Rowena Hennigan, a remote work skills expert and a lecturer, takes us through the importance of communication charters in remote working companies, the latest research on remote working, and what companies like Github, Trello and Hubspot do differently.
Remote work is sustainable, not just in terms of personal sustainability, but also environmental sustainability, you don’t take up office space, you don’t have to commute to work, and you’ll more often than not cook and prepare your own food at home. These little things all add up if many people are doing them. It may not seem like you’ll have much impact as one individual, but in the bigger picture, when many people are doing this, it makes a massive difference.
Why do these fully remote companies do well?
There remains a multitude of articles explaining all the reasons why remote working will die, and yet a few major SAAS companies are fully remote. These companies are going strong and seem to be continuing in this pattern, so what are they doing differently that we can learn from to get the most out of the experience?
Trust – Traditional companies can learn a lot by looking at trailblazers in the fully remote working sphere such as WordPress, which is a fully remote company with no headquarters. By default, they have trust, which is a very flippant thing to say because it’s often culturally hard to define, capture and replicate. Work isn’t micromanaged but is managed on a results basis, communication is transparent and there’s an expectation that a project is going to be done by it’s proposed due date.
Communication Charters – The majority of these fully remote companies publish their manuals on their websites so they are available to the public. These manuals will help you gain insight into how these companies communicate. They’ll usually have communication charters which are agreement terms that stipulate how they’re going to work and communicate, such as highlighting when and what they’ll need to communicate over Slack, for example.
Regular Reflection – One-on-ones with managers is something that occurs quite regularly and is something these companies have down to an art. They also reflect upon and update those communication charters regularly according to how the environment changes. Companies like Github, Gitlab, Buffer, Basecamp, and Trello all employ these methods and constantly ask the question, “How can we improve it?”, which really is the secret to why it works in the long run.
Structure & Detail – They generally do a lot of their onboarding virtually so there needs to be a high level of detail, and they want to be able to hand over well-structured documentation that explains everything you need to know as an employee, for example, in video form and a Slack channel, or perhaps something more automated that’s built on a learning platform.
4-Day Weeks – You’ll have fewer online meetings and emails (some of these companies have no email). They like to keep things efficient and believe in productivity. A lot of companies like Basecamp employ a 4-day week because they believe they get the most out of their employees this way. It’s not just about being present at a desk, it’s about being emersed in a culture that lets you work your best way within that culture.
What about sales teams that believe remote work is not for them?
Going fully remote is not for everyone. These examples are all SAAS (Software as a Service) companies and the model is probably a lot different from the typical picture of, let’s say a sales team.
Hubspot is a good example of a remote company that recognised that the remote model is probably not going to be suited to everyone, so they created separate divisions for different teams, they created a remote division and slowly started taking remote workers onto certain projects.
What about a hybrid model?
Much of the initial remote work research statistics reported that 76% of workers want to look at a flexible work policy after going back to the office, and they found they were still productive while working from home, proving that there were some gains and good experiences when people went remote during COVID 19.
If you’re thinking of going remote, it’s a good idea to note the positives of the experience and then make time to reflect with your team, and then all that’s left is to do it, and document whatever your experiences are so you can reflect on those.
When you document it, ask yourself, “What are the things that can be fostered?” Perhaps you noticed that short online meetings worked, or that giving people the time to work on certain projects from home was successful.
You need to start with yourself and do some self-reflection. Make notes on your observations such as how you handle video calls, and what you feel you need to get work done.
Do Your Research
You can educate yourself with the many books available so you can understand the culture of remote working companies. Companies with handbooks you can follow include Github, Buffer, Basecamp and Trello. Remoteworktree.com is also a great remote resources site where you can find links to helpful articles, podcasts and playbooks.