Seeing remote working become the ‘new normal’ is one of the biggest positives of 2021. As a founder of a company that has embraced it since 2016, it’s exciting to see more businesses start to follow suit. It makes so much sense for a modern company because employees can focus on their job and be the best version of themselves without worrying about commuting, office politics or juggling home and work responsibilities.
The transition from an in-office environment to a remote working setup is not as daunting as people think. Be clear about your goals and expectations and stick to some basic principles. People will adapt quickly.
Trust your team to be accountable
The number one argument that I hear against remote working is “we don’t know what our employees are doing at home”. If you can’t trust people to get the job done well without in-person oversight, then you’re better off without them. It’s crazy to me that some businesses judge work ethic based on literal ‘facetime’ – as though you’re automatically slacking off if your manager can’t see your face. If work gets done on time, it doesn’t matter how or when people do it.
You can build accountability checks into your workflow to track progress. At Lemi, everyone does a virtual ‘check-in’ every day. They list out what they’re going to do before they start work and explain what they managed to complete when they stop. Being personally accountable makes them more motivated and focused on their priorities. It’s also very easy to tell if someone isn’t pulling their weight if ‘answered 10 emails’ was their completed task of the day.
Communicate often and be reachable
Not being in a physical office is great because people can’t just walk over and interrupt my focus. However, that makes regular, clear communication even more important because there’s no other way to get in touch. I often give instructions to my management team, then personally follow up with their teams to see if the instructions were properly delivered and understood. This helps me identify who the good communicators are and who needs more work.
While I don’t expect my team to be glued to their devices 24/7, I do expect them to be reachable within a reasonable timeframe. During working hours, juniors must respond to a message within one to two hours. If I tag someone directly in a message, I also expect a quick response because that means it’s urgent. This is a two-way relationship – managers shouldn’t abuse their powers and constantly tag people, but people also can’t just drop off the grid without warning. Businesses must set clear boundaries and expectations early, then enforce them.
Be digitally organised
Without a physical office, having seamless access to important documents from anywhere is crucial – especially for collaborations across countries and timezones. We learned to be digitally organised by properly categorising everything, backing it up and making sure that everything was searchable for quick access. We also implemented digital systems that could track work output and simplify recordkeeping.
It takes time to set up and to onboard new hires with the new systems, but the time and monetary investment is worth it for the flexibility and convenience. Our workflow has become even more streamlined over the years and we can work more effectively, while many traditional companies are still grappling with the transition from physical to digital storage.
Build camaraderie by eliminating toxicity
A remote work setting helps reduce toxic gossip and blame-shifting. There is less to gossip about and communication is both more focused and open. In our online meetings, I get everyone to contribute their opinions and toxic attitudes are quickly exposed. Disagreeing with an opinion for good reason is fine and encouraged; pooh-poohing other people’s accomplishments is not and is evident to everyone. These sessions help me nip these attitudes in the bud before they start to spread.
I find that when people don’t have to worry about unnecessary office politics, they feel more comfortable being themselves. They can focus on giving their work their best effort. This allows their real qualities and personalities to shine through, which means I can place them where their talents can be best utilised. Better job satisfaction leads to better work quality and a happier team overall, which also increases trust and builds bonds quickly. The 21st century is all about creating systems that serve us instead of vice versa. Remote working is a test of trust, accountability and flexibility, but if done right, it unlocks potential that would never have had the chance to flourish in traditional workplaces. Our new normal is full of life-changing disruptions; it is time for our workplaces and work attitudes to evolve for the better too.