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Making Remote Work

This is part 1 of a 4 part series on Making Remote Work.

Twenty years ago, most jobs took place in an office or other work location. Today, there are many ways to build a company and often not all of your employees are in the same place. Remote work has gone from a radical idea to common practice. 

When we started Outlier five years ago here in Oakland, our first hire lived across the country in Virginia. Today we have a team of 40 people across offices in Oakland and Virginia, with fully remote employees in 7 states and 3 countries. We have made remote working a core part of how we operate and a competitive advantage in an increasingly global world.

Along the way, we have learned a lot about how to make distributed teams work. Here are some principles and tactics that will help your team make remote working an advantage that actually increases your productivity. 

First, the principles

The first thing to realize is that being remote-friendly is a mindset, not a policy. If something urgent happens and your team’s first instinct is to find a whiteboard to work through it then you are not remote-friendly. How would a remote person see the whiteboard? Join the discussion? If someone lives six time zones away, how would they even know something happened?

Alternatively, if your first instinct when something happens is to open a shared document and write things down then you are remote-friendly! The mindset shift is from assuming everyone is available in the office to assuming no one is in the office. 

The principles that make remote work productive are principles you should probably follow in any business. Here are a few:

  • Write everything down. You cannot rely on live conversations to convey information, or for people to always be available to answer questions. Writing down every problem, solution and decision are critical to building strong communications and ensuring everyone remembers what was done. A written document can be added to by others, commented on and built upon in a way that a live discussion cannot. 
  • Assume asynchronous communications. People may not always be available at the same time, so you should assume they are not. Phone calls and live chats should be replaced with email and shared documents that can be read and edited at different times by different people. Letting go of the idea that everyone can respond at the same time unlocks a critical part of effective remote work. 
  • Schedule everything. When you do need everyone to be in a live discussion, schedule a time instead of relying on spontaneous discussions. Make meetings as short as possible (10-20 minutes) to ensure meetings don’t occupy all of your time. When something is scheduled, everyone can plan around it instead of hoping everyone is available when you need them. 

At the core of these principles is that your team will be working on different schedules, without the same informal information flows that come from casual office conversation. You need to be more intentional in both your communication and your expectations. 

This week we’ll share our theory on working remotely in an effort to make your teams stronger.

The Making Remote Work series