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Pandemic Remote Work Wasn't Real Remote Work: Here's How To Do Remote Right

It's time to quit holding onto the old ways of working and give real remote work a chance.

When the world shut down and the office doors were locked, I was already at home.

There were no office plants left behind to whither on my desk or favorite mugs encased in a dishwasher that might never get emptied. By that time, all of us at Trello (my former employer) had already adopted a “remote first” work policy six years prior and we knew what to do, and luckily for us we didn’t have to skip a beat.

Source: Exploding Topics

Quit The Office Status Quo

The pandemic thrust a lot of companies into remote work for the first time, but in doing so they held on and tried to maintain business as usual office norms within a remote landscape. Unfortunately, the rituals and processes of office work do not always align with remote work and the external factors of a global pandemic: 

  • Copy and pasting synchronous office communication into endless Zoom meetings
  • Presence in Slack as a sign of productivity (and the inevitable hacks
  • Micromanaging behavior finally being seen for what it is - distrust 

Why were burnout and quiet quitting such hot topics in 2022? Because these management styles drove employees to the brink with collaboration overload. If leaders perceive that remote work will be an issue, then it will become a self fulfilling prophecy. At the end of the day,  the only real  issue is why hadn’t we all been wearing athleisure wear to work this entire time? Huge productivity and comfort booster.

Source: Microsoft

So how do we transition from our pandemic perception of remote work where everyone is at home and online 24/7 to a realistic form of remote work that allows us to live more fulfilling lives? It starts with developing the rituals and processes required to be able to embrace remote work fully. 

Level The Playing Field

Right now many companies are in a hybrid work limbo with in-office requirements for some staff a few days a week while others live nowhere near the office. This causes inequitable experiences because not everyone is on the same playing field, especially when it comes to meetings and communication. 

What companies need to do is adopt a remote-first working policy instead of a remote-friendly policy, like the team at Loom did. Here’s just one example of how adopting that policy lead to a huge culture shift: 

If you just put one remote person on a TV in a conference room during a meeting while everyone else is in the office doing things as they normally would, it creates a second class experience for the remote worker. Whether it’s technical issues, poor audio fidelity, or the fact that people literally have their backs to you (the TV), it’s much harder to contribute as a remote worker in that situation. 

To adopt a remote-first work policy means that when you hold synchronous meetings if one person is on a screen then everyone else is on their own screens as well. It levels the playing field and gives everyone the opportunity to communicate equally. 

Get Off The “Always On” Train

Do you sometimes hear new email pings chime in your dreams? Or did your boss really just email you at 2AM? Either way, being “always on” for work  is an unhealthy habit that’s got to stop because it’s destroying our ability to focus and do our best work. At the minimum, workers need to feel empowered to turn off their notifications at the end of the day in order to recharge, and this has to start from the top down. Leadership must lead by example in this area otherwise employees will not give themselves the space to do so.

Consider designating a few hours a day that are mandatory for collaboration, but letting others choose when to work otherwise. Dropbox does this well, and has written a lot of great insights to share about it.

Cut That Meeting Calendar Down

Even before the pandemic people always felt like they were in too many meetings, but this pain was only amplified as businesses went remote because the day-to-day office information sharing osmosis vanished. But were all those face to face meetings really that great in the first place? 

Now, I’m not saying get rid of every meeting, because there are many valuable uses for meetings. Even at Hoop where we work 80% asynchronously we have two weekly team meetings, both a kickoff and wrap-up, which are great for alignment and team building, but otherwise there aren’t other recurring meetings. 

Many meetings can easily be replaced by tools that allow for better outcomes through asynchronous input and collaboration:

  • Brainstorming: Not everyone’s brain is in creative mode at the same time which is why synchronous brainstorming meetings fail to capture a lot of great ideas. Try apps like Mural to solicit ideas over a longer stretch of time. 
  • Feedback: Do you have a new product feature or design that you would like to get feedback on? Create a Loom video to walk people through it and then let them ask questions as they digest the ideas at their own pace.
  • Decisions: When important decisions need to be made, gathering and weighing options should never take place in meetings because it will often result in too much bias and groupthink. Consider Hoop as an alternate way to make better decisions asynchronously. 

Some IRL Is Still Very Important

While remote work has a multitude of benefits, from less time spent commuting to more time spent with family, there still is something to be said for getting the team together from time to time for an offsite.

Depending on the size of your company and the teams within how you structure your offsites might vary, but ideally people working closely should have regular in person moments for people to build psychological trust. 

When planning the offsite, don't make it all about work, at least the kind of work that we are doing at our jobs, and instead focus on activities that will foster fun and lifelong memories, such as games, cooking classes, volunteering, and more. At the end of the day we are all still social creatures and many of the bonds and trust required to run a successful business form best in person. 

The Future Is Already Here

Change is hard, but we’ve all already experienced one of the greatest changes that will take place in our lives and had to pivot to new ways of working overnight. We now have the opportunity to look back and reflect on all of the positive impacts that remote work had on our lives and use those learnings to build an even better future. The data shows that workers are overwhelmingly more happy and productive working remotely, so this change is something that is here for the long term.

Let's fix the way we work.

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