3 Keys To Creating A More Effective Remote Working Environment

Remote work: organizations do it superlatively well — and totally awfully. Photo: Black laptop on bed by Kaique Roche via Pexels.

Over the past number of years, as a self-employed marketing consultant, I’ve formed part of a number of different remote and hybrid teams centered around a number of different geographies.

Although my perspective is only my own, I believe that I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to running teams in these configurations.

Learning from both experiences — the great ones and the terrible ones — these are the three things I would say that teams that run remote well get right.

Appropriate, Collaborative Management Is Key

Many organizations are currently making their first forays into the remote world at the moment, working with external contractors for the first time or those only on site one day per week.

Unfortunately, when presented with these unfamiliar arrangements, many managers’ tendencies is to swing straight into aggressive micromanagement mode, which is virtually always a mistake.

This reaction to offsite subordinates might be natural from a psychological perspective for mangers who are used to leaning over the shoulders of those working for them. But it tends to have a disastrous and stifling impact upon retention. And after all, why should a manager’s anxiety be a subordinate’s problem?

By and large, those willing to work remote jobs tend to be self-motivated — otherwise it’s difficult to have confidence in your ability to make such a job work. And many — potentially unlike their superiors — have worked in remote configurations for years.

This mismatch creates a culture clash that’s ready to explode at any moment in the faces of many companies. Remote opportunities tend to attract those who thrive working in such environments. But existing hierarchies may be uncomfortable or even hostile to such working relationships.

Authoritative top-down management processes are a real turn-off for many, but particularly those who see themselves as being capable of collaborating and thriving remotely.

When organizations and managers instinctively reflex to these ways of working simply because an organization has gone remote, the outcome, for retention, can be disastrous. Talent feels suffocated, unheard, and unappreciated. And so they leave. If remote is going to be the new normal, encouraging management to successfully navigate this trend is the logical starting point for improvement.

Organizations that do remote work well hire a management layer that trusts those they hire to get their job done well without resorting to micromanagement. Bottom-up (or outside-in) decision-making also tends to hitch along for the ride. Both can drastically improve retention and hence cut down on the sometimes tedious process of recruiting remotely.

In Remote Environments, Documentation Becomes King

Perhaps unsurprisingly (I’ve spent a large part of my career writing), I’m an enormous believer in the power of documentation to better how companies operate.

Ever organization has some degree of institutional knowledge that should be cataloged, nurtured, and passed down between layers of a hierarchy or simply between colleagues on the same level.

Almost every organization (I contend) could benefit from some kind of formalized process for recording and storing that information in the form of a knowledge management system or KMS (truly almost any will do, even Google Docs, although I’m particularly fond of Confluence).

Too often, companies only properly commit to knowledge management once they’re big (think: enterprise scale). However, even microscopic business units often hold substantial knowledge within their ranks.

Human turnover is actually another argument in favor of recording internal knowledge. When staff leave, particularly longstanding players, knowledge bleeds out. Capturing every contributor’s know-how and input from the get-go can help to greatly mitigate the loss.

The benefits of documenting what you and your people know are manifold but again these are magnified in remote working arrangements. For the sake of simplicity consider the onboarding use-case.

Many organizations I’ve worked with have been in the throes of scaling, onboarding new team members on an almost weekly basis. Failing to document company knowledge in these circumstances represents an enormous wasted opportunity and will quickly swallow up managers’ time telling new hires more or less exactly the same thing about the company’s mission, what it does, and what internal procedures look like. This is a perfect use-case for async communication if there ever were one because none of this information needs to be transmitted in live sessions (although far too often it is).

As the onboarding process scales, this dissemination process can quickly become an informational bottleneck. But the repercussions of failing to document information are magnified when the operating environment is a remote one and even simple meetings require scheduling.

Personally, I advocate being pedantic about managing knowledge. Does your hybrid office have an address and door code? Jot that down somewhere staff can predictably access so that the all hands isn’t delayed by five contractors texting the CEO to ask how they get in the door. Non public facing bios? Those should go in the same place.

Make Asynchronous Communication Your Default

While I’m an enormous advocate for asynchronous communication and the growing panoply of tools supporting it — I love email, Loom, Yac, and more — equally I realize that most organizations can’t only be async.

To illustrate the limitations of asynchronous communication, consider the case of calling an ambulance to assist with a medical emergency (yes, really!).

Many of us would be justifiably miffed if we called 911 only to be told that the ambulance service was only checking its voicemail once per day and communicating asynchronously with patients. So clearly async can’t be the only game in town.

Extrapolating from that experience, we can see that for most organizations it’s some combination of synchronous and asynchronous that’s going to yield the best results.

The remote environment presents a few unique features. One of those being that colleagues spread across different time zones are frequently called upon to collaborate on a daily basis. In such a setup, asynchronous communication should be the default mode of communication with synchronous meetings held only when real-time back-and-forth exchanges are needed and desirable.

Practically speaking, this often does not happen.

The most salient feature of the organizations I’ve thought have done remote work poorly (to horribly!) has been that “let’s hop on a quick Slack sync” has been the default method for collaboration and decision-making, leading to a steady stream of meetings between colleagues that quickly ends up monopolizing the working day and preventing anybody from achieving fruitful periods of deep work.

There are organizations that ‘do’ remote superlatively well.

And those for whom this recent trend has been, frankly, a retention-killing disaster.

For those organizations that want to come out of this trend performing better than ever, the three tips, above, might be of guidance.

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Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com

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