10 Key Practices Of Successful Remote Work Teams

Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash

Remote work and telework (or homeworking) are not the same. Mmm, what? Wait … what? Indeed, it is a labor modality. It has specific conditions and obligations, which extend to relations between employers and remote workers. In each country, the definition varies according to the legal framework. Nevertheless, they are similar and can be confused, basically, the main difference lies in the legal flexibility.

Remote work refers to the possibility of delegating people, and job responsibilities, regardless of their location. There are options for full-time, part-time, or under the model of freelancers, by hours or projects.

Working remotely and developing remote-friendly culture seems complicated. It is only possible if there is trust, transparency, and collective intelligence to maintain a human-sized company. It comes from each team member: an opportunity to learn and improve.

The following are ten principles to find your own way in this remote adventure:

1 — Asynchronous communication

When we need to work with a partner in Malaysia, and we are in Brussels or Luxembourg, scheduling can be complicated because of time zone conflicts. So, we do any tasks (UX, development…) in parallel, and we integrate results through a final stage. That seems slower, but it’s not. In distributed teams, we need to reduce back-and-forth. This is also why remote work teams need documentation! Even if it takes time, writing down goals and important matter makes collaboration easier.

Single source of truth (SSOT) is a typical problem when the source of information (called the “truth”) is distributed between teams. Gitlab handbook is the most impressive example of SSOT. This is the first step in building a knowledge management model (like ekd/ekdm). A robust, liable, modular knowledge management system can be a game-changer to improve customer experience and reduce support costs.

Asynchronous communication (versus synchronous) and lots of written aspects should incorporate into your remote culture.

2 — Discipline

Discipline is essential. Respect for the schedule is always important, but it’s all the more so while working remotely because we have fewer means of acting on the motivation and coordination of the team. That’s why we have to respect meeting schedules.

Having periods of concentration is also essential to be able to work in remote teams. Set a timer, and close all distractions such as emails, and also real-time messaging (like Slack). It is the Pomodoro technique. For targeted and dedicated time slots! You can still be much more efficient in remote work than in a physical office. Imagine other ploys to stay focused:

▹ Organise information with online tools (like Feedly or WorkFlowy).

▹ Use bookmarks instead of clicking (if you are interested in an article, then save it and postpone reading).

▹ Reduce “noise” (read articles by minimizing distractions like ads with Ublock Origin).

▹ Analyse your concentration flow (identify and reduce the moments of inactivity during a task, if this is not possible, transform them into a learning moment). You can also follow the course of Barbara Oakley to know how the brain switches between learning modes.

▹ Having your own space to work (if it’s possible). Working in the bedroom or kitchen is not a good idea. Disorder or the association of ideas with other obligations can distract you.

You set the alarm clock early, take a shower, and have breakfast before starting. Recall something? Another fundamental question is to establish a daily routine.

Routine refers to the structuring of time and the personal automatisms that each one sets up, both to protect ourselves from threatening uncertainty and to avoid the weight of small permanent decisions, thereby releasing vital energy and potential creativity.

What can we learn from Benjamin Franklin or Churchill’s daily routine? First, we realize that Churchill believes his afternoon naps helped him be much more productive, and Benjamin Franklin made a goal to learn something new every day.

The routine is dependent on the type of planning, organizational locations, and physical networks. In short: time and space. Routines are spatiotemporally bounded acts. Routine is probably the most powerful tool to gain self-discipline.

A good remote culture requires discipline. So try to set strict habits.

3 — Lead by objectives

The dynamics of work are changing, and start-ups are at the forefront of a transformation of dynamics on a global scale. As a result, more and more “remote-first” minded organizations are reaching “unicorn” ratings with valuations above 1B $ (USD).

Thus, teams founded in all corners of the planet are structuring teams with 100% independent talent from an office and developing businesses on a global scale. This represents an opportunity for future leaders to foster innovation and collaboration.

Talented people want feedback to help them grow and improve, but beyond that, it simply makes sense to keep track of what’s going on at your business. Quantifying and measuring performance metrics is essential.

Traditional metrics can be misleading. Team members need to be able to complete their work on time. They should have a good handle on the limitations provided by the time and resources available and should be able to prioritize to get things done as efficiently as possible. Look for missed deadlines or work that suffers from cramming for deadlines for clues as to how efficiently a team is working.

Measuring team performance opens up a range of possibilities. It depends on the business, the objective, and member roles; in general, the metrics change from one case to another; each person is measured differently.

Look for quality results and interchange relevant feedback.

4 — Build a healthy remote culture

Trust people. If you don’t want to spend all your time on the phone, provoke valueless frictions or turn to micro-management, it is essential to share the projects and be clear on the responsibilities and goals.

The main job of leaders is to absorb uncertainty. Leaders must pay particular attention to not creating second-class citizens. This means everything you do focuses on including them and respecting their contributions rather than fitting them into the rest of the company. No matter how good people are in remote working, if the leaders of your teams have not taken up this challenge, it will not be felt. Leaders have a responsibility to learn how to work remotely effectively. Extra effort should be made to ask them questions and acknowledge their contributions.

Creating a full-remote organization is not without challenges. Many people have recently started to work in compulsory remote working. This obligation could lead to psychological blockage. However, do not overlook the psychological effects of distributed work. People are confronted with what they lose by being socially isolated, such as facial expressions, the intonation of the voice, a large part of non-verbal communication (the gestures that say a lot about you), and cultural rituals (like making small talk at the coffee machine).

That’s why to keep an open mind and create a culture of trust!

