How to thrive and lead in a modern flexible workplace?
Working remotely makes people productive in many ways, obviously by cutting down the commute, but also in many non-obvious ways like cutting down interruptions, ensuring a much better work-life balance and so on.
With all that being said, Remote Work can reduce and remove the human and social aspects of work and dehumanize work to an extreme to the point that it can make it harder to sympathize when people fail.
When you recognize that Remote Work is not a panacea and that you are just trading one set of problems for another, it helps you adjust faster to what is needed. Without that understanding, Remote Work can fail in spectacular ways.
The single most important ingredient for Remote Work to succeed is trust. Members in a team have to trust each other. Leaders of teams have to trust their team members. Without trust, remote simply doesn’t work.
Have a work space that is completely separate from your living space. Use your workspace only for work.
Don’t work in your pajamas. Don’t work in bed. Get up, shower, dress and then commute (by taking a few steps) to your workspace and then start working.
Ensure you have an ergonomic workspace, where you can work comfortably for an extended period of time. You owe that much to your body and extended health.
Have a regular work schedule that doesn’t change much day by day. It helps you get into a sustainable rhythm for extended periods of time.
Many people new to remote work are anxious to show their presence or the fact that they are busy doing things. Sharing outcomes is more impressive and shows real work is getting done.
Remote Work is about keeping open lines of communication. No one has ever gone wrong sharing more information. So error on the side of too much rather than too little.
‘When you write something, remember it is being read by many people on the chat channel or email. Write for simplicity. Keep emails short, say not more than 5 lines.
In Remote Work, you will write a lot. Learn to write well. Then learn to write even better.
Any message sent to you that needs your attention (could be a reply or an action) typically cannot go unanswered for more than 24 hours.
It is quite easy to be detached and aloof, minding your own work and not really participating in chat, banter or discussions. But do make the effort to engage with your team. This is hard work and it can be a bit distracting, but makes work way more fun.
When working across different time zones, it is highly likely that you will be working with a diverse set of people. This requires effort from the leaders and the team to ensure that everyone is aware of such differences and to be sensitive to those needs. When cultural norms are being flouted inadvertently, the leader must make the effort to correct and explain the problem.
Meetings suck up time. So, to be productive, try to organize your time so that you bunch all of your meetings as much as possible in a day and if possible, keep a few days in a week relatively meeting-free. Keep meetings to the point and don’t let a few people monopolize the conversation.
Getting things done is about outcomes and accomplishing objectives, regardless of the hurdles and challenges encountered. It is the primary way you increase your value to your team. It is also the most visible indicator of your effectiveness to your team members and leaders.
It goes without saying, working remotely on a job you really like will make you happier and make you more productive. You work without being micromanaged and deliver excellence. Every single time.
When getting instructions, ask clarifying questions. Think it makes you look dumb if you ask questions? It makes you look a whole lot worse when you do the wrong thing. It is easy to completely miss what is being communicated when people have totally different contexts. Asking questions will save you hours of rework. Say, ‘So if I understand you correctly, you mean that…’ Or say, ‘To summarize our discussion, here’s what we will do
If you need to let someone know about a problem that needs to be handled, it is your responsibility that the message and the potential urgency is noticed and understood. This is called a ‘warm hand-off’.
One of the hardest things to do is to figure out the things you need to work on every day. The best way to do that is to write down the top 3 things that you need to get done today.
Email can be problematic and it can even become useless if left unchecked. The trick for taking back control of your own inbox is simple and uses some ideas from Merlin Mann’s productivity approach towards email called Inbox Zero. Inbox Zero is about keeping your inbox clear or almost empty so that you clearly know what actions, if any, are needed by quickly glancing at your inbox.
Never trust your memory. Pick a few basic systems to track what you need to get done and simply trust them.
Context-switching is mentally exhausting. So do yourself a favor: if you need to hunker down and get in the zone, turn off the distractions, mark yourself with a ‘do not disturb’ sign and get your best work done.
One of the worst things about Remote Work is the fact that you become more and more withdrawn without face-to-face interactions. To combat this, have a healthy social life outside of work.
It is easy to dehumanize people in a remote work environment. If you are in charge of a team, make as much effort as you can to make sure that doesn’t happen. Ask your team to have good profile pictures that clearly shows their face everywhere. Find a way to learn more about the person behind the screen.
Remote works when it is a level playing field for the entire team. Team and company leaders can’t have it both ways. They can’t have a successful remote team while at the same time keeping a big office-based team. Decide if you are going for a remote work environment or you want everyone in the office and then stick to it.
Eventually, as the team grows, most communication channels used by teams become noisy and hard to use. This is true for all types of channels including text chat, email etc. Address those problems swiftly by doing the following: break large distribution groups into smaller groups to make communication more relevant and remind people to only send high quality communication to large groups.
Asynchronous communication is a form of communication that does not require both people to be online at the same time to communicate with each other.
Email is the perfect example of an asynchronous communication tool. You can send an email and then a reply comes back (if it ever does) back sometime later.
Chat can also be considered as an asynchronous communication tool, as long as everyone in the team understands it is asynchronous.
Synchronous communication tools require people to be online at the same time to work.
Typical examples are chat, voice calls, and video calls.
Read our comprehensive guide on synchronous and asynchronous communication in remote work here.
As with anything, what matters is starting somewhere and slowly taking small steps forward and getting better. We hope some of the guidelines, strategies and tips help you not only survive but thrive in a remote workplace.
Remote is here to stay and will increasingly be the workplace of choice for many.
For the complete book of remote work best practices, download the full e-book below.