Remote work, also known as telecommuting or working from home, is a type of work arrangement in which employees do not need to be physically present at the office in order to perform their job. Instead, they can use laptops, smartphones or other technology to communicate with their colleagues and complete their work tasks from a location outside the office.
Remote working isn’t a completely new concept, it has been around for decades, but has gained significant attention and popularity due to advances in technology and COVID-19.
COVID-19 opened eyes to the option of working from home as many companies were forced to adopt remote working situations.
Some interesting facts:
- The number of people working from home has risen by 400% since 2010. (Gupta, A. 2022).
- 7% of the population around the world was working from home prior to the pandemic. (Kalcheva, K. 2022).
- 75% of employees believe they have a better work-life balance working remotely. (Flynn, J. 2022).
- In May 2021, remote job openings on Linkedin increased by 357% compared to the previous year. (Robinson, A. 2022).
Different companies do different things, remote first companies operate with a full remote set up, teams work from anywhere.
Remote-friendly businesses are a mixture, they have both physical and virtual offices. For example, at Codific, we have an office in Bulgaria, but many of our team members work remotely around the world.
There is a variety of opinions on the benefits and drawbacks of remote working. Some argue that it allows for greater work-life balance flexibility and can lead to increased productivity, while others argue that it can lead to isolation and a lack of social interaction with colleagues, damaging productivity.
Despite these differing viewpoints, it is clear that remote work is here to stay and will continue to evolve as technology advances. Therefore, how can managers help make remote teams work? To start off with, companies must be prepared for this change, even those that do not think of adopting remote working environments, this can be done by developing a clear remote work policy and understanding people’s outside work requirements (picking children up for school, medical appointments etc).
Throughout this blog, Dag Flachet, the manager of our remote team at Codific has been asked some questions regarding his experience with managing a remote team.
Starting off easy with:
Does remote work work?
“Not for everyone. There needs to be a balance between autonomy and control. If the team members are self motivated and highly autonomous then remote work can work with relatively little control in place. We can relate it to Theory X and Theory Y of Douglas McGregor. At Codific we are very much Theory Y oriented, but that requires a certain maturity and mindset in the team members, it won’t work for everyone. We pay specific attention to autonomy and self motivation when we are recruiting and in the trial period. We further foster intrinsic motivation being autonomy supportive. If the job is very repetitive and generally unfulfilling this would likely not work, nor does it work for people without the right mindset. So could it work for a Theory X setting? No idea, maybe with strict controls in place.” – Dag Flachet
How to make remote teams work through culture and connection
Creating culture and connection in a remote work environment can be challenging, but there are several strategies you can use to foster a sense of community and belonging among your team members:
- Make an effort to communicate regularly with your team members through a variety of channels, video meetings, emails, and messaging. This helps stay connected and build relationships with your team members.
At Codific, we have weekly team meetings discussing our tasks, achievements and updates of the previous and following week.
- Encourage transparency: build a safe space so that team members are able to feel open with each other and create a culture of trust and honesty. This will help team members feel more connected and supported.
A good way of doing this is one to one meetings to check up on your employees. Ask questions, be open to feedback and any critical feedback given, from a management level, try to listen and improve on this.
Psychological safety must be included in this. Psychological safety is, as Professor Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School, defined, “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” (Savina, A. 2020)
- Offer flexible working schedules and locations to allow team members to better manage their work-life balance. This will help your team members feel more in control of their work and self motivated.
- Recognise and appreciate the hard work and contributions of your team members, and make an effort to praise their achievements and milestones. This helps team members feel valued and connected to their team.
- In a remote environment, it is critical to set and establish expectations with your team. These should include everything from working hours, projects scheduling and time frame, project communications etc.
Why is this important?
This is especially necessary during an onboarding period of a new member. It is paramount for a new employee to be given the right resources to fit into their role accordingly. This can be done by developing a plan for said person, as Savina, A. quotes, ‘full time remote workers take longer to onboard’ therefore, setting out a plan which starts small and slowly introduces them to challenges is an effective way to do this.