5 — Making teams feel more connected

It is important to help distant team members feel connected to each other. When teams work together in one place, they have the ability to connect with each other through daily interactions and micro-interactions. Team members stop at each other’s offices to chat. They can even socialize outside of work. For remote teams, these interactions may not appear unless an effort is made to provoke them.

In a recent study published by Google, maintaining contact with colleagues is one of the most important things. Although we do not see them daily, there are many ways to have a fluid relationship with colleagues: meet for lunch, talk on social networks, work in person some days…

Encourage team members to find a good work-life balance. Companies that encourage their remote workers to take sufficient time to attend to their personal needs and ensure their continued well-being are overall more productive.

Working remotely doesn’t mean being alone. Communicate effectively.

6 — Encourage teams to create their own norms for communication

Encourage teams to create their own communication standards. Teams have the freedom to create their own standards, they decide when to communicate and how, according to the needs of the project and the team, not a global company policy.

In Agile development teams, for instance, the daily meeting is not the most suitable form of communication for remote work. In Jurgen Appelo’s article, some people have recognized asynchronous messages can work as a fine replacement. Why not try spontaneous meetings to socialize and talk about important things, like Coffee Chats or Daily Cafe?

Another good example is tooling configuration. A lot of people “use Slack” without understanding how configurable it is. It’s important to create and foster conversations within Slack, so utilize plugins and one-off rooms to develop welcoming environments. Configure and use the phone icon to have a one-click way to start impromptu conference calls. Spend time investing in a proper Slack and video conferencing setup.

Encourage teams to challenge the status quo and find their own way to communicate.

7 — Setup your desk

If you can, try to customize your setup.

Else, you need a minimal setup:

▹ A good webcam … and light. Without a good light source, you will be blurred or indistinguishable.

▹ Use a high-quality microphone… not the one which is integrated into your laptop. Obviously, the sound will be better in a silent room.

▹ Stable internet connection! Really stable. Wifi micro-cuts can be detrimental.

▹ During a video conference, don’t forget to see the webcam in front of you. Facial expressions and non-verbal communication can help to express yourself.

▹ The bed or the sofa is not the better posture to work. Invest in a good ergonomic seat. Might you try to work standup and discover the benefits of that?

▹ The quality of the sound is your top priority. You need a stable and noiseless, sound. The noise and micro-interruptions can reduce your capacity to deliver value. And of course, don’t forget to stay focused during a video conference.

Be aware of remote work ergonomics.

8 — Tools that enable remote teams

A lot of remote tools are available, sometimes for free. Remote tools can be categorized as video conferencing, instant messaging, collaboration, management, social networking, virtual office platforms, and knowledge management system.

Real-time communication tools like Slack or Discord (a real one not Whatsapp …) are very useful to replace internal emails. Today, we don’t imagine a business with remote teams based only on email communication.

Slack is an incredible tool for communication and cultural interaction. It provides a lot of neat features and allows both synchronous and asynchronous discussion. It can even help combat the feeling of social isolation caused by remote work. But it can hardly become software for document management for distributed teams. You should think about having one source of truth (SSOT), with a tool like Google Drive or Notion.

You need a SSOT tool. Google Docs has a powerful permission system, distributed edition, and collaborative work. It has some limitations in research and structured content. Notion is sharply focused on delivering a modular approach to meet the end-user needs. Unlike Google Docs, it has templates organized in categories. More simple and more versatile to create a powerful knowledge base.

For video-conferencing software consider many free or low-cost options to start: Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams.

Remote work is intimately linked to cyber security. A few reminders:
▹ Protect and crypt your end-to-end data flow! (HTTPS, VPN…)
▹ Activate multi-factor authentication known as MFA (on social networks, email, payment systems, etc.)
▹ Navigate as carefully as possible. For example, check that your devices are up to date (anti-virus …), and don’t forget your smartphone. ;) Or, pay attention to the private data you publish (which can give clues to your location).

Adopt new suitable remote tools and take advantage of technology.

9 — Learn effective writing for remote work

“Easy reading is hard writing” — Thomas Hood

Good writing is good thinking. We’re writing all the time and writing can save a lot of time. The codes of writing are not the same when you work remotely. You should learn to summarise. Never send your first draft. Reread and condense it. Proofreading and learning to summarise and synthesize will make you more effective.

When someone asks you a question, by instant messaging, for instance, prioritize data and give a precise and concise answer. Kill the car salesman inside you and avoid unnecessary adjectives and superlatives.

Try to have effective, pragmatic, and assertive communication.

10 — Change your mindset

A remote working model can be more difficult because it involves unlearning and deconstructing the way things are done and learning new ways of working, which goes beyond whether it is used Zoom or Skype, but all the DNA of how it works.

A shared remote mindset, or attitude, will help draw your outlook. Consider remote work as serious as face-to-face. The most important thing is that you take it seriously. So you should value this job like any other. Work is what you do, not where you go.

Keep in mind remote work is part of your DNA.

In short

Asynchronous communication (versus synchronous) and lots of written info are aspects you should incorporate into your remote culture.

A good remote culture requires discipline. Try to set strict habits.

Look for quality results and interchange relevant feedback.

That’s why to keep an open mind and create a culture of trust!

Working remotely doesn’t mean being alone. Communicate effectively.

Encourage teams to challenge the status quo and find their own way to communicate.

Be aware of remote work ergonomics.

Adopt new suitable remote tools and take advantage of technology.

Try to have effective, pragmatic, and assertive communication.

Keep in mind remote work is part of your DNA.

Contact me if you found this article useful or if you want to share your experience with remote work.

Further readings:

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