Remote work is increasingly important. More companies are offering remote jobs, and more people are looking for them. In this chapter, we'll cover how to get started with remote work, including the benefits and best practices.
GitLab was one of the first companies advocating, supporting, and sharing resources about remote work. They've created the Remote Manifesto, inspired by the Agile Manifesto and this post from Giles Bowkett about distributed companies and the flaws in Scrum and Agile. The Remote Manifesto 1. Hiring and working from all over the world instead of from a central location. 2. Flexible working hours over set working hours. 3. Writing down and recording knowledge over verbal explanations. 4. Written down processes over on-the-job training. 5. Public sharing of information over need-to-know access. 6. Opening up every document for editing by anyone over top-down control of documents. 7. Asynchronous communication over synchronous communication. 8. The results of work over the hours put in. 9. Formal communication channels over informal communication channels. Manifesto from other companies GitLab isn't the only company to release a "Remote Manifesto". Other companies have done so: * Remotive
Let's discuss here some of the benefits of working remotely - and why now it's the best time to get started. Productivity Working at the office is distracting: interruptions, endless meetings, and an environment that might not suit your needs. All those factors get in that way to do meaningful work. By working remotely, you can adjust your environment according to your needs - without forcing the whole team to have the same environment, becoming more productive. Organization Remote work alone won't make you magically focus and do great work. It needs a culture change. If you just keep having endless meetings, then your experience will be a nightmare. But remote work allows you to realize that most meetings aren't necessary. By doing so, you'll develop a different habit: writing things down. This way, everyone in the organization understands what's going on. Your practices become more organized, and people know what to do. Communication Writing things down requires another change: asynchronous communication. Everyone communicates in their own time without interrupting others. Nothing is "too urgent," as managers might tell you. Flexibility Asynchronous communication also allows for more flexibility. People don't need to work at the same time. If you're an early bird, just work in the morning. If you're a night owl, then just work in the evening. It also gives people more freedom. They can travel without taking a vacation. Employees can spend more time with their families and friends. Haydn Mackay, from GitLab, mentions those benefits: > The flexibility makes family life exponentially easier, which reduces stress and makes you more productive and motivated. You can’t put a dollar value on it – it’s priceless. Traditionally, we organize our routine around our work. When working remotely, it allows people to build their work around their life. Commuting Most people don't like commuting. It's a waste of time. Some people spend up to three hours per day commuting. That's 720 hours (30 days) per year. Yes, some workers spend a whole month inside a bus, car, or train. Commuting isn't just annoying. It's also associated with obesity, high blood pressure, insomnia, and other health problems and it's bad for the environment. By working remotely, you're also taking care of yourself, your employees, and the planet. Hiring By working remotely, your company can hire the best talent from anywhere in the world. If you claim to "only hire the best", then we shouldn't restrict yourself to a tech hub. By hiring remotely, you also end up attracting self-motivated people. Saving money Even though some companies pay different wages depending on the city their employees live, working remotely shouldn't be about saving money. It's about freedom. However, you can always save money on other things like office space and commuting. It also makes it easier for your company to grow as you're not limited to office space. Health The COVID-19 pandemic made clear another benefit: healthcare. By not sharing the same environment with other people, you have less exposure to germs from sick coworkers. Politics When working remotely, people have to focus on getting things done. It's very clear when someone is underperforming. This reduces office politics and interpersonal drama because employees focus on results rather than politics. Diversity It allows you to work with people from all over the world, increasing diversity by having people from different cultural backgrounds. Why now? Remote work is much easier today because of technology. We have tools to do most of our jobs from our home, having just a computer and internet connection. We have a chapter to cover the best tools to make your life easier while working remotely.
