I’ve been thinking a lot about remote work lately. Mostly because I have been a remote worker since the end of last November with two different companies. In that time I have started to form some thoughts on what makes having remote teams successful and what doesn’t.
I want to preface this by saying that the two companies I have experience working with could not be more different, in both what they do and general culture and philosophy. That being said, I do think that even with these differences, there are some things about remote work that supersede the differences.
In addition, as someone who has been doing remote work, I also did read up on the brouhaha of Yahoo discontinuing their program. Honestly, I think I better understand why they did it after my experiences. But each company is different, so I don’t want to go into that here either.
To make remote work successful, you need to ensure that the entire company is committed to acting as if they are all remote. That means the people who are collocated need to make sure their communication is transparent and engages the workers who are not in the same place. This is hard to do well. Especially if the company has always had offices and a majority of workers are in the same place. When you bring on those first remote workers, the entire office needs to be on board with communicating easily with them. If this doesn’t happen the remote workers will have a very hard time feeling a part of the team.
Personally I went from working for a large consultancy that has a main office where the majority of employees are, two smaller offices, and then less than a dozen remote workers to working for a very small company half of whose workers were not in the same location. One of the biggest differences is how communication is handled. In my current team—even the people who are in the same office—use Campfire to communicate. When I start work for the day, they have been in there for hours (since they are on the east coast). To ensure we all know what’s happening, they try and communicate through it as much as possible. This has definitely been the key to making me feel very much a part of the team right from the start. The “office banter” is happening online and everyone participates.
I realize that for companies with more people, this can be trickier. But it is exactly this type of communication that is the most important. When the remote worker doesn’t get to talk just about whatever with coworkers, it seems she never really gets to know them. This is the piece that is hard to do, but it is crucial. Office visits every so often just do not do enough to help form that bond that makes for a great team. It is the day-in and day-out communication that makes it work.
My experience is limited, and I am sure there are many other remote teams or remote workers that have much to say on this subject. But in the first few weeks of being with a new remote team, this is what jumped out at me as being the significant difference between feeling completely a part of the company and being just a cog who was outside the main office.