Remote work has often been a dream for many, even the reason why some designers choose to be one. Repro, from the beginning, has adopted the remote working culture, but not without some caveats.
While there are plenty of articles on how great and amazing remote work is, I would like to share the downsides and ways to possibly overcome them.
Personally, I work remotely about 20-60% of my time in the company so far, changing the frequency based on different needs. Having experienced remote work first-hand and adopting it as a manager, I can tell you that while you may have seen photos of digital nomads enjoying their lives on the beaches of Bali, remote work takes effort, from not just the remote worker but also the company.
The very minimum condition for this a;; to work, is for all parties to stay connected to one another, and to do that, you need a decent internet connection.
This depends on the type of remote worker you are. Are you one that travels the world or are you a stay-home mom remote worker? I’m the former so I can tell you staying connected via a stable WIFI connection is no easy task.
It limits your options to places you can visit, and the times you can be on the move. Most remote workers I’ve met would set up base in a nomad-friendly hostel, Airbnb or workspace. Luckily, there are some ways this can be overcome.
Careful planning is key to doing this well. Doing research on places that have reliable WIFI and scheduling your day accordingly takes some bigh level organization. This is why I tend to visit countries with good infrastructure to make it easier to do so.
To date, Seoul is the best city I’ve visited in terms of WIFI availability in cafes. The fact that almost all cafes have WIFI and power sockets and the fact that there are as many cafes as there are vending machines in Japan made it really easy.
On the other hand, you are pretty much confined to your hostel if you are in cities with poorer infrastructure, like Hanoi.
Invest in a Data Plan
You just wouldn’t survive as a remote worker without one. You also want to get an unlimited plan, so you can work anywhere should you be not be able to find a working space. However, most data plans I’ve came across are unreliable for all-day remote work, so I wouldn’t be so reliant on it.
Also, in most situations you wouldn’t have work that requires immediate designs throughout the day. Most of the time you can get away with just responding on Slack and then later dedicating a block of time in the day to get them done in a go. This allows more freedom throughout the day and more focus when you design.
Anyone who says that they communicate better remotely would be telling a lie. It’s definitely easier for communication to take place with someone right next to you.
That said, it’s a small sacrifice for the amount of freedom gained, which I believe will result in improved performance.
Managers who decide to disallow or decide to get rid of remote working altogether are simply lazy. Once you have tackled all the possible issues and provided the ideal remote environment, only can you know if your employees are capable of working remotely.
Here are a few practices that Repro has in place:
Of course, this goes for any chat app or work tool you use. Slack is a huge life-saver to the remote working community. There are many different types of Slack etiquette to follow, but here are a few pertaining to working remotely.
At Repro, we have a rule which disallows any DMs between employees, besides sensitive discussions or conversations of a personal nature. From time to time, some people still do tend to DM, so it takes each and everyone to remind them to use an open channel. Doing so will increase awareness of everyone remote. Some fully-remote companies even go as far as to recording and sharing on Slack conversations where key decisions are being made.
Share Face-to-Face Conversations
For conversations that happen in person, we make it a point to share the details in Slack or at least in the form of meeting notes or comments on Trello where everyone can look at. This way, remote workers can still be aware of what’s going on in the company.
For important announcements, we take a video and make it available after for all to see.
Call at Will
This might be uncomfortable to some, but I try to make it such that, as long as my Slack lamp shows as available, it means that you can call me without any prior warning. Because it’s a little intimidating to do so, I make it a point to suggest it to anyone so they feel at ease doing so. This increases your presence and availability, as well as make non-remote workers feel like they have better access.
While the above is for impromptu conversations, where possible, I try to encourage people to set up meetings so that you can plan your time better and concentrate on work. This is the preferred method for even when I am in the office.
Invest in the Right Equipment
The enemy of every remote worker is video and audio breakage. For me, add a foreign language to the mix, it’s probably the most frustrating part.
The solution to this is a straightforward one. As a company, don’t spare expenses when it comes to good equipment, be it headsets or video conferencing solutions. In Repro, we have cameras that show the meeting room as well as being able to screen share separately.
We also have headsets for some of the in-house meetings with many attendees and have them join the meeting from their machines, to increase availability of meeting rooms and get them used to remote communication.
Be on Time
There is nothing that makes office workers more worried or unsure when a meeting is started and they are waiting to see if a remote worker will join. While you can tell easily if an in-house worker can join or not, it’s pretty difficult to tell with a remote worker and can be stressful for the meeting organizer.
So, always try to be on time or even early. We have a Google Hangout link attached to each meeting event, and remote workers would usually just magically appear before the start time.
This also means that if you are in a different timezone, you should take responsibility and make the effort to make sure that core hours overlap and you attend every meeting you are invited to.
This one is for design managers. The ideal situation for managers is that you could have members manage themselves. You want to provide direction and track progress.
Hire and Develop the Best
If you have to worry employees slacking off during remote work, then they are probably not the best. The title is the hiring motto for Amazon, and by doing so, you are able to employ talent that are capable of managing themselves, even in a remote working environment.
Set Clear KPIs
You want to be able to be clear on this at all times and take action if progress is falling behind. We use Google’s OKR at Repro. For the design team, this is combined with several other metrics like time-tracking. This allows trust to form and a consensus on how to rate performance.
Freedom is the Goal
Without a doubt, more freedom and employee satisfaction is the goal of a remote working culture. In the end, stress is reduced and work performance should naturally be improved. However, if your expectations are higher commitment in exchange for that freedom, the stress is instead increased.
If you have any expectations beyond the KPIs, you should make it abundantly clear and where possible, develop metrics to track them.
Implementation Takes Time
As much as I am a supporter of remote work, it’s not something you want to introduce suddenly without a plan. You need proper processes, practices and understanding in place for it to work well, otherwise, it will create more stress for both in-house and remote parties, and especially for managers.
In Repro, we try to start with remote work with one day a week and slowly increase (or decrease) as we experiment with the different processes and tools. However, this is with the expectation that goals are being met, so it’s, in the end, up to the manager’s digression.
That said, I believe that’s it’s the responsibility of the manager to constantly improve the situation for it to happen some day.
While companies that offer remote work is still far and few in Japan, companies who choose to take up the challenge will see increased performance and employee satisfaction, if carried out well.
Companies should not shy away from the difficulties of providing a remote working environment. They should not forget the remote work is not just a practice but a company culture of transparency, communication and employee happiness.
To give context, fully-remote company like Invision, a design prototyping tool, has a Director of Employee Happiness, a certified life coach offering support for all, at all times. It is a company that not only have remote working, but an entire culture centered on employee happiness.
Therefore, it’s important to understand that a remote working environment is not the goal, but a means of a better workplace.