5 things I learned about remote work
It’s been a little more than a year since I’ve started working remotely… Although I wasn't doing home-office (I was at awesome offices with the business teams in Rio and São Paulo), still I was far from my peers from product, engineering and design.
And, believe it or not, being remote helped me learn so much about people, communication and work... and presence.
Straight to the point, here are my top 5 takeaways:
1. An essential part of work is done during lunch, happy hours, and suddenly meeting people in the hallway.
And these are irreplaceable occasions and behaviors for remote people; you can’t simulate them via videoconferences. That’s why communication with the "mothership" always feels heavier than communication inside the mothership. The little, casual and unplanned things matter.
2. Being disciplined and organized is key to success. Process is even more important for remote workers.
With limited casual chats, you and your team should rely less on ad-hoc resolutions that only happen when people find each other in-person. As a remote worker, you should pursue and require visible project management and a well-defined workflow to set your team up for success. Additionally, make sure people know you exist — and, then, what you are doing and how to find you. Frequent check-ins, 1:1s, weekly updates are all essential.
3. The problems you have also exist in the headquarters, but, remote, you'll feel them amplified 100 times. Relax.
Because you are far from the epicenter, far from the buzz, and not seeing people's face every day, you don’t get their feelings until you meet them or ask them explicitly. But, believe, every time I felt that something was out-of-place and talked to someone at the HQ, the answer was the same: “yeah, this is also happening here…”. So, don't worry too much, be patient - but always make sure you are on the loop for the latest updates, projects and ideas.
4. Effective communication has so many nuances... Remote, you learn these tricks faster, becoming more clear and efficient.
As you have less casual touch-points with everyone, you must make good use of the opportunities you have. You learn how to be concise and precise. Care more about the “open-rate” of your emails, about running productive meetings, about writing clear documents. And most important: understand the best communication channels and strategies for each situation, so that you can effectively achieve what you need.
5. 'Creative' and 'remote' work still don’t match very well. There is no such thing as war-rooms or quality brainstorming sessions for remote people.
Documents can’t replace whiteboards. Calls can’t replace working sessions. It’s hard get people collaborating enthusiastically via videoconference or back-and-forth over email, unfortunately. Moreover, it becomes even harder if the majority of the group is together in-person, and they need to change their current process to include the remote guy. That said, you must understand that you’ll need alternative methods and align expectations accordingly. But, in general, with the right approach, it works out in a really interesting way and with unique outcomes.
Overall, I learned that remote work (especially being a remote product manager) is viable — and positive. I believe, at the end of the day, it makes people more efficient and focused on doing the right things. But the easiness of working remotely depends directly on 3 factors and 1 number.
The 3 factors are culture, process and infrastructure. The number is the % of remote people in the team.
If the right culture, process and infrastructure are in place, remote workers have full conditions of forming a high-performance team (I'd even say that well-organized remote teams are more productive than the average).
However, if you're the outlier — if you're the only reason why people have to turn the videoconference on or speak louder during a meeting, expect interesting challenges :)
My remote days are almost over — it was an awesome journey — and I’m ready to the next phase, in-person, inside the “mothership”.
by Rafael Dahis