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5 Remote Work Tips From Remote-First Companies

Remote work doesn’t need to mean disengaged work.

The transition to remote work has all the feels. For most of us, it’s unfamiliar and rife with anxiety. There’s no sugar-coating it—remote work is difficult. Yet with the right leadership, technology, and processes, remote work can empower people to do their best work. 

There’s no sense reinventing the wheel when it comes to remote work. Some of the most successful companies have been operating remotely for years, and have developed effective strategies to empower their workers for success. Here are five tips from some of my favorite remote-first companies.  

1. GitLab—Host virtual coffee breaks 

Coffee breaks are ubiquitous in physical office environments. Why shouldn’t they play a role in remote environments too? At GitLab, remote employees are encouraged to take virtual coffee breaks to develop rapport and strong relationships. GitLab uses Slack to facilitate these virtual coffee breaks. The company’s “#donut_be_strangers” Slack channel leverages the Donut bot to randomly pair team members for coffee breaks. More and more companies are relying on Donut to facilitate virtual meetups—it’s worth checking out. 

Not only can virtual coffee breaks be a great way to foster connection in a virtual environment, but they can also enhance engagement. Pro tip: when partaking in virtual coffee breaks, take note of your colleagues’ coffee selections as they can be a powerful portal into their personalities. 

2. Automattic—Set Boundaries

When working remotely, it’s easy for work-life and personal life to blur. James Huff, a Happiness Engineer at Automattic—the company that produces WordPress—emphasizes the importance of separating your work and personal environments. At a fundamental level, this means setting specific hours for work and finding a dedicated workspace. But Huff also recommends taking more nuanced steps to separate work from general life. He, for example, finds it effective to use separate compute browsers to delineate work and personal activities. He uses Firefox for work tasks and Safari for personal tasks.

3. Buffer—Establish Slack Agreements 

In transitioning to remote work, many teams are doubling down on their use of Slack. Slack is great for increasing connectivity but it can also perpetuate an “always-on” feeling that may be overwhelming. To ensure Slack is used productively, software company Buffer has established 10 Slack Agreements to establish norms for appropriate communication in Slack channels. One agreement is “Use status and profiles to communicate availability.” By letting people know when you are and are not available, they’ll be able to gauge when it is appropriate to contact you and when you’re off the clock. 

Another of Buffer’s Slack agreements is “Communicate proactively.” This has to do with communication cadence. Rather than pinging someone with a salutation such as “Hi, Jack!” and waiting for a reply, Buffer recommends giving including all context that is needed in the same initial ping. Buffer recommends including all relevant links, documents, desired response times, and “anything that can move the conversation forward asynchronously” in the initial ping. 

4. Hotjar—Make Your Space Productive

A study by Princeton University researchers published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that a cluttered physical environment negatively affects our ability to focus and process information. 

Behavior analytics company Hotjar is adamant that a productive workspace is a prerequisite to effective remote work. Hotjar gives employees €4,000 to build their own office space at home. Empowering employees to construct a personalized, decluttered personal office helps increase productivity. If employees’ ironing boards are doubling as stand-up desks, productivity is likely to take a nosedive. 

5. Close—Over-communicate

Communication is a prerequisite to empowering an effective remote workforce. At inside sales CRM company, Close, communication is top-of-mind for all workers. Close’s communication mantra is: Whenever you’re wondering if you should say something, the answer is always yes.

For Close, radical transparency is the name of the game. Whether it’s customer communication, senior-level decision making, or financial metrics, Close believes that it is important for employees to have a 360-degree view of the company. When everyone tends towards over-communication, workers are empowered with context that enables them to feel a greater sense of ownership and work more independently towards big picture objectives. 

While there’s no one-size-fits-all-solution for remote work, there are several strategies and tactics that have proven effective. These five remote-first companies are a testament to the fact that remote work doesn’t need to mean disengaged work. 

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