Remote work is our new and enduring reality, will your organisation adapt, thrive… or become irrelevant?

Hi! You’ve just worked through a workplace revolution – how does it feel? It’s probably not done yet, but it’s a good time to look around and understand our brand new normal, particularly for organisations.

Obviously, the great big noticeable change is office workers staying home to work. Here’s some stats:

Many employers have asked politely yet firmly for employees to head on back to the office and pick up where they left off, and many employees have politely yet firmly declined.

Turns out some prefer forgoing the rush-hour commute, not sitting in a nondescript office all day and are more productive away from the plentiful distractions of office life. Who’d have thunk it?

While organisations scrambled to adopt new ways of working we sat tight as Digital Village was designed as a remote organisation. 

We’ve always seen physical location as a boundary, not a benefit: if we could effectively operate as a remote network then we have access to the best talent wherever they may be.

We acknowledge that the challenges to working remotely are real, but this is how we get it done:

Work hard on communication

Getting communication right is tough but important. The balance is not distracting people from their work, but also making sure they don’t feel isolated.

To avoid distracting people, we use asynchronous communication tools (like Slack in our case). This gives everyone a chance to get to address a message in their own time, without being interrupted from their work.

Also, team members can perform asynchronous stand-ups when spread across time zones, ensuring no one needs a regular late night or early morning to keep up on what’s happening. This is one of the ways we work effectively with our remote teams during project work.

However, one of the significant challenges related to remote work is feelings of isolation and disconnection with the rest of the organisation.

So it’s important to tip the scales in the other direction and make sure everyone feels heard, connected and important to the mission.

This can be achieved through 1:1 meetings, online team catch ups and other events. Work hard on ensuring everyone in attendance can be recognised and know their contribution is valued. 

Don’t just document, make a handbook

GitLab, one of the few large 100% remote organisations in the world, has a bit to say about a ‘handbook-first approach’:

“A handbook-first organisation is home to team members who benefit from having a single source of truth to lean on. This type of organisation is able to operate with almost supernatural efficiency. An organisation that does not put concerted effort into structured documentation has no choice but to watch its team members ask and re-ask for the same bits of data in perpetuity, creating a torturous loop of interruptions, meetings, and suboptimal knowledge transfers.”

This is different to a wiki, which, suffering the tragedy of the commons, can easily fall into neglect.

A central repository of information, maintained by the groups that own the information and easy to search, will empower team members to take initiative to solve their own problems without interrupting other team members.

Digital Village teams take this approach with projects – we strive to create a central, searchable repository of project documentation that includes everything from high-level business goals to outcomes for individual sprints.

This ensures that project stakeholders, anywhere in the world, can quickly and easily locate information they need. At the end of the project, customers keep their project handbook which becomes a valuable resource for internal technical staff, internal customers, and potential future investors.

Make company culture explicit

When everyone’s in the office, culture emanates from the attitudes and behaviours that make up everyday office life. Working from home however, we miss out on a lot of that.

This means that leaders within the organisation not only need to ‘live’ their culture, they’ll need to externalise it with intentional and frequent communication.

This doesn’t need to be an artificial or forced activity, but it does require a continual awareness of how company values and core beliefs can assist in challenging situations. This may include:

  • Acknowledging the courage required to deal with tricky interpersonal situations
  • Helping teams deliver customer value by focusing on outcomes
  • Creating a regular rhythm of delivery by measuring progress by delivered software

Finally, there’s one, overwhelming challenge that remote organisations will struggle with.

People who just love to be in offices

There’s a decent minority (around 10%) of people who just love going into the office every day. These are extroverted, social types who revel in the daily hubbub of office life. They suffered the most during COVID lockdowns and it would be cruel to ask them to remain in isolation.

The best way to approach this is to be flexible with working arrangements. 

Some people may not be able to create a suitable working environment at home, and even if an organisation doesn’t have an office, making space in co-working spaces can be a great approach to provide the flexibility to allow employees work from home or in the ‘office’ when they most want to.

Providing the flexibility to allow people to choose when and how they work has a profound increase on the number of high-performers in the organisation.

Embrace trust, transparency and flexibility

Since remote work is here to stay, companies are faced with a challenge – change to get the most out of remote working, or try to make pre-COVID management approaches work in a post-COVID world?

We believe that by embracing trust, transparency and flexibility, companies can continue to thrive in a world that has changed radically.

What are your plans for a remote-working future?