Movement toward The Remote Workplace is gaining momentum every year. The technology revolution has enabled people to connect to anyone from anywhere. At the Forward Technology Conference in Madison, WI, startup business leaders participated in a panel discussion to offer tips on how to promote a remote culture. While the transition to a seamless remote work environment is never fully complete, these progressive leaders have proven it is a viable and even preferable arrangement to the archaic 9-5 cube grind.
- Leah Roe (moderator), VP of Finance and Operations at Healthfinch
- Roshni Sondhi, Director of Consumer Success at Zendesk
- Vicki Cassidy, Platform Lead at Zapier
- Andy Kitson, Software Developer at Redox
- Sarah Graf, Operations Manager at Understory
Some of the benefits of moving to a remote workplace are obvious. Providing employees the flexibility to work in their preferred location is a major perk, and it is a benefit tool that companies have started using to attract and retain top talent. Additionally, eliminating commute time increases the amount of hours available for work in a day.
- 8-5 or 12-9?: Not everyone is at their peak effectiveness during “normal” working hours. Flexibility of hours within a day, coupled with no commute, can free up time to begin (e.g.) morning workouts, something many busy professionals have had to sacrifice for their careers.
- Just Do It (results-based culture): Many young workers find it difficult for their performance alone to accelerate their careers. Adopting a culture that shows trust to team members and requires them to perform (and allows them to work under their ideal working circumstances) is a major perk.
- I own my time: The traditional model dictates when a team member can travel, be at work and not be at work. Remote workplaces allow much more autonomy, leading to a more content and professionally stable team.
- Infinity pool of talent: perhaps the most important benefit. When geographic constraints are lifted, literally the entire world is available to provide potential candidates. This increases team talent, and greatly reduces time spent to fill a vacant role while reducing the probability of turnover. If a team member needs to move for a spouse or family situation, they can remain at their company.
Interestingly, for all the benefits they shared, the panelists all noted that their respective firms did not intend to start out as a remote work environment. As each company evolved to accept externally-located team members, periodic challenges arose, causing them to modify the dynamic of the company culture.
- No man (or every man) is an island: Remote working environments must be different than co-located businesses. The rule of thumb, the panelists noted, should be: if one is remote, all are remote (e.g. eliminating side discussions within conference rooms for co-located employees, and all linking into video conferences regardless of location)
- All on-board: Like all business situations, the onboarding process is critical. Learning new team members’ working styles and preferences is even more crucial in remote environments, as the employer has less control over team member work hours and style. The first two weeks sets the stage for how the working relationship will go.
- “Did somebody just join?”: The panelists acknowledged the importance of forced overlap time and/or weekly all-hands meetings. While the flexibility of remote working is great, it is important to promote direct, [screen] face-to-[screen] face contact to ensure issues are brought up and addressed immediately.
- Everybody in: The remote culture does create an increased need for transparency. Some of the panelists’ firms offer open-view calendars and increased amounts of virtual check-in’s and 1-on-1’s. It is imperative to ensure team members feel included when not physically present with the team.
To address those challenges, tools and technology in the remote workplace are critical. These platforms displace in-person meetings as the primary modes of conducting business.
The panel cited several tools representing the state-of-the-[remote] art:
- Slack (digital workspace): All five companies use this, to varying degrees. The consensus seemed to be that Slack is a virtual office, a place to conduct day-to-day, conversation-style business topics on workspace “channels”.
- Google Hangouts (hiring tool): Migrating to a remote culture places additional importance on the hiring process. A team member who thrives in traditional business settings may struggle with the autonomy of remote employment, or vice versa. Some of the panelists use Hangouts as the in-person interview platform to screen potential remotely-located colleagues. It also conveniently integrates with other Google products.
- Zoom (video conference): While Google Hangouts provides many of the same features, Zoom doesn’t require everyone on the meeting to have software/login information, and allows up to 15 people (vs. Google’s 10) to join a call. This was universally cited as the go-to virtual meeting tool.
- Quip (documentation tool): Quip provides virtual document creation and collaboration. It reduces wasted time finding, editing and transferring files. Also, Quip facilitates using external project team members to create documentation and content through real-time collaboration.
The panelists each made a strong case for a remote work environment, and shared the many benefits their companies have enjoyed since evolving to a remote culture. The final piece of advice they offered was to have retreats throughout the year, either several small/shorter ones or one larger/longer one. Ensuring the entire team comes together at least once a year improves morale, personal interaction, proactivity and commitment to the company. Furthermore, recruiting a new team member (already interested in a flexible work environment) must be easier when you can show pictures of the company outing to a ski lodge in Denver or a beach in Cancun. In fact, it is not remotely difficult at all.