How to Not Suck at Remote Work

Remote, or distributed work, is all the rage lately. Teams around the world are increasingly rejecting the classic butts-in-seats model for one that embraces working from home, the coffee shop, and beyond.

In the process, these teams are benefitting from having access to the largest pool of talent, a pool that is no longer found only in one single metro in the U.S. but across the entire world.

At Ionic, we’re a team of 40 with about half in Madison, WI, a few folks in Boston, a few in Spain, one in India, and the rest distributed around the US. As a percentage of our workforce, we’re excited about the remote side becoming the majority of the company as we grow.

We’re not fully distributed yet, and since few orgs are, I think our experience trying to embrace remote work anyways could help others in a similar situation.

Here are some ways we try to not suck at remote work:

Be “Remote-First”

One of the biggest things a mixed distributed/local team can do is develop a remote-first mindset.

In this mindset, work is done primarily in a distributed fashion as the first-class employee experience. In particular, meetings are done on video chat (Zoom, etc.) even if most of the team is local, assuming at least one other member is remote. Most meetings are recorded and shared for others to view if they weren’t able to attend.

Most importantly, this approach needs to come from the top. Something I do that probably drives the local Madison team nuts (as I’m based there) is that I try to stay on my computer and attend on video chat if even one person is going to be remote.

I believe this sends the signal that we treat the remote experience as not just a burden, or the “laptop in the corner,” but rather a first-class experience.

This also requires you to invest in proper remote communication equipment. If setting up a remote call is a pain then you’re not remote-first.

Being remote-first is the goal you and your team should keep in mind when deciding if your meetings or working processes are working for everyone.

Actually Work from Home

For teams that are not fully distributed, one way to set the tone that working from home is okay and to continue to embrace a remote-first mindset is to actually do it yourself!

If you’re a leader and you work in the main office, you need to give yourself permission to work from home, and then actually do it on occasion, because you set the tone for everyone else.

This is also an important way to build empathy for the remote experience. You might find that your team hasn’t developed that remote-first mindset yet when you’re the one on the sideline!

Embrace the Slide Deck

This one might be controversial, but learn to embrace slide deck communication.

I used to loathe “powerpoint” and everything it stood for. In the world of distributed work, it turns out that simple slide decks are an incredibly effective way to communicate and work wonderfully with screen share on nearly all video chat tools.

Get used to building slide decks to make your point and doing them quickly. You should be able to churn them out and use them as a base for a meeting rather than a major science-fair like effort. I think Google Slides works great for this use case and wouldn’t bother with a desktop-based tool.

Learn how to Communicate in Text

One of the biggest factors in whether a team or employee will be successful with remote work is how well they communicate through text. Written communication skills are more important than ever in the world of Slack and distributed work, and should be near the top of the list when it comes to hiring requirements for all new team members.

Teams need to communicate quickly and often across your main communication channels (slack, email, etc.) and do it in a coherent fashion.

This explains why Remote Work leaders like Basecamp place such a high value on writing skills. You should, too.

Turn off Notifications

Yes, turn off notifications. Don’t let Slack ping you 24/7, or have new email notifications run rampant on your attention span.

Remote teams are highly burnout prone because there’s no good delineation between work and life.

This is important for two reasons. For one, it helps you avoid burnout so you can stay healthy and go the distance, but it also allows others on the team to work on their own virtual time zone without bothering you. If 2 am is a good time for one team member and they send you a slack message with some info that is at the top of their mind, they shouldn’t wake you up in the process!

Luckily tools like Slack have developed features to avoid this problem, and it’s even a primary focus of other ones like Basecamp. Embrace the balance.

Have “Remote Weeks”

One thing we do at least twice a year is have everyone come to HQ for a Remote Week. While other remote team members visit the office more frequently during the year, these weeks are focused on bringing the entire company together, with events and meetings planned to make the most of it.

These Remote Weeks are always a blast and the team always remarks on how glad they were to see everyone in person.

What am I missing?

These are just a few things we’re trying to be deliberate about as we build out an increasingly distributed team at Ionic. What are your best tips for how to get better at remote work? Please leave a response and share your experience!

Written by

Co-founder @ionicframework. I build stuff for computers, humans, and robots.

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