Moving to true remote work doesn’t have to be bureaucratic and complex, but by the same token, it isn’t a ‘beer and skittles’ decision, its one that takes a little thought and pre-planning to get right.

Remote work also doesn’t (and shouldn’t be) focussed on compliance and risk management, but these factors do need to be taken into consideration so that the structure, cultural rhythm, and dare I say, processes, put in place to support work (remote and otherwise), actually do just that. 

How to get it working well? 

So, with remote work becoming a more a mainstream proposition, what do businesses and Leaders need to think about and do, to get it right? There are a lot of great lessons and pieces of practical guidance we can take from our Silicon Valley Tech friends (especially Zapier, Automattic and HelpScout), who’ve been at this for years, but we can also look at very practical steps used in more traditional companies that are getting this more and more right. From our work, once a company has a committed mindset that they want remote work to be successful, three simple things matter most to getting remote work working well;

(1) Culture

Culture is quite simply, the ‘way we work around here’…or…’the way we work together’. It’s not something that should be left on its own, in the hope that something great will emerge. It needs to be curated and understood by everyone on the team.

This is even more true when you have a team of people, working in semi isolation, with limited shared experiences and daily interactions, coming together to get work done. To make it a little trickier, let’s add the further complication with the layer of differing cultural nuances and norms, that come with global teams.

For remote work to work, you need to focus on getting the culture of the team right from the start. This comes down to your team rhythms, norms, structures, processes and behaviours.

Think about the unique culture the team need to thrive, not only within themselves, but also within the context of the broader company culture they work within. Based on these needs, design and implement simple approaches to help your desired Culture come to life. Reward and amplify great examples of culture. Quickly address and rectify behaviours or performance that are out of sync.

Culture needs to be a top of mind thought for everyone on the team, especially the Leader. Check in regularly on how it is going and be honest about the good, bad and ugly.

(2) Relationships

We know from the Curtin University and mwah. Happy Workers Report released in early 2017, that Relationships (along with purpose and agency), are one the key drivers of a person’s happiness at work. But how do you get these right in a team where informal coffee chats, routine shared experiences and group banter at your desk is not a regular part of the job? What if the closest relationships you have at work are the clients that you work with regularly, as opposed to your team mates on the other side of the world?

Like culture, relationships are something that need to be prioritised and given energy to, in remote teams. For Leaders, this includes establishing deep 1:1 relationships with each team member (which can be simply through weekly video calls and daily ‘check in’ texts and chats), as well as supporting relationships to be built across the team. How? Encouraging and leading ‘fun’ banter in your comms (more on this below), encouraging (and even requiring, if necessary) your team to spend regular 1:1 time together (virtually is ok), pairing different team members up on projects, and finding ways to create personal connections between the team – “Oh Laura, I know you love photography, did you know Yen’s actually is a ski photographer” ….

This is also where physical team get togethers are critical. They don’t have to be in Maui or the Maldives like the tech companies (although I am sure your team would love them to be!), but they do need to happen, semi regularly (no less than every 6 months).

The depth of relationships that can be built by some simple face-to-face time together are extraordinary and will help your team to function even more effectively when they are apart. A big investment and time commitment? You bet. Critical? Without a doubt.

(3) Communication

How you communicate, what you communicate and how the team communicates amongst themselves is what turns a group of people working remotely into a team (as opposed to a cohort of individuals who just happen to have the same boss).

The focus of communication in the tech space tends to focus on communication ‘tools’ (think Slack, Messenger, Trello etc.), as opposed to what is being communicated and how.

In a remote team, it is critical to be clear, purposeful and often, repetitive with information and messages to make sure everyone on the team is across the critical information. Beyond this, given communication is such a powerful contributor to culture and relationships, comms within remote teams needs to do more than sharing technical or company information. It needs to be a way of having fun, celebrating success, and picking up and encouraging the team during down days.  In a remote team, every single person needs to be active contributor to team communication, ensuring they are not just receiving, but are also adding to, and clarifying, messages, where needed. This needs to be a clear priority for everyone, and will help you as a Leader, ensure all the ships in your fleet are travelling to the same location.

Final Thoughts 

So that’s the three. Nothing too technical, new aged, or tricky. Rather, these are the things that will inherently make sense to all of us, but unfortunately, are not always the easiest things to get right.  It can be done though. It just takes a little trial (and error), an openness to feedback, a desire to involve the team in solutions to your challenges, and an appetite and tenacity to keep rolling and evolving how you do things, until you find an approach that works.

We wish you luck as you enter into the work of remote working, and look forward to hearing your stories of success (and challenge) as we build a local Australian narrative on what this could look like for us. And yes, it may (and probably will), include people working from a café or from the balcony on their house after a morning surf.

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