We already saw the benefits of working remotely, but there are some problems. Let's discuss them in this lesson. Onboarding Onboarding remotely can be challenging. There's so much you need to learn about a company that doing so remotely might become really exhausting (e.g. having tons of calls to get to know everyone). It also involves lots of self-learning to get through the whole company's documentation. Loneliness Remote work can feel lonely sometimes, especially in a scenario where 40% of adults already feel lonely. This problem is worse if you're coming from a traditional office environment. Some things you or your company might consider to minimize this issue: * Arrange a coworking space: if you're an employer, consider having an "office budget" which your employees can use to set up their own office or rent office space). * Informal communications: create a channel for informal communication where your employees can share fun things, memes, talk about personal stuff, hobbies, etc. * Social calls: organize online calls where you can gather together and talk about stuff (non-work related). Communication If you're coming from a traditional organization, communication might be a huge challenge when transitioning to a remote company. Asynchronous communication is great, but it requires a different set of skills. Make sure everything is written down to avoid the feeling of being left out when something is being discussed without you. Also, be patient. Not everyone has the same communication skills and background. It might be harder for some people to express themselves in written communication. Make them feel comfortable and be supportive when they say something that's not clear. Context switch Some people find hard to "switch context", especially when they're working from home. By going to an office, they have a clear distinction of when it's time to work and when it's time for leisure. Make sure you or your employees aren't overworking. If you've been working for too many hours in a row, take a break. Maybe get back to it tomorrow. If you're an employer, don't assume your employees will work 100% of the time. Remote work is about flexibility. Maybe they're picking up their kids at school or going to the doctor. Just trust they'll do their best work when they're available. Don't try to spy on them or pressure them to be always available for you. Also, beware of burnout. When working remotely, it's easy to work longer hours. Make sure you tell your employees to avoid that but remember: Preventing a culture of burnout starts at the top. Kids Besides "context switch", if you're working from home you might have to deal with your kids too. It's awesome to spend more time with them but they also bring lots of distractions to your workplace. If you have kids, it might be easier for you to find a quiet room for working or looking for a coworking space. If you're an employer, make sure you offer an "office budget" to your employees. This way, they can afford to have a productive office space. Distractions Remote work requires lots of discipline. You need to learn how to manage your own time. Master procrastinators might have a hard time doing it: Self-motivated people can deal with this issue much butter. That's why many companies like to hire managers of one when working remotely: > Someone who comes up with their own goals and executes them. They don’t need a heavy direction. They don’t need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do — set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc. — but they do it by themselves and for themselves. If you'd like to work remotely, practice your discipline, self-motivation, and organization skills. Being pro-active is a must. Different timezones Remote work gives your company the freedom and flexibility to hire people from anywhere in the world. But that comes with a problem: timezones. This is trickier when a company has lots of meetings as someone has to compromise by working earlier or later. However, beware of meetings. They should be a last resort when working remotely. When you switch to asynchronous communication, different timezones become a much smaller problem. Bureaucracy Each country has different tax, immigration, and labor laws. Compliance is a huge challenge when hiring remotely. Some companies end up hiring people as contractors, but that's bad for their employees as they don't have many benefits they would have from a traditional company. Fortunately, there are companies working on that problem.
Traditional companies are always trying to find excuses for not allowing their employees to work remotely. Let's see some of those myths: Lack of innovation There's a common belief in the corporate world that innovation only happens when a group of people gathers around face-to-face to brainstorm ideas. Remote companies such as GitLab, Basecamp, and Buffer are proving that belief is just a myth. It's usually an excuse traditional companies use to keep controlling and micromanaging their employees. People won't work Bad managers think their employees will only work if they're being watched. It's a common excuse for not adopting remote work that usually shows deeper issues a company has with poor management. It usually shows a lack of trust. As Jason Fried and DHH say on "Remote: Office Not Required": If people really want to play video games or surf the web all day, they’re perfectly capable of doing so from their desks at the office. In fact, lots of studies have shown that many people do exactly that. For example, at clothing retailer J.C. Penney’s headquarters, 4,800 workers spend 30 percent of the company’s Internet bandwidth watching YouTube videos. * So, coming into the office just means that people have to put on pants. There’s