While remote work may feel like a pandemic-driven affair, some workers and organizations have been operating in an all-remote environment for years before it started. To figure out what makes remote work successful, it makes sense to listen to some of the lessons they’ve learned. Having interviewed founders of remote companies and employees—and having worked remotely myself for years, sometimes as a solo freelancers and sometimes in a full-time role—I’ve learned there are two real keys to making it work. One is to over communicate. The other is to adopt a remote-first mindset.
I talk about these tips in much greater detail, and others, in my new book The Everything Guide to Remote Work.
What does it mean to over communicate? In one sense, it means repeating information. Make sure you share information multiple ways and multiple times. For example, if you have planned time off, tell your teammates and manager in your next meeting. Then remind them with a message in Slack, Microsoft Teams, or whatever is your primary communication system. Put the same information on your shared calendar and your out-of-office email auto-reply. That’s four repetitions, which isn’t too many.
The point is to make sure people land on important information without having to seek it out. In the above example, I would actually schedule in advance one more reminder message on my team messaging app to send on the first day I will be out.
Another way to over communicate is to be explicit with feedback, which includes positive feedback. When people work together in a shared space, whether it’s an office, a school, a courtroom, or somewhere else, they can pick up on the mood of the people and the place. If you’ve worked in a shared work environment before, you know you can feel the tension when the business isn’t going well and when it’s going well, you hear people congratulating each other for their wins, see the smiles on their faces, and so forth. All that sentiment easily gets lost in remote work. So it’s important to communicate it intentionally and repetitively when working remotely.
Tell people when they’ve done a good job. Schedule regular all-hands or large-team meetings to give an update on whether the organization is meeting its goals. Communicate what those goals are at least once a year, though twice a year is better.
Adopt a Remote-First Mindset
Adopting a remote-first mindset is the second real key to making remote work successful. What it means is designing the processes, procedures, communication methods, rules, and organizational cultural to specifically work in a remote environment. In other words, you have to build the organization to be remote. Building a remote organization is easier when you start from the get-go as a remote team. It’s much harder for organizations that have a history of working in person. But it can be done.
Having a remote-first mindset mostly comes from the top of the organization, but employees can be influential in building it and promoting it as well. Your organization can give you the right tools to communicate remotely, for example, but it’s up to you to use them. It’s also up to you to start communicating as if you are in an all-remote environment (by intentionally over communicating, for example).
Here’s another example of how a team might shift from having an in-person culture to a remote-first one. Let’s say your team historically communicate primarily in face-to-face meetings and informal workplace conversations. In a remote environment, you should not simply take that type of communication and move it online. Instead, you have to consider this question, “How do we best get to the same results while working remotely?” The answer is unlikely to be “move all the meetings online” and instead it might be to have regularly scheduled online meetings and an online collaboration space, like a brainstorming whiteboard, where people can jot down ideas they have throughout the day. To replace the informal in-person conversations, you might create a few channels in Slack (or your preferred team messaging app) for non-work conversations, such as discussing the news, parenting issues, pets, and so forth. And make sure people have permission in the app to make new channels so they don’t feel pigeon-holed into only talking about the topics that management gives them.
Remote Work Success Take Intentional Change
Making remote work successful takes intentional planning. It doesn’t just happen by moving work online. If your organization has been struggling or if your team’s morale is flagging after months of doing remote work in an unintentional way, start making changes by thinking about how you can over communicate and embrace a remote-first mindset.