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How to set up a remote-friendly culture in your organization?

Remote work is on the rise. All the numbers go up and show the continuous rise of employed people who work remotely. Statistics throw out quite different numbers but the message is clear. Remote work came to stay. There are just too many advantages in the remote workforce and everything it brings with it, it simply cannot be ignored.

While employers get access to more talents and save tons of money in office space, employees report about higher productivity, less stress, better family/work-life balance, no commuting and actually saving money by working remotely.

For some industries, remote work will be the new normal

The ongoing evolution of digitalization completely changes paradigms on how we work, hence, some businesses even renounce entirely from an actual office space. Employees are self-organized, self-motivated, work on times that fit their personal schedule and are able to easier take care of their wellbeing.

Remote workers are still outnumbered by the traditional workforce. Even though more and more office jobs could be run remotely it will most likely stay this way for quite some time. In the end, not every job, not every business, and not every industry aligns with the remote-work concept. However, the Millennials are knocking loudly on the employers’ doors and eventually more and more will listen attentively. Perhaps some of the fancy meeting rooms might be not so overbooked in the future anymore.

empty meeting room because of remote work

Remote work can be so diverse but it is always work

Being outnumbered quite often means that remote workers must defend their position to be taken seriously. Too often remote work is wrongly perceived as lying and relaxing with your laptop on the couch – or worse: the beach.
As usual, everything depends a lot on the individual situation, i.e., the individual organization, the industry, the remote setup, and each involved individual. Imagine yourself for a second to be equipped only with a laptop and some software toolkit. Completing your day-to-day tasks can be quite different if you are …

  1. actually are co-located with your colleagues but are able to freely dispose of home office times (no request or justification)
  2. an individual employee who works remotely
  3. an employee in a team that works remotely
  4. and employee in an organization that is fully-distributed, i.e., everyone in the company works remotely

On top of that, you can throw different time-zones, different native languages, different cultures, and legal topics that bring up further challenges (and opportunities).

Digital Nomads and so-called Influencer love to show themselves with the laptop on the beach: the biggest lie ever!

As of now, many organizations cannot imagine how they would ever work remotely without realizing that they are partly doing it already! Having offices around town, spread out through a country or even distributed worldwide requires already partly to collaborate remotely.
If a business decides to go the remote path, there are several things to consider first.

1. Before the remote-culture comes the organization’s culture

You cannot discuss remote-culture when you never talked about the culture at all. Discuss the vision and mission of your organization. Work on the companies and people’s values. Match it with their personal values. Identify and connect. Culture is so often overlooked. I get it, a company must deliver results, develop products and provide great service to each individual customer. However, culture is the invisible foundation of everything in the long run. Talking about return on investment, this should be a continuous statement in your budget.

When it comes to remote-culture I can immediately think of a few absolutely relevant values. Those values are critical to every business, but even more so when collaborating remotely.

  • trust: trust needs time and good moments, even more so when working remotely
  • openness: open for communication, open for failure, open for showing mistakes
  • fairness: tread each other with respect and give everyone a chance to contribute
  • transparency: without sharing a physical space learning to keep things public and transparent is crucial
  • responsibility: taking over responsibility is key, entrepreneurial thinking of great help

2. It’s a big difference if one, many, or all work remotely

Recently, I came across a job advertisement that clearly lists that they are filling their first remote position because they simply cannot find an appropriate candidate in their area. While this seems to be one reason to turn remotely, it should definitely not be the only one. I did not get more information about the company’s actual plan, however, transitioning to become a remote-friendly organization is not done by just hiring your first remote worker. There is a lot of other work that must be done next to that: values, culture, mindset, toolset, rules, etc.

I am really not sure if I would like to be this lonesome wolf while everyone else is running their 9-to-5 show on-site. In such a situation you will most likely always be the outsider and never belong to the team.

However, hiring the first remote worker could be seen as a chance as well (and maybe the mentioned company is actually looking into it). Instead of enabling one single employee to work remotely, make it possible for the entire team, department, or company. Be aware that this is a huge change for everyone, and change requires time, money and patience.

3. Real-life shared experiences are multiplying the quality of online collaboration

Even though it is possible to get to know each other on a personal level on video calls, voice calls and chat messages, a real-life shared experience will definitely speed up the process. If we talk about good shared experiences it will multiply the quality of the online collaboration.
There is a reason why fully-distributed companies are holding annual or biannual company retreats. For some companies, this means flying in all employees to one location, in which the big meet-up will happen. This sounds like a huge investment, that will pay off so much.

4. Know your tools and know your rules

It is quite natural that each company has different systems in place to keep the business up and running. If a company wants to be remote-friendly or even run fully-distributed the systems and tools become even more of need as they quite often entirely replace the personal face-to-face interaction.

Sure, you can give it a try by just rolling out Skype to everyone. Or you go even one step further and roll out Skype for Business to have full power over your user accounts. Your system administrator will give you a “like”. As Skype for Business will be anyway replaced by Microsoft Teams sooner or later, you could even opt for the latter option.
But that’s not the solution. You need more than that. Let’s have a look at some “normal things” that must work fully online in the end.

Communication & interaction

  • One-on-One chat / talk / discussion
  • Group chat / talk / discussion
  • Asynchronous & synchronous communication
  • Scheduled & spontaneous communication
  • Communicating & reading emotions
  • Availability for communication

Collaboration & documentation

  • Live collaboration on documents, presentations, brainstorming, graphics (notice that all of those have different formats or use different applications)
  • Transparent documentation
  • Interaction / commenting / discussion within documents
  • Screen-sharing & presentation
  • Digital whiteboards

I am not saying that you need all of it. Neither am I saying that this is all you need to think of. There is just a lot to think of how people collaborate by using technology (on-site and remote).
In the end, you must realize that you are not able to just walk over to your colleague (who you just had a private chat about the weekend an hour before) with a print-out and pen in hand to spontaneously discuss some work-related stuff. It’s not going to work this way.

It might be useful to have some rules worked out (better even work it out together in a workshop – team building). Rules about communication, arrangements, response-time, availability, check-ins, transparency, fairness.
How many rules should you come up with and actually apply? “Up to you” they would say in many cultures in Southeast Asia. Yes, indeed, it is. There is no right or wrong.

Too many rules scare people off. Chaos scares people off too. Find the right balance, include everyone in an open discussion, and don’t be scared to change rules if they do not work well.

5. Work hard, play hard, no matter where you are

Last but not least, where is the fun, right? What about the water cooler talk and chat with your colleagues about life, troubles, weekend adventures and the next holiday trip that makes a workplace just so human. Most of us know that so many times actual business ideas sharpened at those places around the water cooler or coffee machine. How should that work remotely?

It will be different, it will take time, but all of this does not have to be left out necessarily.
On top of the fun and play part it might be even more important to provide a safe space and an organization-wide supportive system. We are all humans in the end. As many opportunities remote work brings, being a remote worker for sure comes with many new challenges as well. Most often named are lack of communication and loneliness. By installing the right instruments those challenges can be overcome.