All of these listed above are just as necessary in an office working environment, however, for them to be as effective in a remote working environment, they need to be heightened as they do not come as naturally over a laptop as they do face to face.
How do you set clear expectations and goals for team members, and how do you track progress towards meeting those goals?
“Doveryay, no proveryay. That’s an old Russian proverb adopted by Ronald Reagan, it means “trust but check”. In our growth team we check with KPIs. KPIs have advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that it creates visibility of effort for everyone. In our case they are more used to self manage than to manage top down. For example, our team members publicly set their own targets, and we evaluate the results together in our team meetings. This reinforces autonomy, but at the same time it gives team members quantifiable output goals. The disadvantage of KPI’s is that, if they become too important they become the goal instead of growing the business, which would undermine progress towards the real goal and damage creativity. For our engineering teams we use our own flavour of Scrum which has its own KPI’s, those are meant to provide accountability for all time spent, and visibility on productivity. Yet again we don’t want to be tunnel focused on those KPIs. We are a relatively small team, so we can take things by the ear.” – Dag Flachet
How do you support your team members during their remote work? Are there any resources or tools that are used to help success outcomes? Such as training or access to a workspace?
“Since the pandemic I came to the conclusion we collaborate much better online than in person. A one on one meeting over Google Meet going over a joint doc or sheet just works really well. On a technical level we need to have the right tools. Excellent connection, Slack, Google Suite, CRM, Trello, etc… On a more human level we can refer to self determination theory and say that we need autonomy, relatedness and competence. I have talked about autonomy earlier, I will talk about relatedness later, so now let’s talk about competence. We have to nurture the sense of competence, growth and mastery in our team. Personally I like to throw people into the deep end of the pool, so they learn to swim with a sense of urgency. Some people drown, but we don’t need all people, we need the best. As they learn we will provide resources and coaching where needed but the key thing we are really developing is the ability to learn quickly. We are a young dynamic startup with products in a wide range of industries on a wide range of technologies. We keep coming up with new creative products in new industries, much faster than we can market them actually. So it’s a dynamic cycle that relies on autonomy, creativity and growth which are specifically the things that drive the kind of people that work here.” – Dag Flachet
How do you foster a positive and inclusive culture within the team, despite the fact that team members are working remotely?
“Trust is the cement of human relationships, so we need to trust each other. I like to refer to the trust matrix to say that the foundations of trust can be different in different relationships. That is fine, that is natural. We foster trust and connection by sharing a little bit of our personal selves to colleagues, let people look into your soul. For this a little bit of chit chat in between the serious business is very important. I grew up professionally in a “work hard play hard” culture, you work hard all week and on friday after work you get drunk together and everything gets talked about. But the world has changed, culturally in its attitude towards alcohol and practically with remote work. We cannot replicate something like that online. Online social events suck. So how do we do this deep bonding online then? Well maybe we don’t.
I was having this discussion with a fellow tech entrepreneur, and he made a very good argument. As an entrepreneur our company is our baby and we want everyone to feel like family. But it’s not really realistic, yes there needs to be trust and a degree of friendship, but it doesn’t have to be a big bromance. Too high expectations of the relationships, sets us up for disappointment and frustration. And your team will care less about the company than you do, get over it.” – Dag Flachet
Performance management through remote working
You may have a completely remote working team or only a few employees working remotely. If your employees aren’t in the office, how can you track their performance? How can you know if they are working properly and reaching their targets?
The fact of it is that you can’t. There has to be an element of trust and transparency within your relationship. “Trust decides on the success or failure of remote working” (Mao, Y. 2022)
So, how are you supposed to manage performance in a remote working environment?
Micromanaging is not the solution to this. By excessively controlling or monitoring what your employees are doing, you run the high risk of them becoming demotivated, feeling powerless, developing self-doubt, destroying creativity and a much higher burn out rate. (Lastiri, L. 2022).
