I’ve spent one out of five years in my professional life to-date working remote. About six months of that year were spent doing it wrong. Another six doing it right. And obviously the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to my treasure chest of remote experiences.
From this trove, there’s one observation that stands out to me: remote work best practices are just work best practices.
Remote Best Practices
I’ll start by establishing what I’ve learnt are common remote best practices:
- Async over sync comms (ex. no meetings (sync) if avoidable)
- Clear and concise writing
- Extensive documentation
These best practices all map to rules of communication. In fact, I’d say there’s no doubt this is the single most important thing in a remote org.
When you go from in-person to remote, you sacrifice efficiency in communication. You can’t just stop by Sally’s desk and ask her to clarify her email. You need to ping her over Slack, email, or some other comms tool and hope that she’s around. And if your company is running a truly distributed org, then chances are high that Sally isn’t in your time zone and might not even be around to answer your question for hours.
This could be a massive disadvantage for a remote company over an in-person company. But it doesn’t have to be.
Imagine if Sally had just spent an extra minute composing her email to read without any ambiguity. Or if there was supporting documentation that you could’ve referred to that could answer your question. It could save hours of productivity.
Back To The Top
That example is why I believe remote best practices are just work best practices. Even if you work in an in-person org, you’re essentially admitting inefficiency when you stop by Sally’s desk to answer that question. After all, you had to pull her out of whatever she was working on to answer your question - thereby breaking her ‘flow’ state. Maybe that interruption also bothered her neighbors, who are now slightly thrown off their work.
On first glance the interruption not seem like a big deal. But most people don’t consider the second-order effects of that interruption in their cost / benefit analysis. And the devil is very much in the details here.
That, in a nutshell, is why I’m grateful to have worked in a remote-first environment so early on in my career. It taught me the important of good communication hygiene. I’m not perfect by any means. But I am more sensitive to the costs of sync time, how I communicate, and the importance of documentation.
These skills could help me land another remote-first job, but will also serve me well in any organization. And it’s also why I believe people should take the time to learn how to effectively work remote during this quarantine - not just tolerate it till it passes.