The Secret to Remote Work? It’s Not All About You

You’re at a holiday party, and invariably, someone asks what you do. You respond, explaining that you work remotely. Cue the raised eyebrows and polite nods.

That’s because when remote work gets mentioned, it can conjure up all kinds of notions. People working in their pajamas. Workers slacking off. A disconnected, maybe even dysfunctional team culture. Some people still have this idea that you need to be sitting in an office from 9-5 to get things done. A few companies such as IBM are even bringing all remote workers back into the fold of the office.

But then there are other companies like GitLab, Buffer, and Zapier, which are ‘remote only,’ with everyone working out in the wild. They find a range of benefits, including the extra flexibility and increased productivity that comes from avoiding a commute and covering more time zones (not to mention the work-life balance for employees and the overhead savings for the company).

Most companies aren’t fully remote yet. But we all experience remote work and collaboration in some way, whether we have an occasional ‘WFH day’ or work virtually with teammates and other offices that are scattered across the globe. In fact, a 2015 survey found that 37 percent of US workers have fulfilled their job duties from somewhere other than an office, compared to just 9 percent in 1995.

Remote work isn’t just about your individual productivity… you’ve got to figure out how to work together as a remote team.

As remote work becomes part of the fabric of our working lives, we need to find ways of embracing it and making it better. The first step on that journey is remembering that remote work isn’t just about your individual productivity when you’re not in an office—you’ve also got to figure out how to work together as a remote or virtual team.

So we’ve rounded up some tips so individuals and teams can make the best out of remote work.

Tips for productivity outside of the office

  • Create some boundaries. Even if you don’t have the space for a home office, it’s important to carve out a dedicated workspace. If you work from the comfort of your bed, it may be more tempting to take that nap. (It may also make it more difficult to fall asleep when it’s time for bed).
  • Set up a routine. When you don’t have to commute, you get precious time back in your day. But with extra (and more flexible) hours, you still need to be thoughtful about how you structure your day. Adopting a routine can make you more productive and creative.
  • Take breaks. It can be hard to ‘switch off’ when your work and life are happening in the same place. But it’s important to remember that you can and you should take breaks. Avoid cabin fever by hitting the gym, taking the dog out, or grabbing coffee.
  • Share your status. Whether it’s through scheduled check-ins or just by updating your status on the chat tool, make sure you’re communicating with the rest of your team. If you go offline, provide extra context around why and when you’ll back in an away message.
  • Make video your friend. You may be tempted not to show your face (especially if you haven’t changed out of your pajamas) but when you can, try having video meetings instead of just calls. Face-to-face interaction leads to tons of non-verbal cues. Without video, you’re missing out on all those signals—and your chance to build relationships.
  • Be considerate of time zones. If you have a teammate in Europe who’s always staying late for your weekly calls, offer to rotate the meeting time so you can share the inconvenience that comes from working in different time zones.

Get more tips for boosting your productivity when you’re working from home »

Tips for making a remote team work

  • Set some ground rules for team communication. At an in-person or virtual team meeting, come together to decide on a ‘team charter’ for communication. Figure out in what situations you all should use video conference, phone calls, chat, or email, and set a preference order. Agree on some ground rules, such as ‘no blind cc’s in emails’ so everyone’s clear on what not to do. It’s important that this is a joint effort, with team-wide input (not just a directive handed down from the leader).
  • Check in with the team. Hold team-wide video-conference meetings if it’s possible. See everyone’s faces and allow time for casual conversation to help build those personal relationships and team bonds.

If you’re a leader, you need to mentor, develop, and sometimes have tough conversations with the people you lead, all remotely. Set up regular one-on-one video meetings with your direct reports. Try to give feedback in that setting instead of via email, which can be misinterpreted.

  • Hire good communicators. When hiring we often focus on specific skills, previous experience, and cultural fit. But when you’re building a remote team, you have to assess virtual skills as well. Remote work requires good listening, communication, and collaboration skills. Talk to candidates the same way you’ll talk to them on the job throughout the interview process: in person, by phone, on video, and via email.

Get more tips for building an effective virtual team »

One more tip: Trello recently put together a handy guide to remote work, full of tips and strategies. They’re walking the walk, too—65 percent of their team is remote, and they even went so far as to add ‘embrace remote’ to their company values. Be sure to check it out for even more tips on embracing remote work.

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