While the idea of remote work is not new, starting a remote career is now more accessible than ever. Technological adoption, scientifically-backed benefits and growing interest in work flexibility are convincing more professionals to give remote work a go. But not every story ends in success; and the road to a rewarding, sustainable remote lifestyle is far from straightforward.
This guide – informed by Timely remote workers’ 17 cumulative years of experience – explores what businesses can practically do to make “remote” work for everyone.
Even though remote workers spend the majority of their working life on their own, remote success is a team effort rather than an individual one. The role played by managers and office colleagues is just as important in establishing and maintaining quality remote work set-ups.
And that starts with recognizing that remote workers as equal core members of the team. While it’s easy to build relationships with people you see every day, building meaningful relationships with people you almost never meet in-person is extremely difficult. But you need to ensure you can build a culture that includes and values all its employees equally.
Teamwork is also just as important as it is to traditional office-based teams. Building remote working into your company does not mean you can outsource a ton of work. You need to investigate the right tools, communications and processes to enable a smooth team workflow that can overcome time zones and physical absence.
So, what can managers and in-house employees do to help “remote” work? Aside from putting the right tech and processes in place, they need to provide ongoing support to enable remote workers.
Office socializing is essential for strengthening relationships and providing valuable breaks, but working remotely completely cuts you out of that circle. So get creative with the ways you have conversations. Create dedicated Slack channels for socializing and Basecamp “campfire chats” to share stories and blow off steam, hold regular “virtual coffee breaks” and get a film and book thread going. At Timely, we have a rotating colleague-led social events calendar which protects space for quality remote/ in-house downtime each quarter. Bonding is part of the job.
This one seems pretty obvious, but make an effort to get in touch with your remote workers regularly – either by instant messenger, video chat or a simple call. It doesn’t have to be the same level of contact you have with in-house colleagues, but checking in at least once or twice a week can mean a lot for your remote worker. Whether there’s a work agenda or not, just make sure that contact is meaningful. Encourage the rest of your team to do the same; effective company communication is a collective responsibility.
Your remote workers should feel just as informed about company news, updates and announcements as in-house employees. Nothing sucks harder than second-hand information casually delivered by a random colleague weeks after an event actually took place. If remote workers are a full part of your company, treat them as such. Set up universal communications channels so there is no disconnect between what the office knows and what remote workers know. Hold regular company-wide gatherings, record meetings so people can catch-up at their convenience, and circulate updates to everyone as soon as decisions are made.
If everyone in the office is planning something fun during work hours, make sure you have a remote alternative. Long lunches, activity afternoons, trips out – keeping these kind of perks for office members alone is terribly exclusive and divides your workforce. It feels massively unfair for remote workers to continue plugging away while all their colleagues are offline and enjoying a break from work. Even if you can’t work remote participation into your office fun, offer a fun alternative they can enjoy so they don’t feel left out.
We can’t stress this one enough – meeting in-person really matters. We always try and get new members of the team to work their first weeks from our Oslo HQ. We’re also big fans of annual company meetups; they provide an essential space for meaningful in-house/remote bonding that strengthens collaboration for the long-term. Try to create opportunities for face-to-face contact wherever possible.
Some team building activities can overcome physical distance. To build a feeling of inclusivity and connection with your remote workers, set a fun company-wide target that everyone can contribute towards. Wellness goals and office fitness challenges are simple and highly effective for this – especially when actual prizes are involved.
This is just basic manager skills intelligently applied to a remote context. Use a combination of regular checks and direct feedback to make sure your remote workers feel supported and happy. Check whether they are taking their holiday entitlement, whether their attendance is healthy (alarmingly inconsistent or unnaturally perfect), and encourage them to talk about their wellbeing. This doesn’t have to be intrusive or weirdly paternal – just take an active interest and create opportunities to listen.