November 18th, 2016

How to communicate in a remote office environment

computer, coffee, and tea set up on a picnic table as a remote office environment

How do you work, coordinate projects, and build a culture in a remote office?

I’m always a little bit surprised when I read articles that talk about remote work as a novel or somewhat controversial concept. Not only do I frequently work for a home or remote office, but most of the people I know do or have done so for at least part of their careers. But then, maybe that’s just our industry. Tech companies are notorious for rethinking the traditional office environment, and remote work is the prime example.

So if you’re thinking about moving to a remote office environment, what should you do to set up good communication with your team? Here’s what we’ve learned from our experience.

Set up the appropriate infrastructure.

Many of us can work remotely for a short stint of time with nothing more than a computer and an Internet connection. In fact, if you’ve ever sat in a coffee shop for an hour between meetings to send some emails or polish off a document, you’ve already taken your first steps toward a remote office environment.

However, in the long term you’re going to need some more permanent solutions. You will need to set up remote access to any office servers, for instance. We’ve also found that various project management and communication apps are a requirement. So for most communication, we keep in touch over Slack, we communicate tasks and to-dos in Basecamp, and we make video calls through Skype or Google Hangouts.

Communicate expectations with your remote team.

One of the biggest stressors for remote workers is the fear that others will perceive them as not working as hard as the rest of the team. Employees in the office can be seen and counted. But those working from home or in a coffee shop often feel like they have to prove their productivity so that their coworkers don’t perceive them as slacking off.

Our experience with remote work has been very task-oriented. We set assignments in Basecamp, and our project manager checks in over Slack to make sure we have everything we need to meet our deadlines. Of course, it helps that all of us are pretty self-motivated and function best in an environment where we can work for long stretches of time uninterrupted. We also notice we spend less time in meetings, and more time sharing ideas via the written word. This can work really well, depending on your team dynamics, but you’ll want to check in a little more frequently to be sure no one’s feeling alienated.

If possible, experiment with a hybrid environment.

Hesitant to plunge headlong into a full remote office environment? Try experimenting with a hybrid solution. If you currently operate in a traditional office, maybe you want to start with setting aside one or two days during the week as remote days. Or you could coordinate regular periods during the month were remote team members come in to join the rest of the team in person.

Either way, if your profession allows it, remote work is worth giving a try. It not only allows you more freedom to live and work in a fulfilling way, but it allows you to bring on talented employees, no matter where you find them. And it’s pretty clear that many professions are moving in that direction. So start playing with the system now, and see where it takes you.

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