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Working Remotely isn’t a Golden Ticket to Happiness

We’ve got to get over this, people. Being remote isn’t a golden ticket to happiness. In fact, it isn’t even close. First, let’s get this out of the way: there are rote jobs and creative jobs.

For rote jobs, working remotely really is all it’s chalked up to be. You can work whenever and wherever you want—you just have to do your time (yes, there’s a reason that sounds like prison), and then you can get back to the enjoyable parts of life. It’s pretty much the same job you’d be doing if you went into the office. The job consists of just doing a simple task, and that’s all anyone expects of it.

Science time!

We’re not talking about rote jobs, though. Those are getting gobbled up by machines at an alarming rate anyway. No, we’re talking about creative, social, human jobs. The jobs that bring joy to team members; the jobs that deliver a sense of accomplishment, achievement, and personal value. They’re the jobs that actually rely on a firm, well-developed company culture. So, bust out your petri dishes, social scientists, we’re going to walk through the recipe for growing a great company culture.

  1. Remote company culture feeds on—and creates—trust.
  2. Remote company culture loves diversity, and you should too.
  3. Remote company culture overcomes “the gap”

Trust

A remote work culture, like any work culture, relies on trust. This sounds very basic, but is actually the hardest thing to handle when you’ve got a calendar full of must-do things each day. Above any deadline, big sale, or board meeting comes one key need. It’s of paramount importance that the amount of trust created on a team is greater than the amount of trust consumed.

Consuming trust, you ask? It sounds downright cannibal. Well—no reason to sugar-coat it. It’s not enjoyable. Every time someone sticks around later than they wanted to; every time someone feels like you don’t want to hear their thoughts; every time someone doesn’t get invited to lunch; trust is devoured. Seems scary, right? There are traps set around every corner that will eat away at a team’s trust.

Irony? Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

But trust can be created, too—you just have to do so intentionally. One key element of this intentional positive force is that it’s done slowly. You can’t create a room full of trust overnight. However, the opportunities are right in front of us every day. We just have to act on them.

Juxtaposed to how you can very-accidentally destroy trust, you can also very-intentionally create it.

Building Trust on Any Team

Here are a few ways to build trust on any team (but the methods are myriad):

  • Ask yourself “what little thing would make ______’s day?”, then do it.
  • Ask someone’s opinion when you might otherwise not. Listen.
  • Treat the team to coffee/breakfast/whatever.
  • Give someone a task that falls in their strength set.
  • Invest in education, even if it doesn’t apply immediately/directly.

Key takeaway: supply team members with trust, and help them learn to supply each other with it too.

Diversity

Have you ever walked into a party where you were the only one under dressed (and I mean way under dressed)? It’s not just awkward, it’s debilitating. Every second of every conversation is riddled by worry that you won’t be taken seriously, and in fact, you might not be treated as an equal because of it.

Well, it can be the same way for someone who’s different from the majority in your company—except it’s not their fault. If your company is mostly male, consider how the one female feels.; if your company is mostly white, consider how one Japanese person feels; if your company is mostly Jewish, consider how one Buddhist feels.

Lack of diversity can be a big source of debilitating fear. If you’re remote, that tendency to feel alone just multiplies.
Crop of photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

You can do lots of nice things to include everyone, but for diversity the real tell is already right there, boldly staring the whole team in the face. The team didn’t dissolve into one homogeneous blob overnight; it became that way slowly, with every hire. The solution is easy to state, but it’s no small task: hire a diverse team. This works best from day one, and it gets harder to go back and fix every time you hire and forget diversity.

Key takeaway: hire a diverse team. Start early, and keep it front of mind.

Overcoming “the Gap”

“The Gap” is a social construct. When a company exists with in-office team members as well as remote team members, it doesn’t take long to realize that a social disconnect exists between the two crowds. Even if you get together a couple times a year there’s a fundamental difference between how an in-office team member approaches their day and how a remote team member does.

An in-office team member shows up each morning to an environment that’s social by default. Everyone walks in around the same time; everyone takes the same elevators; everyone gets restless around coffee-break time; everyone gets in the zone together. Every time these things occur, team members form bonds. Those bonds make trust-building activities easier and more common.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Remote team members don’t get that by default. Remote team members get some social interaction, sure, but they have to be intentional and use digital tools to do it. They have to work just to exist in their team’s “social aura,” and working to exist is a far cry from “social by default.”

For a remote team member, taking part in the in-office culture might feel like trying to drink a mountain stream through a coffee straw.

This gap is a challenge because it includes some team members in an implicit circle of trust while leaving others out of it (to varying degrees). Even when everything looks fine in-office, the remote team might be slowly consuming the trickle of trust they collect from morning standup video meetings and daytime Slack discussions. While all team members are equal in an “everyone matters” sense, remote team members are predisposed to gain less trust by default, and to use it up faster.

It’s not that the office team doesn’t want to share camaraderie and trust with the remote team—they just tend to address the challenges right in front of them as first priority. Remote team members just aren’t in their front-of-mind as much. Because of this, “out of sight, out of mind” damages a team’s trust.

Sometimes someone remembers to keep mobile team members in the loop. Sometimes.

So the solution to overcoming the gap is to be intentional about growing trust specifically for your remote team members. This, of course, is easier said than done, but it’s very important for growing your remote team responsibly—both developmentally and in size. Being intentional boils down to creating a plan and executing it.

Building Trust for Remote Teams

Just like the suggestions for any team, there are many ways you can build trust with remote team members. The catch is that this time they all have to work without you being there.

  • Do something nice for just remote team members.
  • Don’t apologize for excluding remote team members. Include them.
  • Use structure to your advantage—schedule check-ins.
  • Create opportunities for remote members to own and lead in their work.
  • Invest in further education (conferences?) for remote team members.

These are only a few suggestions, but the point is: invest actively in remote team members. It may even take more work than building trust with local team members. Remote team members start with a disadvantage when it comes to building trust, so it takes extra effort to keep up.

Key takeaway: be intentional about growing trust specifically for your remote team members.

Bridge that gap

Crop of photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Remote culture doesn’t solve itself. It doesn’t guarantee autonomy. It doesn’t make team members happy by default. Just like they always were, those things are still up to you. Bridge the gap.