Managing performance can be very challenging, there are several strategies you can use to ensure that your team members are meeting their goals and delivering high-quality work.
- Clearly define expectations: communicating your expectations for performance including using the SMART goal method; specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. Allowing them to understand what is expected of them and how they can meet those expectations.
- Tools to track progress: Use project management software or other tools to track your team’s progress and identify any potential issues or bottlenecks.
- Foster a culture of continuous learning: Give your team members the opportunity to continuously learn and develop their skills. If your employees feel they are being encouraged and trusted to do their job autonomously while learning more about what they are doing, their motivation should increase and improve overall performance.
- Autonomy: Allow your employees to manage their own work and make intrinsic decisions. This will help them balance home-work life (more on this below).
- Understanding performance can vary from employee to employee: Performance and results should differ from person to person, understanding the narrative behind an employee and acknowledging situations can help manage performance strategies.
- Gather different kinds of performance data: Gathering accurate information on remote performance can be tougher as there is usually less data to deal with. One must consider alternative options, such as self-evaluations, peer evaluations, manager assessments, training expenses, average completion rate, etc.
How do you track performance or handle conflicts within the team, and how do you provide feedback and support to help team members improve and grow?
“For performance tracking see the part about KPIs but there is also a qualitative component that is more based on intuition I would say. There isn’t really a framework for that. As for feedback, well in the past I probably gave too little feedback, now we started with formal quarterly feedback sessions, ask me again in a year or so how that’s going.” – Dag Flachet
What strategies do you use to help your remote teams work and engage, and how do you recognise and reward their contributions?
“Intrinsic motivation and social recognition for a job well done go a long way. But off course material compensation also matters. Aside from an adequate salary we like to give equity. Equity gives early employees a ticket to life changing wealth if we hit the ball out of the park. It sets the focus on the long term players, those who will stay until their stock vests and hopefully much longer after that.” – Dag Flachet
Work-life balance is a critical consideration for anyone working remotely. When an employee works from home or a remote location, it can be difficult to separate their work and personal life, which can lead to burnout and affect their well-being and mental health. This will subsequently affect how they perform during their working hours, therefore as both a manager and an employee, it is important to understand the dynamics of work-life balance.
47% of leaders believe remote work is unhealthy for employees as it negatively affects their well-being, according to a survey by the Paper (Liangxian, C., Yasai, W., Jin, Z. 2022). After COVID 19, managers pushed to get employees back to work as it is believed working from home leads to an increase in social isolation, meaninglessness and lack of work life boundaries. Many studies go into the negative effects of remote working such as the “exacerbate existing mental health issues” such as depression and anxiety (Fast Company. 2022). Others go into the psychological truth behind remote working (Malcolm Gladwell’s), and how employees may be more comfortable at home, but what effect does this have on their meaningfulness over time.
Contrairly Gleb Tsipursky from Forbes gives his opinion on how remote work is better than the alternative; office-centric work for employees.
Arguments on the effects of office-centric jobs include frustration from the side of employees on long commutes, uncomfortable offices, less flexibility to fit in leisure activities and more. Last year, 2022, many studies on remote work, hybrid work, and office-centric work were undertaken. Studies such as a survey from CNBC, Future Forum and a study published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health(Tsipursky, G. 2022) find that:
- Fully remote employees are more satisfied with their jobs than a office-centric workers
- Remote workers experience higher meaningfulness, self actualization, happiness and commitment rather than in person workers.
- Remote and hybrid workers experience less anxious and stressed compared to in person employees
- Remote and hybrid workers are happier with their work-life balance
However, just as it is for office workers, burnout is a genuine issue for hybrid and remote workers. To assist employees in overcoming these obstacles, regardless of where they are employed, employers must provide online options for mental health benefits. Companies also need to establish clear expectations and boundaries (as mentioned above). They should establish guidelines and standards for response times for various communication methods. Additionally, they must define the parameters of the work-life balance, such as how frequently and under what conditions employees will be required to work after normal business hours.