no guarantee of productivity. As they also say: "if you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager." Billionaire Richard Branson also has a similar philosophy: To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision. Security Security shouldn't be an excuse nowadays. There are plenty of solutions out there. Here's a checklist from the book "Remote: Office not required": All computers must use hard drive encryption (e.g. FileVault on Macs)Require a password to login into your computerTurn on encryption for all sites you visitMake sure smartphones use lock codes and can be wiped remotelyUse unique, strong passwords (a password manager makes it easier to do)Turn on two-factor authentication for the services you use Others would get jealous This excuse is more common than one would think. When a company cannot have everyone working remotely (e.g. a logistic business), you might hear an executive saying you cannot work remotely because other people would get jealous. However, as Jason Fried and DHH point out: Why force everyone in the organization to work the same way? The guy sending packages from the warehouse already has a different job from the girl running the books in accounting. Different jobs, different requirements. People get that. If you have a boss like that, remember them that everyone should have the best environment to do their best work. For someone taking care of inventory, that might be the office. But for you or your team, the ideal conditions might be working remotely. Freedom is key here. Culture Building culture is a challenge. That's why we have created a whole chapter about it. However, that's not an impossible task. Some managers might mistake building culture by offering a ping-pong table or having beers on Friday. Culture is more than that, it's about the actions your company is taking and how able you're to develop a culture of caring and empathy. You don't need an office for that. Collaboration "It's hard to collaborate without a physical office." This myth usually comes from people who have an "ASAP" mentality: they need everything right away, nothing can wait. When you start working asynchronously, you realize most questions aren't so urgent as you think. If there's a real crisis happening, you always the option to use the telephone. Most people struggle to get rid of the "ASAP" behavior. So, don't feel bad if you see yourself calling your colleagues all the time in the beginning. With time, you'll realize that most stuff can wait and you can just keep working on something else in the meantime. When you do realize it, you'll collaboration actually becomes easier because people have fewer interruptions, hence more time being productive. We're different "This is very nice but it doesn't work for us." If you're trying to push for remote work on your company, you'll hear that. Executives pay thousands of dollars to training programs just to come back to the company and tell others what wonderful things other people doing but, unfortunately, "that would never work for us." This excuse is the easiest one to prevent any change from happening because change is hard and executives don't like that. Today, there are companies from multiple industries (and sizes) that do remote work (either fully or partially). We have even surgeons and sports broadcasters working remotely.
When you're working at your company's office, you usually have everything set up for you to work well. It's easy to forget about that when working remotely. Because it gives you freedom, it's tempting to just start working from the couch or even the bed. However, you need to think about ergonomics. Otherwise, your body might suffer in the future. Some of the things to consider: Desk Make sure you have a desk that suits your needs. Consider buying a height-adjustable desk. Besides allowing you to work standing (good for your legs!), it makes easier for you to adjust the height according to your shoulders. Some resources for finding good desks: * ErgoPlus: An in-depth overview of personal use business desks * Biomorph Desk: This site features some of the greatest desk designs you can get, at a reasonable cost * Highground Gaming: The desks on this list are certainly not just for gaming. The principles these desks are built on include ergonomics, comfort, and practical designs for living spaces. Chair You'll probably spend 1/3 of your day sitting, so take care of your back: consider buying an adjustable ergonomic chair as they can eliminate most of the pains we feel every day. Remember that your chair must align with your desk choice, especially if you're using a keyboard or mouse. It's important that your arms are rested and bent. It's also good if it includes lumbar support to reduce wrist strain. Some resources available for choosing a chair: * Worksite International: This article covers the topic of armrests and whether or not your chair should have them * Omnicore Agency: This article covers the most popular office chairs * Highground Gaming: tips for gaming chairs, which are usually high quality as gamers spend tons of time on them Screen Working from a laptop monitor might cause both neck and eye strain. Using a large monitor might reduce squinting and leaning, which will benefit your health. Headphones If your working environment is noisy, buying some headphones will help you during your calls. The TechRadar has a list of good headphones for remote meetings. Webcam Even though most computers have webcams, they're not always good. Consider buying a webcam with a versatile mount. Office budget If you run a remote company, please consider offering your employees a budget for building their remote office. It might seem expensive at first but it will pay off in the long-term.
