The 3 things you need for successful remote work
Back in April, I spoke at the Grow Remote Conference in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, Ireland, where I shared what I’ve learned since making the transition from a remote worker to a remote manager. Throughout my career, the majority of my roles have involved remote working. In my current role at Teamwork, I’m building a department focused on strategic partnerships. We partner with organizations who want to work with Teamwork to grow their business and enable our joint customers. My team is based at our HQ in Cork while I spend 50% of my time working from my home office in Limerick. So I’ve been both a remote worker and a remote manager. What have I learned? First and foremost, remote working is not easy. Not everyone is cut out for remote work, and it’s a challenging environment to get right — especially in organizations that are traditionally office-based. But I’ve also seen time and time again how the challenge of remote working offers companies an incredible opportunity: to grow their workforce, find the right talent, and expand globally. More than anything, I’ve identified the three core pillars that you need for remote work to work: transparency, trust, and time management. These three elements are important for non-remote teams too, of course, but when it comes to remote working, they’re essential if you want to succeed. Here’s what I’ve learned on both sides of the equation.
To me, transparency means openness, sharing, and communication. In a team environment, you must be transparent for remote work to work. It’s too easy for things to get lost or go unnoticed when you can’t just pop over to someone’s desk to get an update. That means that you need to be proactive about discussing your work, any issues — and (maybe most uncomfortably) even your successes. At Teamwork, we use Teamwork Projects to give us transparent overviews into each other’s work, but it’s not just about software: it needs to be instilled as a mindset, too. Here’s how you can foster that transparency.
As a remote worker:
Share everything you’re working on and create records of your work. Write everything down in a shared space (like your project management tool) and create tasks so you can easily show what you’ve been working on. The written word is your friend. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Share your wins. It can be (all too) easy to downplay your achievements and let things slide, but sharing your successes with the team helps you to highlight your contribution. Be intentionally social. Try to socialize virtually and make an effort to get to know your teammates, whether that’s on video calls or your instant chat software. Communicate well. Communicate often. When you’re remote, I strongly believe that there’s no such thing as over communication. (Plus, you can always switch it up later — but when you’re not all in the same place, it’s better to start by erring on the side of over-communicating, not under-communicating.)
As a remote manager:
Be super clear. Make sure that you’re on the same page when you’re setting expectations or giving feedback. And try not to surprise your team by building up a list of issues or criticisms — aim for regular feedback sessions and check-ins. Be available. You need to work extra hard to make yourself accessible in lieu of being in the same room, and ensure that your team knows that they can approach you. Encourage (or mandate!) video calls. We have cameras in all of our devices for a reason. Video calls are as close as you’re going to get to “in person”, so try to make them the norm. Having an issue that you need to troubleshoot as a team? Jumping on a video call is often easier and quicker than typing back and forth. And when you need to do employee 1:1s or give feedback? Always do it as close to “face to face” as you can. Communicate well. Communicate often. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to set the ground rules for communication. I find that having one place for instant communication and one place for asynchronous (i.e. non-instant) communication is incredibly important. We use a combination of Teamwork Projects, Teamwork Chat, and Teamwork Spaces.
Frustratingly, trust is one of those things that is much easier to build face to face and in person. But it’s not impossible to do as a remote worker. You just need to work extra hard and take extra steps to build that trust when working remote. No matter if you’re a worker or a manager, you have to be hyper-aware of this fact and make it a priority. A weird counter-intuitive tip? Start from a place of trust. You might feel that it needs to be earned first, but think of it this way: it was earned in the hiring process, when the decision was made that these were the right people for the job. So go into everything in good faith and with the benefit of the doubt. And remember: Communicate well. Communicate often.
As a remote worker
Trust your team and your manager. Have faith that they support you and are listening to you. Speak up when you see issues. Don’t let them fester. This ties into the above point: you also need to trust that your team and manager will respond well as long as you communicate well. Don’t take advantage of the situation. You’re remote, not invisible. Your team will notice. Your manager will notice. (And you’re giving the rest of us a bad name.) Show that you deserve the trust they’re giving you.
As a remote manager
Start from a place of trust. When your team says they’ll get something done by a certain date — believe them. Give your team the benefit of the doubt. Think positive intent first and don’t immediately jump to negative conclusions. Don’t micromanage. If you’re micromanaging, it’s because of one of three things: you don’t trust your team, you’ve hired the wrong people, or you’re in the wrong role. Use the right tools. This allows you to get the oversight you need as a manager without micromanaging. Using a project management tool to log and manage work lets you jump in and out as needed. In Teamwork Projects, I can not only see tasks and statuses, but can also use custom Dashboards to quickly see the metrics that matter to me as a manager.
Time is something we never have enough of, so we need to learn to manage it well. But this can have its own challenges when working remotely, especially when different time zones are involved. Often, remote workers put in extra time to prove they are working, especially early on when you’re working to build trust. When it comes down to it, though, it’s not about how much time you spend on something. It’s about how much impact it has. So whether you’re a contributor or a manager, you need to keep that in mind — and manage your time appropriately.
As a remote worker
Use the flexibility of being remote to your advantage. You’ll probably need to be available during a set of core hours to sync up with your team, but where possible, adjust to your optimal hours by working when you’re most productive. Commit to deadlines and deliver on time. You need to show that you’re reliable, consistent, and dependable, whether you’re in the same office or not. Take care of yourself. When you’re working solo, it can be easy to really dive in. But for your own sake, you need to be careful of how quickly time can fly when you’re in the zone. Make sure to plan your breaks. Go for walks, get some air, make some tea, and don’t forget to eat lunch. Be mindful. Measure where your time is being spent. For remote workers, it’s often especially useful to track your time. This helps you to see where you’re spending your resources, easily record what you’re working on each day, stay accountable to yourself and your manager, and ensure that you’re not over-working.
As a remote manager
Agree on clear targets and deadlines for your team. Not only does this make it clear when everything is due so your team can better manage their priorities, but it also helps them to direct their energy into work that will have the most impact against your big-picture targets and KPIs. Offer flexibility. Where possible, encourage flexible working hours with at least a few core hours where everyone is expected to be online. Remember that flexibility is a responsibility and asynchronous tasks (i.e. ones that can be worked on independently) allow for flexible working hours. Give more of your time as a manager. One of the challenges of being a remote manager is that it’s harder to “read the room”. It’s harder to sense issues building or pick up on the unspoken things. Without the ability to have a quick chat in the hallway or over lunch, you need to really be dedicated to building in that 1:1 communication time. Schedule them in advance, and keep them consistent.
One last thing…
My parting tip? Start scheduling what I call virtual coffee syncs. These are 30-minute agenda-less meetings that make up for the time you miss seeing and chatting to people at lunch or at the watercooler. If you’ve never had one before, reach out and we’ll set one up! What are your best tips for successfully working remotely? Let me know in the comments. A previous version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Thanks for sharing, Ryan! (Psst…looking for more like this? Read about more lessons we’ve learned on the journey from team member to lead, or check out 5 more ways to keep your remote project team on track.)