The Tech Executive Operating System 📖. Tailored for your daily work. Weekly, short, and packed with exclusive insights.