Before the year 2020, imagining a situation where the entire world comes to a standstill and everyone being confined to their own homes was a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie. It was such an outrageous proposition that maybe I or you would laugh it away even if we were told that this was the way this year would have turned out in January 2020.
However, by the end of March 2020, it was apparent that the world is going into a long hibernation due to a pandemic induced by a novel strain of virus from a distant city in China.
We at Xoxzo have been working remotely since inception. It was just our way of life. Remote work was a very narrow niche, a lifestyle choice and a sound business model where our team, made of members from different corners of the globe, came together to build and operate telephony services among other things. Our services empower developers from all over the world to remotely have access to cloud telephony tools for the success of their own ventures.
Barring the cancellation of our team camp, which is a half-yearly meet-up for our members, there has been very little impact on our business during this period of great turmoil. It has been quite interesting to see how many companies have been forced to take up remote work and struggle with the same problems we as a team have gone through and found solutions for. We could observe the entire spectrum of companies, from the ones which took up remote work with little or no effort to the ones which are still struggling till this date and can't wait to go back to their office spaces and conventional systems of work.
Looking at the key issues I have seen, I thought about making this list of things that we learned the hard way. Below are some of the ones that I personally learned from working remotely for over 2 years.
Communication is still the key:
Communication is at the core of our business, albeit because we are a telephony company, but more so because we are a remote company with no fixed headquarters. So we all are equally distanced from each other which is a great equalizer in terms of communication. Even if you and your team are not as spread out like us, strive to make sure that the online workplace(i.e on whatever communication tools you are using), are not biased towards any particular subset of your employees/colleagues. This would make sure that no member of the team feels alienated from the rest and everyone is encouraged to speak up their minds.
Standups are important:
Standup calls are important, period. These are the calls that set the direction of the team, increases transparency and helps everyone understand what is happening around. Suddenly it doesn’t feel that you are working in a silo anymore, once you hear what your colleagues were up to and what their plans are in the immediate future. Make sure you have at least one standup call every week to have better coordination among your team members.
Trust is crucial:
We live by a philosophy of trusting our colleagues. This emancipates from the desire to treat every team member as a self-guiding adult capable of making the right decisions. We all act as mirrors to each other, nudge, and help others to pivot when we should while respecting them and their decisions. This is the key to create a very healthy workspace that everyone wants to come back to every single day and are completely invested in.
We understand it gets lonely:
Working remotely for a while, you realize how lonely this endeavor can be if you do not invest time in your own mental health. I personally realized this, one year into my remote job, when I felt the need for the social connections that came with a full-time office job. I missed Friday night parties and the personal bond with my colleagues. Thus it is very important to keep communication with your team beyond the regular work stuff so that everyone feels comfortable in sharing what's going on in their lives, which gives you visibility into someone’s personal state of mind. This is crucial since we often tend to forget that at the other end, there is a complex human being and not a machine.
Set a core time for your team:
“After going remote, it seems I am at work 24x7” - I have heard this statement in various forms from multiple sources and I couldn’t help but wonder how people can’t wrap their heads around this. And when I say people, I mean managers and subordinates alike. Remote work is a different paradigm from 9-5 regular office work, however the good parts should be retained. Set a core time period for your team when you actively coordinate with each other and expect quicker replies. For all other times the team should get used to asynchronous communication and that should be the de-facto mode of getting things done. Always remember, remote work sets you free to work on your own schedule. If you want to work within the 9-5 that you are used to, or beyond that, it's completely up to you.
There is more...
Our team has taken the effort to document various facets of remote working over the years and you can find some really helpful tips in our blog articles. For convenience, I list out some really nice articles for further reading if you are interested below.
Like everything else in life, remote work itself is also a skill that you pick up and get better at over time. Also we have to accept the reality that remote work isn't cut out for everyone. But if you are a self motivated professional capable of taking control of your own life and can work without requiring much guidance, remote work might be perfect for you in the long run, much beyond how long this pandemic is going to last.