Making remote teams work

February 4th, 2014

The excellent Mandy Brown, CEO of Editorially, on Making remote teams work:

One of the most unexpected things that I’ve learned from working remotely is that it isn’t just about accommodating different lifestyles or taking advantage of technology’s ability to compress long distances. Remote working encourages habits of communication and collaboration that can make a team objectively better: redundant communication and a naturally occurring record of conversation enable team members to better understand each other and work productively towards common ends. At the same time, an emphasis on written communication enforces clear thinking, while geography and disparate time zones foster space for that thinking to happen.

In that way, remote teams are more than just a more humane way of working: they are simply a better way to work.

It is an excellent read, of course, so I recommend reading the entire piece to see how she’s come to this conclusion.

However, although she says that remote work isn’t “suitable for everyone”, I feel she may not have made that point strongly enough. So, please, allow me to simply say it again; remote work is absolutely not suitable for everyone. In fact, though I’ve been a remote worker for the majority of my now pushing 20 year career, I’ve met far more people that aren’t geared towards working remotely than are geared towards it.

To be successful at working remotely one first must be internally motivated to work hard, to manage one’s time wisely, and to communicate with one’s team on the progress made. There is very little room for people management within a remote team. I’ve seen it done but I’ve never seen it have a happy ending. If any remote workers need to be managed — and by managed I mean micromanaged — they almost always end up ripping the team apart or being fired far after they should have been.

Some would say that they’d never hire anyone that needed to be micromanaged, whether their team was remote or not, and I would agree with them. But, they are out there.

How do you know if you’re well suited to work remotely? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If the boss isn’t in the office, will I get more or less done?
  • Do I mind showing my progress as often as possible to my team, even reiterating myself in a few different ways to make sure everyone knows where I’m at?

In reality this is what successful remote workers are best at; getting things done without being told to keep working or what to do next. Then, sharing that work with their team. If you’re not already doing this day-to-day you’re probably not someone that should work remotely.