There are many ways of working remotely. Some companies will say they're *remote-only*. Others will use a *remote-first* or a *remote-friendly* approach. Let's see what's the difference between them: ## All-remote **All-remote** companies don't have a physical office. All their operations happen remotely. Remote only companies usually have a strong communication culture and every decision is written down. They often have more transparency as it makes easier for everyone to work remotely. From
Depending on the company culture, the transition to remote work might be easier or harder. Companies that embrace asynchronous communication and fewer meetings have less issues to adapt. GitLab's remote guide says there are four phases a company goes through while transitioning to remote work: 1. Skeuomorph 2. Functional 3. Asynchronous 4. Intentionality It's normal for companies to go through all those steps. Little by little your organization can start migrating to the next phase. Skeuomorph Do you remember the first iPhone? The whole UI was trying to imitate physical things from our everyday life: The same happens with companies when they go remote: they bring their everyday practices to their remote office. Direct messages replace the small talk in the hallway. Video calls replace endless meetings. And the first thing someone will ask is: do you know any online whiteboard tools? Yes, they'll want to bring the whiteboard to your computer. But whiteboards should be used with caution. They're not the best tool for asynchronous communication, storing, indexing, and retrieving data. Think about this: remote work is an opportunity to rethink your office practices. Something that works offline often doesn't work online. Functional When you start realizing that remote work is an opportunity for rethinking things, you begin the transition to the second phase: functioning differently than traditional organizations. It's an evolving process that involves using technology for replacing things manually done before (or not done at all). You'll start to record your meetings; create a shared doc containing your meeting's agenda (topics, questions, etc.); open up public channels for company-wide conversations rather than doing so privately; start to write more documentation about your practices and processes. By rethinking the way you run your business, you'll realize remote work can also be an opportunity to become more efficient by opening up, organizing things, and giving people more autonomy. Asynchronous You're doing things differently. You're more organized and efficient. But there's one thing still missing: communication is still hard. This third phase happens when you transition to asynchronous communication. It's when you realize most of your tasks don't require other people to be working on the same schedule as yours. During this third phase, your company starts using more formal ways of organizing information. Instead of discussing a project on your company's chat, you'll open up a discussion on a project management tool where everyone concerned can join the conversation and you can later return to this thread to see what was discussed and decided. No information is lost or fragmented. GitLab, for example, deletes Slack messages older than 90 days. They do it to force people to use official channels for discussing projects. Chats are just a tool for informal communication. By doing so, companies realize they need to work on their handbook: writing down their practices, protocols, and processes. "Do you remember that decision we made last year when the regional manager from Scranton came to visit us?" Those questions don't happen anymore. All decisions are well-documented. Anyone who joins the company today has the same background information as someone who joined the organization ten years ago. Intentionality GitLab calls phase 4 by "Intentionality". It happens when there's an "extraordinary amount of intentionality, particularly in areas that are typically assumed to need minimal guardrails." But it could be easily defined as a "trust" phase: you trust your co-workers to manage their own time and tasks; you trust everyone to do their jobs; you trust things will run smoothly because everything is well-documented and people know what they have to do. You start measuring results (output) rather than hours (input). There's little space for politics here. Things either work or they don't. It's all clear how and why our work is done. You're aware of the benefits and risks of remote work. You've seen the myths and understood they're not real. You know you'll have more bureaucracy work for hiring but you embrace it because of the benefits. Making this transition requires maturity. GitLab's guide mentions both cultural and technical maturity. The management team needs maturity to be transparent, trust their team, and abandon the "command and control" culture. They need to realize that a single source of truth for processes is necessary and there shouldn't be "closed doors" meetings where just a few executives talk to each other. It also requires technical maturity to understand existing remote work tools. They need to have processes for accessing sensitive information (e.g. using a VPN). --- If you have any other insights on the phases companies go through while transitioning to remote work, please edit this page or share a practical example .
Self-learning is an essential skill for remote workers. You need to always ask questions and look for information. There's a growing number of online communities about remote work where you can ask questions. Let's list them on this page. - [Remote works on LI](https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13657237/): a LinkedIn group for digital nomads and remote workers from around the world. - [r/remotework](https://www.reddit.com/r/remotework/): Remote work community on Reddit. - [We Work Remotely](https
People who always worked in a traditional office have more issues getting used to working remotely. That's okay, you've always worked in the same way and now you have to change so many things in your workstyle. At the beginning, you'll only see the problems of remote work. Let's cover some practical examples of how you can get started working remotely: Dedicated workspace When you start working remotely, it's common to just do it from the couch or even the bed. However, that becomes a nightmare if you're living with more people - especially if you have kids. Consider having a dedicated workspace. It could a room in your house or getting a coworking space. Some companies provide an "office budget" for you to rent a coworking space or build your own home office. Think about ergonomics Ergonomics is very important in your workspace. Make sure you choose good equipment such as good chairs, desks, keyboards, headphones, etc. Separate work from life If you're working from home, you'll probably have a problem with context switch. It's hard to separate when the time for fun ends and when work begins (or vice-versa). It's common for remote workers to overwork. This might lead to them burning out. It's important that you remind yourself (e.g. by setting an alarm) of when you should stop working. Managers should also pay attention to this to make sure employees aren't overworking. It's all about taking care of your co-workers. Engage with people Remote work can become lonely. You need to find other ways to engage with people. Make sure your company has an informal communication channel (e.g. using chat tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or even a Telegram group to send memes 😎). Besides, use the extra time you're saving from commuting to find new hobbies or connect with families, friends, and your community. Do sports, learn how to play a new instrument, go to a bar. Whatever makes you feel happy. 😃 It's important that you don't stop engaging with other people. Keep trying new things Keeping a routine might be good to get you used to remote work but embrace changes too. If something isn't working well for you, try a different approach. Something that works for other people, might not work for you. Keep trying. Think of this new habit as a product: you probably won't get it right in the first prototype but you'll keep iterating until you find the best way to make it work. Do the same with your new remote lifestyle. --- Do you have more tips about getting started working remotely? Please, update this example to share them.
