We decided to move our company to a 100% remote-work company last April. Overall, it's a good move. My employees enjoy the flexibility, and the freedom to live wherever they want in the country. The downsides have been mostly because of leadership failures on my part, and not a problem with remote-work itself. I want to share what I have learned, and what I must do better going forward.
Switching to remote-work changed our culture. We lost the serendipity of being in the same place, where attitude, emotion, and camaraderie are created and shared naturally. With remote-work, we enjoy the freedom from interruption, but with the change, we relied too heavily on written communication. You have probably received an email or a text message and mistook the connotation or implication of the sender. The conflict that would not have come up with office-work can occur in remote-work.
Simply put, empathy is more difficult without being able to see co-workers' faces and hear their voices.
Moving forward, we have to be better with two things. First, we need to be clear about our values, our vision, and our mission. I must champion it and repeat it daily. Second, we must have regular video meetings or at least pick up the phone to communicate with each other once per day at a minimum. These practices will be a foundation to our culture and relationships in a more natural way and eliminate negative assumptions that can creep in with silence from leadership and written communication.
Not everyone worked out. This loss was a sad and painful component to this transition. Some people require being around others. Some were not results driven and struggled to develop processes when there was not one created for them. We have always hired good people, and I will be clear: no one took advantage of remote-work to be lazy. I believe our team worked harder for the reason that when someone can't see you working, you work harder to prove you are not slacking.
Moving forward, we will look for results-oriented people who desire to be given a goal, some direction and be left to figure out the rest of the details.
More work gets done.
Everyone in the company agrees. I believe there are two reasons for this. One, when people can't see you working, you do more to make sure they know you are working. Two, there are fewer interruptions.
Advice for making the transition.
Creep towards the end goal.
Start with one day a work of remote work. Make it mandatory, and make everyone do it. You will quickly discover the systems and processes you need to make it work. Add days until you are 100% remote.
Shoot for an end date that is months before your lease expires. This strategy will give you time to get it right before you have to get it right.
Avoid us and them culture.
If you don't go 100% remote, you must build all of your systems and processes as if you are 100% remote. You want to avoid an office vs. remote, us vs. them culture. Don't hold meetings without including your remote employees. Don't communicate updates to office employees and then email your remote employees the same update. Keep it consistent and avoid losing team cohesion.
If you want to check out a great book on building a remote-work company, checkout "Virtual Culture" by Bryan Miles.