Making remote work work

SONY DSCA key part of working smarter is the idea of flexible or remote working. One neat way of describing it is that work isn’t a place you go to, it’s what you do.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding though about this concept, with it often being seen as a perk for an individual employee, say, rather than an organisational approach to work and how it should be done.

Here’s some success factors in making remote work succeed on your team.

Right location for the right work

Remote working doesn’t automatically mean home working. It means going to the right place for the particular work that is being undertaken.

Potential locations include:

  • Home
  • Cafes
  • Libraries
  • Co-working spaces
  • Other people’s offices
  • Your office

What’s more, a remote worker doesn’t just work in one of these locations but should use a range of them depending on what they are trying to achieve.

No single comms channel

Don’t pick one channel for communicating amongst remote workers. Again, as with work locations, it depends.

Some of the options include:

  • Instant messaging
  • Email
  • Group chat
  • Status updates
  • Collaborative editing
  • Video chat
  • The phone

The temptation is often to try and pick a single winner (and losers) for communications in a team. We’ll do everything through Yammer! Never use email – it sucks!

There are a range of variables that will affect which channel you might use for a particular comms task but the most important are: what are you trying to achieve; and what are your colleagues most comfortable with?

It’s always good to have a range of options available that everyone is familiar with so that no matter what the task is, you’ll have the tools to do the job to hand.

Keep communicating

In an office environment, it could be argued that over communicating is possible. Not so for a team that works remotely.

Part of the point of remote working of course is to escape the hustle and bustle of a busy office. In which case, an individual worker could just step back, switch off, and find a quiet space to concentrate in.

The rest of the time though, it ought to be possible to get hold of people individually or as part of a group. So find a way of doing group chat and encourage people to be present in it most of the time. Or ensure there is a way of privately instant messaging individuals to quickly check on the status of an action or project.

This means it’s important not to get into the habit of thinking that as someone is working outside the office, they shouldn’t be disturbed. In fact, because they aren’t physically present, disturb them more!

Meet up

Remote work really doesn’t mean never actually meeting your colleagues. What it does mean is that these get togethers become even more important to get right.

This means not meeting up for the sake of it, but ensuring you have some objectives for a get together. So, only meet when there is a need to, and not just because it hasn’t happened for a month.

Consider having a project for a meetup, with a specific deliverable to come out of it. Having everyone in the same room might not happen often, so consider whether it’s possible to run a micro project in that time.

Whole team or organisation approach – everyone adapts

Remote working only works when everyone buys into it – even (especially!) those who don’t work remotely themselves.

The important parts to remember are:

  • Remote work is not a privilege for an individual, it’s a better way of getting work done for the whole team
  • Remote work is not just home working, it’s finding the best place for an activity to happen, which could be any one of a number of locations
  • Remote work requires a shift in focus on measuring performance by qualitative outcomes and not quantitative outputs or time spent in the office

Without this wider development of working culture and acceptance of remote working and what it means for an organisation, it will always be seen as a bolt on, and many of the opportunities it presents will be missed out on.

What do you think? What are your experiences of remote working, and what helps and hinders its success?

One thought on “Making remote work work”

  1. “Remote work is not a privilege for an individual, it’s a better way of getting work done for the whole team.”

    That’s a real mind-bending thought for me. Remote work should be viewed as a privilege, especially if one does not dedicate herself to the work and views it as a way to slack off. But for the right worker in the right job with the right team and the right manager, it can be a better way.

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