Remote work doesn't happen overnight. There are four phases a company goes through while implementing this kind of work. There are certain best practices you can do for managing a remote organization and some tips for getting started working remotely. But more important than learning what to do is understanding what you should not do. Let's cover some practical examples here. Don't replicate your office's experience One of the biggest mistakes an organization makes is trying to replicate its office's practices to remote work. Instead of piling up video calls or subscribing to the brand-new online whiteboard tool, embrace the benefits of asynchronous communication and get rid of meetings. Don't ignore your workspace Not everyone has the budget to build a remote office. Make sure to offer a budget to your employees for building an office space or renting a coworking space. Be careful with emails/chats Asynchronous communication is one of the hardest topics for beginners to master. It's very convenient to just send an email or a direct message. However, those types of communication can easily get lost. Use task management tools instead, where you can have an organized history of what's been discussed. Beware of meetings Meetings are worse than emails. It interrupts hurts people's productivity and performance. It's mostly a waste of people's time. When you have something you'd like to discuss, open a new issue on your project management tool and ask for people's views on that topic. Use meetings only as a last resort - and if you really need a meeting, make sure all information discussed is properly written down and published on your internal docs. Creating huge projects It's common for people to complain that asynchronous communication doesn't work for larger discussions/projects. Of course, not. But you shouldn't be doing those in the first place. Use the lean startup philosophy and split down your discussion into smaller parts. By doing so, your team is going to be able to focus on what really matters. One-way door decisions Many companies have long discussions and make slow decisions because they act on what Jeff Wilke, VP of Consumer Business at Amazon, calls one-way door decision: decisions that can't be reverted. You should aim for making two-way door decisions: when you walk out the door, see the outcomes, and you're able to walk back to the initial state if the results are bad. You can avoid making one-way door decisions by developing small experiments that can be easily reversible if something goes wrong. When you do so, you'll realize you don't need those long discussions anymore. Then, asynchronous communication becomes much easier, leading to more efficient projects and better results. Don't set unrealistic expectations Make sure you're setting realistic expectations for your OKRs (objectives and key results) and KPIs (key performance indicators). Otherwise, this might lead to your employees burning out and creating anxiety in your entire team. Expecting an immediate response It's another mistake people make coming from traditional companies: expecting an immediate response to everything. In traditional companies, you can just go to your co-worker's desk, interrupt them, and get the information you need by hurting their work. When those people go to a remote company, they usually keep the same bad habit: send a direct message and expect an instant reply: > 9:10 - Boss: Hey, are you there? > 9:14 - Boss: I need to talk to you... > 9:18 - Boss: Can you answer, please? > 9:20 - Boss: Please, it's urgent > 9:21 - Me: What happened? > 9:27 - Boss: How can invite someone to a video call? Yeah, those urgent messages are rarely urgent. Besides, if you properly use asynchronous communication, then most questions can be answered using a link to the appropriate ticket on your task management tool or to your company's handbook. Gathering executives on a physical place Some remote companies have executives working together in a physical place. They should give an example of their commitment to remote work and do it remotely too. Otherwise, they might not understand the issues other employees are facing in their everyday tasks. --- Do you have other tips about things a company should avoid while working remotely? Please, update this page to share them.