Remote work is a prevalent topic amid a context of talent war. In France (my home country), the vast majority of companies are reluctant to let their employees work wherever they feel good. How paradoxical at a time when both large firms and startups struggle with hiring the best experts — especially engineers.
Remote is much more common in the US, where 52% of employees work remotely at least once per week (source: The State of Remote Work 2017, created by Owl Labs in partnership with TINYpulse). The same report indicates that companies that support remote work have 25% lower employee turnover than companies that don’t. Isn’t employee retention part of your HR strategy yet? Then you should give a closer look at remote work.
At comet, we have recently opened the possibility of working remotely to everyone. Within the tech team, Damien, Bastien, Thomas and Quentin (50% of our software engineers) work respectively from Bordeaux, Lyon and Nice. And guess what? It works wonder for all of us.
Remote work is not restricted to devs though. Another example is that of Benjamin, our copywriter who lives in Paris but feels better crafting content when working in a calmer environment than the office.
In both cases, the aforementioned coworkers spend a couple of days per week or month at the headquarters. And it is each time a pleasure for them to come back and strengthen their links with the whole team.
UNDERSTANDING REMOTE WORK
First thing first: why should you even care about remote work? Well, let’s start with the fact that it is appealing to a lot of people. It turns out that the first quality of remote work is about a greater quality of life. By granting trust to your employees, you truly empower them. The funny fact is that most companies have been investing a lot in their employees’ wellbeing with stunning office spaces, yoga sessions and quality snacks. These fancy initiatives represent “nice to have” experiences while remote work acceptance is a “must-have” one, resulting in superior wellbeing, motivation and productivity.
The main issue with remote work is that it is very often misunderstood. It goes way beyond the trendy concept that everybody is talking about. When you think about it, every team member creates value remotely from a computer. Any activity can be separated into two phases: gathering for decision-taking and then isolating for execution. So having your employees working onsite or remotely doesn’t matter that much regarding managing people and setting up processes.
The early adopters of remote work such as Buffer, Basecamp and Zapier have a fully-distributed team across the world. Today they may not be unicorns but are renowned zebras championing remote work across the world. If it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for you?
REMOTE VS. ONSITE
It goes without saying that remote workers are subject to the same requirements as any team member working onsite. Still, remote work requires rigor and adaptability for both managers and employees. At comet, it does not create more complexity in our processes though. Conversely, it helps the team focus on critical issues for startups such as documentation, transparency and culture. This means that implementing remote work benefits your company as a whole, beyond the distributed team members.
Also, do you really think that you have more control by being in the same room as your coworkers? Thinking that you can make people get more engaged simply by having them around is a misconception of how to manage people. At comet, we consider that A-players will be motivated to get the job done, no matter where they are located. Disengagement is essentially due to a lack of vision and is not related to a feeling of superior freedom. If your employees believe in your mission, they will work hard to achieve high results. After all, you are all in the same boat. So don’t worry too much about control, and focus on performance instead.
Hiring high performers should be your top priority. Allowing your employees to work remotely will give you access to a bigger pool of talents and help you retain them. When you let an employee express his preferences regarding workplace, he will choose the conditions that will optimize his satisfaction and productivity. Remote work is game-changer regarding both talent acquisition and retention: a true virtuous circle.
ALIGNMENT IS KEY
The notion of alignment can be described by the fact that every team member should know precisely what to do and how to tackle challenges without needing to ask what should be done. Your newly-hired A-Players are worth nothing if they don’t have a clear vision on their objectives.
At comet, we have introduced two key methods:
→ Every team member has been assigned a scorecard: a written document outlining the purpose and characteristics of a job, along with its expected outcomes. Scorecards are inspired from Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s bestseller “Who: the A Method for Hiring”. They are available to the whole team for transparency reasons.
→ Objective & Key Results (OKRs) have been set at an individual level, but also at a team and company level to make sure that everyone is moving in the right direction. OKRs were invented at Intel and are used by top tech companies such as Google, Twitter or Zynga.
BUILDING A REMOTE-FRIENDLY CULTURE
Culture is often cited as the one factor that drives companies’ ability to attract and retain top talents. Having a distributed team with employees working remotely is a real challenge when you build your own culture. And yet, pioneering remote startups like Basecamp or Buffer and renowned worldwide for having created an outstanding way to work miles away from your colleagues while staying aligned.
At comet, we have identified the foundations of our own remote-friendly culture:
→ Decentralized communication: people often feel more comfortable using oral communication for knowledge-sharing and decision-making. But it means having a centralized level of information within the team. This is obviously not a sustainable model for a remote team. With a decentralized level of information, writing down everything is a mandatory step towards team alignment. It is a true way of documenting your company’s activity and will turn out to be precious for employee onboarding, knowledge management and content marketing.
→ Asynchronous work: usually, people don’t like to wait for something. When I ask something to Tom, I expect him to execute fast so I can catch up with my task list. The problem is that I am interfering with Tom’s focus, as he probably haven’t planned to help me on my issue. Asynchronous communication with tools like Slack encourage team members to anticipate their needs from others and to be honest: very few things need to be done in a minute.
→ Agile dev sprints maintain everyone in the flow state, no matter their location. At comet, they start on Tuesday and last an entire week. We take this time to keep track of the team objectives, and ensure that employees have everything they need to do the job. It’s also a great way to ensure that everyone catches up with the knowledge they may have missed.
→ One joke a day keeps loneliness away. A friendly work atmosphere should never be underrated by any means. It is key to a successful team, preventing remote coworkers from feeling lonely and afar. Solitude is a serious issue that can affect employees’ motivation and therefore alignment. We have this slackbot called Donut that pairs employees together every week for a nice chat in the chill room or a virtual coffee. Also, we ask people to work from the office at least 2 days every 3 weeks. It feels like family time each time they come back!
→ Remote hack: the owl! Our latest quick win for our distributed team members was to use an open channel on Slack where every remote worker can connect at any time and see the office. Thanks to our Owl Labs’ 360° camera, speaker and mic, all they have to do is joining the call and start talking to feel like we are all in the same room. This way, remote workers are always one click away from the rest of the team!
Remote work is not the future of work: it is already here. Technology is ready, plenty of tools are available, but organizations need to adapt. Again, frameworks and methods such as OKRs and scorecards are here to help.
But the most important key takeaways concern alignment and culture. Always keep these two notions in mind when setting up your process. Also, don’t consider remote work as a threat to your corporate culture, as it is the exact opposite. Having distributed team members is a unique opportunity to strengthen your company as a whole.
Friendly tip: Remote, the brilliant best-seller book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, is a great starting point.