What they don’t tell you when your team goes remote
As a semi-remote, distributed team, we work half of the time remotely and half of the time in the office. That’s quite a bit of time off premises; but shows that even in a remote-friendly environment, it’s still a challenge to go all-in.
Since joining Visma a few months ago, remote work as a norm will become inevitable. With 8,500 people spread across 10 different countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Latvia, Romania, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, UK and South America), Visma’s teams are even more scattered than ours. We now have greater responsibility when it comes to communicating across countries, languages and cultures.
“To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision.” — Richard Branson, Founder & Chairman of Virgin
As with self-driving cars, genome editing or applying for a mortgage from your phone; working remotely is no longer the future. It’s the present. We have the tools and resources to connect anytime, anywhere in the world, with anyone we want; boosting efficiency, reducing costs and increasing employee engagement. But telecommuting is not just about efficiency. It’s also a competitive advantage, and companies that want to attract top talent need to start embracing this fact. The right person for your team might live all the way across the world… And it’d be a shame to miss out on working with them just because of location.
What we’re learning about remote work
- It’s not just about the benefits. Working remotely also requires effort. Work while you travel, more time with family, better work-life balance… The benefits are clear (and pretty great!). But most of us don’t realize that it also takes work to work remotely. Skills such as effective communication, trust, empathy and transparency need greater consideration and fine-tuning (read this post for the top skills all remote workers should master).
- Communication is key. If good communication is challenging; remote communication is an uphill battle. In our own team, English is not everyone’s native language and our backgrounds are very different (10 nationalities in a team of 12!). Communication between us is sometimes broken or misinterpreted. A few things we’re doing to improve this include: not making assumptions about what others say, considering different perspectives, speaking up clearly when we don’t understand, establishing context up-front and being as concise as possible.
- Trust your colleagues above all-else. Fostering a culture of trust and openness is not easy, and not everyone can call themselves lucky enough to work in a team that embraces these things. It has been proven that flexible, motivated, well-organized teams where members get along are also the most productive. But how do you recreate trust and openness when your team is remote? Above all: “assume only good intentions and beyond good intentions, do not assume anything else”.
- It’s not for everyone. Some people need an office setting, the constant buzz of people around (try Noisli for that) or just somewhere to go every day. Not everyone is disciplined enough to work from home and, on the contrary, some people over-work themselves as the hours slip by. Each of us is more productive in a certain setting or environment, and finding which one works best is crucial for a remote worker’s happiness.
- Company culture plays a huge role. In the words of Frederic Laloux: “an organization cannot evolve beyond its leadership’s stage of development”. Even if every employee in a company is ready and committed to going remote, leadership must be fully on board for it to work. Managers need to be ahead of the game, understand what remote means and learn how to support their employees in being effective. Companies often say they are “remote-friendly”, but then manage remote teams as if they were on-site. This might not be sustainable in the long run.
3 things we’re doing to improve our remote culture
- Building a community. Once/twice a year Visma hosts UX Days, where our distributed team gets together in one place for fun team building and workshops. We’ve found this helps when you go back online again. We also have bi-weekly inspiration meetings, during which anyone can share something they found interesting with the rest of the team (whether or not its work-related). These formal and informal gatherings build a sense of community, and help team members feel a part of something bigger, even if they’re working across the world from each other.
- Constant learning. We make it a priority to stay informed about what’s not working and learn from our mistakes in order to improve. We read about how to be better communicators, how to run efficient online meetings and techniques for organizing distributed teams like ours. We also host regular retrospective sessions; getting together to see how everyone in the team is feeling and what can be improved.
- Fostering respect. This one is valid for non-remote teams, too. Respect is key to any team working well together and being productive. We’re all different, not everyone will agree and, maybe, not everyone gets along. Acknowledging this and remembering to respect each other, regardless of differences, goes a long way (both on and offline).
Many only see the benefits in remote work. We tend to idealize it, think it’s easy and that technology alone makes it possible. But we’ve learned that remote work is none of these things. It can actually be hard, and requires skills and work in order to be effective at it. Are you ready to go 100% remote?
Stuff about remote work that we’re reading:
- Remote: office not required. By Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
- Influencing Virtual Teams: 17 Tactics That Get Things Done with Your Remote Employees. By Hassan Osman
- How effective is telecommuting? By Tammy D. Allen, Timothy D. Golden, and Kristen M. Shockley
- Employee engagement. By Gallup
- How to run virtual meetings. By HBR