Every company should “do” remote

The policies and culture that remote-first companies embrace are worth every company embracing. Regardless of where the employees work.

Remote work is…Hard. Here to stay. And not for everyone, or every company. Remote is intentional, not accidental — Focused first on how, not where.

And of course, remote is not what’s happening right now during COVID-19 for knowledge workers across the globe.

Remote will play a huge role for companies and employees going forward, but the polarizing headlines often don’t leave enough oxygen in the room to have a conversation. And many companies and employees seem to be making judgements about remote work based on the current pandemic-working environment.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Let’s take a breath. Because the policies and culture that remote-first companies embrace are worth every company embracing.

  • My introduction to remote thinking
  • The polarizing headlines
  • Some big opportunities
  • Three takeaways

My introduction to remote thinking

At Atlassian, I had the good fortune of working closely with Emil Ivov and the BlueJimp/Jitsi team, who Atlassian had acquired in 2015. Jitsi is an open source video conferencing platform (now a part of 8x8 — go check it out!).

I’ll never forget one of my first interactions with them: I walked over to the team a few minutes before standup started, and realized they had their headphones on and were logging into the meeting link rather than just talking in person.

“Why do this over video when you’re all sitting next to each other…?” I asked myself.

As I grew closer with the team, I realized there were two reasons:

  1. Constant dogfooding, of course! We were building the future of video, after all.
  2. They embraced a remote-ready culture. Every meeting had a URL on the invite, even if everyone was in-person. Why? Because when one member of the team was remote, they all were. You didn’t see 8 of them in a meeting room, with 1 person remote on a laptop. They all joined from their laptops. Equal access, equal treatment. No special advantage to the few who may be in-person for side conversation, etc.

Remote work is not about where you are. It’s about how you work.

And that was my first introduction to a different and intentional way of working. It changed how I view communication as a whole.

The polarizing headlines

As with literally everything in life, the polarizing, binary headlines out there are rarely comprehensive enough. The nuance is completely lost as prognosticators attempt to draw eyeballs. And companies and employees are forced to draw lines.

First and foremost: No one is working remotely right now.

We’re all pandemic-working from our homes. Everyone’s baseline anxiety is exponentially higher than what it was one year ago. Until kids are back in school, employees can proactively choose how/where to work, and the stress of health is gone, perhaps pause before casting judgement on whether remote work is for you. Especially if your company has yet to invest in the processes and top leadership support that remote demands.

Beyond that, if we abstract COVID out of the current situation, here are a few nuances that seem to be lost in the conversation:

  • Not all work can be done remotely. In fact, only 30–40% of jobs can be done remotely right now.
  • Remote work is not for everyone, every life stage, or every family/home situation. Headlines lead us to believe you have to be in or out.
  • Remote policies are challenging for many companies due to a blended workforce (i.e. retailers, etc).
  • We should not forecast the future of remote work based on the current technology. We are innovators! Most companies have just copied/pasted work into chat and video. We’re still trapped in our old work patterns. This is an opportunity; not a roadblock.

Some big opportunities

As the world mulls over this challenge, I can’t help but think there are loads of compelling opportunities:

  • Might this be an ideal opportunity to finally cement how we measure our success as knowledge workers? The stale “first to arrive, last to leave” perception/expectation must die. (And even when working remotely, don’t let the green status dot sneak in as the digital version!) In its place should be The Work: Decisions, shipped code, outcomes, sparring artifacts, customer interaction.
  • And on that topic, how might we leverage this opportunity to remind ourselves that meetings are not work? Meetings are an essential part of work, but, as knowledge workers, they are not the actual work: Thinking, collaborating, shipping, evangelizing, measuring, brainstorming, creating, and engaging with customers. Collaborative conversations are essential — but they are not the actual work.
  • How might the world look as (some) talent distributes out of tech hubs? I have no idea if “tech hubs are dead.” I do know that great talent already exists outside of those tech hubs — across the globe. And I believe that the talent in the current tech hubs today will continue to distribute at some velocity going forward, adding growth and diversity to small towns and big cities everywhere.
  • What really is that “spontaneous moment” we all reminisce about? Sitting down next to someone at lunch and talking through an idea, and leaving with The Next Big Thing! Some would argue that’s not a spontaneous moment — rather, the physical office is architected to facilitate those moments. How might we think about intentional moments for that to happen remotely (as the podcast from Remotive on Radical Candor in a remote-first environment above posits)? The other aspect to those moments is trust: You trusted that other person enough to plop down and share an idea. Psychological safety is more powerful, and transcends geography.
  • While there are plenty of arguments that remote work = less personal, there is an alternative view — a complementary one — around the fact that remote work allows your team a unique window into your personal life. Pictures, pets, and partners that otherwise would not have bubbled up in normal in-person conversation. And that can lead to a different form of bonding and trust.
  • An empowered, diverse team will always deliver a better experience to the customer and stronger results to the business. Dare we think about what we unlock by tapping into more diverse talent pools outside of our own small networks?

Three takeaways

1. The policies and culture that remote-first companies embrace are worth every company embracing. Being excellent at remote is hard and requires intentional investment. Companies like Buffer, Help Scout, Shopify, Dropbox, Atlassian, Stripe, Spotify, GitLab, Zapier, Zillow, Hubspot, and more have all published excellent content on this. As one simple example, check out GitLab’s public KPIs — they want no more than 20% of Slack messages in DMs, in order to make sure communication is in the open. Fostering an environment where remote work is encouraged requires more than just an office plan. Investment and empowerment. Acknowledging that remote can exaggerate our weaknesses. And over-communication is the expectation.

2. Remote will play a massive part in knowledge work going forward. And talent is in the drivers seat. (If you find yourself disliking working remotely, remember that no one is actually working remotely right now — we are working from home, during a pandemic. You may still dislike it as we exit COVID-19, and that’s okay too!)

And if your company isn’t thinking deeply about a remote strategy, be proactive and start the conversation — regardless of whether the outcome is remote-first, hybrid, or all in-person.

3. And in the vein of this post, especially as someone who works in technology and holds a degree in Creative Writing: Defaulting to writing is crucial for a remote or hybrid environment — and makes any environment better.

And beyond that, writing helps crystalize our own thoughts!

Product | Tech | ATX

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