Communication is key

I’ve been working remotely for several years now, either full-time for a company, or as a freelancer. I’ve worked remotely where there was an office, offices full of people, and fully distributed teams.

But, especially in the last few years, there have been arguments about remote work. Are remote workers as productive? Can teams produce great things when they are all scattered in their own homes and co-working spaces? It isn’t really about being in an office or not being in an office, it’s about finding the way you can produce great work, and communicating with your team, in order to make things together.

I like to think I’ve learned a few things about successful teams, not just successful remote work. Because as I’ve learned, the two go hand-in-hand. Remote work just brings to the surface things that are especially important, but I would argue these things are just as important for teams that are sitting in the same physical space.

Many articles have been written on this topic. One of my favorites is by Mandy Brown. She talked with a lot of people who were working remotely at the time. Each team and person worked very differently, so there is no right answer when it comes to how to make remote work work.

The tools we talk about a lot, Slack, Hipchat, Basecamp, Github, Trello, etc, are just that, tools. What matters more than the tools is that the team is functioning well, people are trusted to get their job done, and they are all committed to doing good work together.

There are three things that have become important to me in order to make remote work successful, but remember, this is what works for me and everyone is different. I have teammates who work very differently and do fantastic work.

First, I do what I can to make sure that when I’m working I can focus and get things done efficiently. This means working in a dedicated space in my house that is comfortable and ergonomic. Coffee shops tend to distract me and I usually get annoyed with people, so I tend to avoid them for work that needs a lot of focus.

Second, I take regular breaks and make sure I’m working a normal work day schedule. I’ve said this before other places, but I find the idea of you can work whenever actually just leads to me working a lot. Too much in fact. And since my partner works a 9 to 5 job, I tend to work a fairly standard work day. I also communicate when I step away for mini breaks, and for longer breaks, usually quit the chat program so my team has an easy signal that I’m not available.

Third, I communicate, a lot. If you think you are communicating too much then you are probably communicating the right amount. For me, this means that I send an email at the end of my day to my co-worker in England with an update on where things are. When he gets up, he has a ready reference. I’m also really involved in chat, I like the social aspect of it, and it’s a great way for me to feel part of the team. On my current team, Hangouts are done when needed for talking through things that work better with voices rather than typing.

But here’s the thing with all three of these: I think they make anyone a better team member whether you are in an office, working from a home office, or working in a coffee shop. Even if your team is usually in a physical space together, communicating is just as important.

I like the idea of companies taking the stance of remote by default. Especially for companies with multiple offices, with some remote workers, or people who may be partially remote. It is the most important thing that can be done. Because when you place value on asynchronous communication and documentation, everyone benefits.

By remembering that not everyone can always be “in the room” I believe a team becomes a better team. Trusting people to do their work well, instead of counting the number of hours they are in the office, is how we can do our best.

This post originally appeared on The Pastry Box on 24 June 2015.