Remote work

Posted by kdow on Feb 22, 2017 9:07:47 PM

I believe that one of the worst things you can hear about a work environment is “it could be worse.” This utterance typically emanates as a mouthpiece for someone who feels they can’t give real feedback about their environment. And it usually indicates that there are some underlying issues in said environment.

The defensive play to avoid a toxic work environment is to defy the decline of workplace culture by maniacally rewarding good behaviour (as opposed to expecting it) & issuing mandates that slowly resemble axioms for happy living in a pre-school. The offensive play is to enhance the work environment. The ideal environment has only one rule for those within it: trust everyone.

The environment & culture I work in is not a ping pong table, gourmet food & beer. Those are fun perks. Culture is the collection of values & actions taken because of the values inherent to the organisation. The cultural mission statement of the business defines what the organisation see’s as an ideal world, but it itself is not the culture.

Because I work with an international team, I can’t solely rely on the interactions of a busy office. In fact, for me personally, as we expand our headcount aggressively, the office is the least creative space for me. I work better when I can be alone with my thoughts & nestle into a productive mindset. If you’ve not guessed it, I’m fairly introverted by nature.

I sent a note out to the team I work for, which outlined my fear that people are over-worked. They’re working days chock-a-bloc with calls or meetings with no prep or follow-up. This means the quality of their work is likely suffering. Moreover, they have no creative time set aside to do other projects that solve for the business, themselves & the customer. In a job where the left brain is used most of the time, right-brain activity is so important to achieve some balance.

In the team I’ve also, somewhat anecdotally, noted tight timelines for a day or two out of work or worse, sick days. My note encouraged folks to work from home (“WFH”) to avoid burnout. One of my big, regular chilli’s (a spicy hot topic) in 1:1 sessions has been how to destress, organise a calendar and work smarter; not more. If it’s 10pm and you’re taking flu medicine to kick the illness you’ve given yourself by running your immune system down, that email you’re about to send isn’t necessarily going to produce an efficacious result.

As a result of this management of an international team, almost by default nearly 50% of my colleagues are remote workers. This dynamic affects the way I work, especially when timezones and cultures are taken into consideration.

At some point I pondered the idea of asking all my team to work remote, or at least work some portion of their week remote. After some reflection I noticed something; Despite having a swanky office, my team are all remote working “actors” in a manner of speaking. We don’t sit in a single pod/row (by design) and our social interactions are almost entirely with the other teams that we align to separately. Within our Sales Engineering universe, we are a remote team. Albeit one where more than 50% of the team can accidentally bump into each other at the coffee machine or go for lunch together.

When this is considered, a few points of note arise:

- We all trust each other to do effective work. As a manager I trust that everyone can do great work without direct supervision.
- Asynchronous collaboration is the rule of the land because we lean heavily into tools like Slack, Github or plain old email.
- In-person meetings within our team are isolated to bi-weekly catch-ups or 1:1’s with myself. This infrequency elevates the importance of these meetings.
- Everyone is empowered to make the right decisions for their own work. Right down to expenses.

Ultimately there are three key traits to the people in a team that operates as if it’s remote: they’re smart, trustworthy & they get things done (I could say get shit done, but I’m not a GaryVee impersonator).

Treating people as if they’re remote workers, even if they’re in the office, or just having more remote workers, isn’t a panacea. Remote work, or remote-esque work, does not benefit everyone in every situation. It solves a lot of problems, but of course it can also create others. However, even though I don’t manage a remote team in the purist sense, I think the remote trade-off would make the pro’s outweigh the con’s.