Remote Work — the 21st Century Business Model

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Varying Degrees of Trust:

The first thing to note is that remote work is not an all-or-nothing activity. There are levels of “remoteness” and each comes with a different level of trust that is required to make it successful.

  • Remote work prohibited
    This is where all staff are onsite. Sometimes this is necessary if you are dealing with highly sensitive data, or you need access to specific equipment and the like.
  • Remote work tolerated
    This is where staff are permitted to work from home on occasion, such as when they (or a dependent) are sick.
  • Remote work encouraged
    This is a common scenario, where staff work 2–3 days per week in the office and the remainder at home.
  • Remote work first
    This is where a company maintains an office, but many people work from home.
  • Remote work only
    This is where a company does not have a formal office setup at all and all staff work from home with the option to work together in an office space as needed.
Increasing two-way trust with remote work

Trusting Your Staff

I have complete trust in all my staff. I choose the best there is and then I let them get on with it. I expect them to be responsible and to do their best work. If you have to constantly check up on someone, then you likely haven’t chosen the right person to work for you. There is no micro-managing (which capable staff enjoy) and they are a brilliant team who control their own workflows and are responsible for producing really high-level products. If someone needs help then they ask for it and we have a buddy system for new staff so they always have someone helping navigate through being new.

Establishment and Quality

We also have two important divisions in the company. The first is the Establishment Division and the other is the Quality Division.

REMOTE WORK BENEFITS:

Accessing the best talent

At reinteractive, we require top level developers in the Ruby on Rails language, the primary language used in our custom-built applications. While our land mass in Australia is large, we have a small population and Sydney simply doesn’t have the quantity of available and ready-to-hire senior developers that we need.

Distraction free work

While being remote means you can’t meet around the coffee machine for a chat with your co-workers, the advantages of uninterrupted, concentrated work far outweigh any negatives. It encourages focused work without the large distractions of an office environment. The amount of time saved by eliminating noise and distraction means projects get finished faster, with less frustration. And that spreads out beyond the workplace. The less stress at work, the better human relations can be all round.

Decreased costs

The following expenses are reduced, or eliminated, in a remote work situation:

  • furniture
  • fit out
  • rent

Team spirit

We have a firm policy to follow the “Golden Rule” of treating each other as we would like to be treated ourselves — with tolerance, consideration and compassion.

Flexibility

A recent survey of our staff showed high levels of satisfaction with remote working. What do they like the most? Flexibility in schedule topped the list. Many are raising a young family and they can pick-up their kids from school or code with their 6-month-old next to them, without disturbing anyone. They work just as hard and do all the needed hours, but it simply allows for greater life flexibility. Again, not all companies could support this model, but it is especially workable for software developers.

REMOTE WORK TEAMS: THE PEOPLE SIDE

Communication is king

The number one thing to focus on is communication! Strong communication helps effectively manage the challenges of working remotely.

  • Set-up a chat application — Flowdock / Slack / IRC / Whatever.
  • Dedicate one chat room for all general communication. There should be no talk about work. This room is reserved for announcing your comings and goings, and general “water cooler” chat.
  • One chat room per project for project specific communication.
  • One chat room for the various divisions — marketing, HR, etc.
  • Ability to have one-on-one private chats within the team.
  • Make sure you announce all wins and successes loudly and often. This boosts team morale.

All team members must announce their comings and goings:

Make sure arriving at “work” and leaving “work” is announced and include lunch breaks and other random breaks. Team members become frustrated if they can’t find who they need. It helps if everyone knows what the other team members are thinking and doing.

Disagreements are not settled via email or in writing

This is an extremely important point. The bigger the disagreement between people, the closer you need to bring the parties in order to solve it.

Daily meetings

In a traditional office environment, we would speak to our colleagues daily. A remote office should be no different.

Weekly meetings

A weekly meeting with all staff is critical. They need to know what is going on, where we are strong, what needs improvement. It is amazing how many bright ideas various team members come up with that can be useful. Their pay packet requires the company to be prospering, so keeping them in the loop is essential. Here are some recommendations:

  • The CEO or general manager gives an overview of progress and new upcoming projects or actions.
  • Hold it at the same time every week, with little or no variation
  • Go over what was achieved the previous week, with divisional heads also reporting to the team
  • Go over what will be achieved in the new week by area
  • Minimal discussion in the meeting, just focus on goals and targets
  • Provide an opportunity for everyone to share their wins and for good news to be shared and work well done acknowledged.

Remote work culture:

Unlike an office environment, you don’t have birthday cakes, office parties, Melbourne Cup hats, etc. You have to work harder to build a company culture, but it is well worth your while to do so.

Remote work get-together:

Make sure you get together often!

  • Take the opportunity for team activities, such as WHS training.
  • Take the opportunity for more thorough briefings.
  • Encourage people to get to know each other and chat.
  • Encourage individuals from the team to talk.
  • Focus on the social aspect on this day, not the work aspect.

REMOTE WORK TEAMS: THE MANAGEMENT SIDE

Hiring the right staff for remote work

We are very exact about who works for us. We have a specific hiring formula which includes testing a developer’s coding skills. A resume is one thing, but the interview and skills testing are more important. An interview determines communication skills and whether they will be the right fit for our team. Someone may be a brilliant developer but may lack the needed skills to directly talk with clients, under all conditions.

Strong client communication

We meet face-to-face with the client as often as possible and will fly to where they are located for various stages of the work they need done, including the UX design of their application. Developers are on a project from start to finish, creating a strong relationship with the customer. Our developers and project managers attend daily stand-ups allowing clients a high level of control throughout the build of their application.

Provide clear expectations with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

When the team is remote, there is no way to drop past and ask for a progress report. Remote team members need clear KPIs or statistics to work towards. I developed the Envisage application specifically for this purpose. It is a statistics collection and graphing application. We use it internally within reinteractive, but it can be used by anyone within their company — https://envisage.io.

Management needs to be approachable:

I also don’t hold with certain hierarchical management structures where a junior doesn’t feel they can approach management with a valid proposal or sharing new ideas and solutions to better our operations. I want to hear bright ideas. How to run this sanely is with the use of the “Completed Staff Work” principle of management. It originated in the military in the early 1940s (see http://govleaders.org/completed-staff-work.htm).

Security

This is a whole topic unto itself, but it is a primary factor in ensuring a secure work environment for our client’s intellectual property. We employ top-level security arrangements.

In Closing

Remote work can be challenging, but also very rewarding allowing teams to be more focused and able to produce without interruption.

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