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Understanding Remote Work

A guide to creating a workplace that’s distributed, asynchronous, and flexible.

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Posted 6 Oct 2016

Working outside of a designated office is on the rise is on the rise, but do we have enough understanding on what it really means to maintain productivity, collaboration and healthy lifestyle?

There are many flavours of remote work, and the definition of such is frequently being bent to fit a list of generous work perks. From remote-friendly to remote-first, let’s try to determine what differentiates remote work from traditional employment arrangements.

Remote Work is Distributed

The key identifier of remote is the distributed nature of where you perform your work duties. At its core, remote work embraces a worldwide-spread workforce which can collaborate effectively. There are many flavours of that approach, from remote within the country of origin of a given business to fully spread out, remote-first organisations.

In an ideal, remote-first organizations, companies should start by:

  • Shying away from enforcing mandatory office presence
  • Welcoming potential employees from anywhere on the planet
  • Avoid setting global office hours (due to timezone differences)

Remote Work is Asynchronous

Asynchronicity, meaning collaborating and responding in your own time, is being thrown around as a differentiating factor between remote and non-remote work. This idea is incorrect; in reality, co-workers can be effectively asynchronous while sitting in the same office—when working on multiple projects or taking extended amount of time to reply to messages.

Unsynchronized work definitely does become more prominent if multiple employees are located in non-overlapping time zones and brings many benefits. One of them is being able to schedule blocks of uninterrupted work, boosting the ability to complete tasks more effectively. The nature of asynchronous communication, no matter which medium you use (email, Slack, etc.), also leaves us with a written backlog of decision making and ideas that are easy to reference later on. Lack of synchronicity is part of every workday and the only difference is that remote work embraces and takes advantage of it.

Remote Work is Flexible

While remote work requires quite a bit of discipline to maintain productivity to power through your tasks, the lack of synchronicity or headquarters presence means full flexibility and governance of your time. It becomes even more plausible as timezones don’t overlap at all.

Jason Zimdars of Basecamp, a well-established remote company, describes the joys of both pliability of time and embracing interruptions really well in his “Why I work remotely” article. This flexibility brings a new level of freedom that traditional 9-5 workers usually don’t have—spending more time with family, running errands, exercising and other activities that we usually struggle to find the time for.

This Employee Pulse survey is a great way to boost your company’s remote work flexibility. Allowing anyone access from any device – any time, anywhere – to our global network, you can tap into a diverse workforce without them ever having to leave their homes or offices.

Remote Work Relies on Accountability

Every job comes with certain responsibilities, and it’s reasonable to assume that each employee would have a high quality working ethic. In a remote setting, when it’s harder to track work without well-established product management workflow, transparent processes, accountability becomes crucial.

A remote work situation is built on trust: employers have to trust that their employees will perform their jobs, and employees are held accountable for being productive in their work and communicate its outcomes. It’s essential to understand that there’s more individual responsibility and accountability to see ideas come to fruition.

However, this also means that it is important to pay special attention to different types of employee recognition since that can often suffer in the face of remote work. This is because the opportunity to metaphorically pat an employee on the back seems to get put on the back burner when managers are not dealing with their employees in-person.

Workarounds could be organizing in-person events (especially for new recruits), sending hampers or a special gift to an employee who has put in a lot of effort, or sending some custom company swag to a new employee who has just joined your team.

Remote Work Requires Communication

Communication is the pillar of remote work. The importance of clear, honest and concise way of expressing yourself in both written and spoken form cannot be underestimated. While the Web might make communication more realtime, it definitely doesn’t mitigate misunderstandings.

For a remote team it’s crucial to be effective and emphatic in the way they talk to each other as well as sensibly utilize tools that will aid this goal—from text chat software (Slack), realtime call services (HangoutsTalky), and visual technical assistance (ViiBE), through to screen-sharing apps (Screenhero) just to name a few.

The subject of remote work is complex, and communication, flexibility, and accountability are only a few aspects that define its success. Embarking on the adventure of implementing remote work in your organisation should start with fully understanding what remote truly entails, where to focus your efforts ensuring effective collaboration and inclusion of the remote employees.

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