It’s not just our tools and surroundings that change when we transition from an office to working remotely. We are products of our environment and circumstances – we change too.
The broad shift to remote-first work has revealed some surprising truths about how working apart from our colleagues and teams changes the way we approach different aspects of our jobs. It turns out there are many things we are better at when we approach them from a remote context.
Remaining Flexible and Solution-Oriented
You’ve made it past the first major hurdle – transitioning to tools and platforms that enable you to get the job done beyond the boundaries of a physical office space. Even a year ago this may have seemed extremely unlikely, maybe even unthinkable. While it may have been a steep learning curve, now the possibilities seem…possible-er, with renewed imagination and resourcefulness.
Nurturing the Flow of Open Communication
Communication is everything in the remote workplace. Check-ins and updates are no longer a courtesy or formality but the most crucial elements of a functioning team and workflow. Serendipitous conversations can’t happen – at least not as they used to – and that removes a huge slice of productive communication from the mix.
Remote work has required everyone to become better communicators in order to ensure the smooth completion of day-to-day tasks and big projects alike. We’ve become better at nurturing the “flow” of open communication and recognizing that things go smoother when it’s a truly communal effort.
Being Proactive Leaders
In a remote work context, the traditional idea of leadership is transformed. In the earliest stages of the shift to telecommuting, companies were concerned about how to monitor teams’ productivity when they are working outside the fishbowl of the office. But in practice, it’s not about surveillance.
Leaders have found that there are better ways to encourage people to stay on-track and do their best work. Good remote leaders are responsive, organized and productive in order to motivate and reassure their teams and promote a functional level of independence. Promoting an objective-first mind set, while being an enabler, can build stronger results, with less time wasted. And above all, leaders need to ensure they aren’t stifling creativity.
Time Management and Punctuality
It’s hard to be late to something when it’s happening right where you’re already sitting. And without the distraction of in-person colleagues and conversation happening around you, it’s easier to stay on track when it comes to making it to calls and work sessions on time. Blaming the commute – also no longer an option. In a remote work set-up, calendar notifications are your friend and you should be working the hours that are maximized for your productivity.
Focusing Attention and Managing Distractions
Back in the “before times,” many people questioned their hypothetical ability to focus while surrounded by the distractions of home. Many of those same people have since found strategies and techniques for maximizing focus and output in a home office environment.
We’ve become better at creating distinct boundaries between “on” time dedicated to work, and “off time” – whether it’s a pause to make lunch, address childcare needs, a wellness break or logging off for the day. We have more control and awareness of where we are directing our attention in a given moment – and more discipline means more efficiency.
Respecting People’s Time and Getting Straight to the Point
When we work remotely, our time tends to be more structured into blocks with concrete start and end times. This makes us more motivated to come into discussions prepared. It’s harder to have abstract conversations over chat or video, so there is less spitballing. There is a personal incentive to provide concrete, easily-explained examples of ideas so as not to spend precious time in video calls – which, let’s face it, can be tiresome.
Being Direct and Succinct
We lose a lot of non-verbal information and communication cues when we connect exclusively through video calls and other remote mediums. But this has only prompted us to be more precise and direct in our communication. Simply put, communication that dances around the point is quickly shown to be inefficient and frustrating when we’re remote – and we’ve adapted accordingly to see that there’s power in succinctness.
Adopting New Habits and Processes
We reach peak levels of performance when experiencing just the right amount of pressure or stress. This is because perceiving higher stakes leads to rapid adoption of new habits for survival – it’s literally fight or flight, where fight means finding new and better ways of doing things.
We’ve become less complacent and unwilling to accept that things have to be the way they are. If there’s a different way of doing things that will make things easier for everyone – we’re more likely now to be on board, even if it means a rocky transition period.
In a remote context, it very quickly becomes apparent that opaque processes and operations are a shortcut to sowing mistrust and unease throughout a dispersed workforce. We’ve learned that transparency is not just an organizational value to which you pay lip service, but a powerful tool that actively shapes company culture and promotes healthier relational dynamics. It might just be the single most important ingredient for a successful long-term remote strategy (just ask GitLab).
Recognizing that Substance Supersedes Style
The era of the “wine and dine” is officially behind us. The casualness of taking meetings from your living space means we’ve reevaluated the importance of some of the more arbitrary traditions of the post-industrial workplace.
Feel better working in sweatpants? No problem. We’ve thrown out the stuffiness of the traditional, aestheticized ways of doing business. What we’ve kept is only what we know is needed to do our jobs – we see through the smoke and mirrors.
Remote Is Here to Stay
The transition to remote work may have been a rocky one. But now that we’re here it is hard to deny that many of the things we once dreaded are actually proceeding more smoothly than they did before. As we chart a path forward, we will have to make conscious decisions to keep the parts of remote work that are working for us – and let them guide us as we reimagine what is possible.