The one question we should ask ourselves when reflecting on these answers is, How sustainable are they? The majority population have only just been exposed to remote or hybrid work in the last few years, whereas office-centric jobs have been around for centuries. Is the satisfaction of remote working going to die out once people get too accustomed to it?
Suggestions from a remote worker (me)
One effective way to maintain a healthy work-life balance is to establish a routine and stick to a consistent schedule. This can involve setting designed work hours, taking breaks throughout the day, making the effort to walk around (even if it is to one end of your apartment to the other), stretching, meditating, and making time for activities that bring you joy and help you unwind.
It can also be helpful to create a designed workspace in your home, separate from your personal space, to help you mentally distinguish between work and leisure time. From someone who does not have a big enough apartment to do this; I suggest you have a work ‘set up’ for your working hours, have a routine with your set up, maybe this includes your agenda, books or note pads you use for work, or just the location (so you are not moving around between sofas, tables, kitchen etc).
I also choose to work from different locations, e.g. three days a week I work from home, two days I go to cafes/restaurants to work. This helps me learn to concentrate in different environments and simply gets me out of the house.
Take the appropriate steps to be proactive about your well-being and how you thrive in a remote working environment, this will help you achieve the work-life balance that is right for you.
How do you ensure that team members have a healthy work-life balance, and how do you support their well-being and mental health while working remotely?
“In our growth team we don’t have strict working hours. I believe being able to work whenever you want allows you to have a much better work life balance. I like to wake up early in the morning and work all morning so in the afternoon I may go kitesurfing or spend time with my family. At least for our growth team we have similar flexibility.
However there are two issues related to remote work that I don’t have a solution for. The first one is very long meetings. Online meetings up to 90 minutes more or less seem to work well beyond that they become very draining. Yet an in-room session of three hours tends to be quite energising. Somehow the format doesn’t work for long meetings.
Then there is the issue of isolation. I miss having colleagues around, but on the other hand I like the comfort of my home and I know I’m more productive like this. Younger people probably have this much more, I know I did when I was in my twenties. I think what Spotify does in this regard is really cool, they have offices in different cities and people can work from anywhere they want, home or one of the offices, you can even travel around from office to office if you like.” – Dag Flachet
The future of remote work
The future of remote work is difficult to predict and will likely be shaped by a variety of factors. It is inclined to continue to evolve and grow as technology advances and employers and employees recognise the benefits of flexible working arrangements. Some potential development in the future of remote work include:
- Distributed workforce: Covid 19 increased the adoption of remote work hugely. Now, many companies recognise they are able to manage their team from afar, they will invest in people and not places. Office costs etc.
- Investment: Developing on the last bullet point. By a business adopting remote working, they open opportunities to reduce office costs (which come with many secondary costs, coffee, tea, cleaning etc). This reduction of cost allows them to invest in other areas of the business, this could be labour, travel for business, or other relevant costs that could help business growth.
- Performance management through remote working: Managing the performance of your employees will become increasingly easy with new technologies and development tools for this matter.
- New forms of collaboration: New types of cooperation that are better suited to a disturbed workforce may emerge. This might include online collaboration tools and more advanced video conferencing equipment that enable real-time communication amongst a team of remote workers.
- Changes in work culture: The shift to remote work may lead to changes in work culture, such as more significance on flexibility to account for work life balance.
Overall, the future of remote work is likely to be shaped by a combination of technical improvement, shifting workplace cultures, and employee demands and preferences. It will be crucial for businesses and people to adapt as the world changes and discover fresh approaches to collaboration wherever they may be.
Remote work has become a major part of the modern workplace, while it offers many advantages, it also presents its own set of challenges. Including lack of face-to-face interaction and problems with communication and teamwork. The right leadership, management practices, strategies, and tools can overcome these difficulties.
We can not predict the future, but it is important to try and prepare for it. It is evident that remote work will continue to be a significant part of the way work environments are organised in the years to come. Businesses should try to explore different adaptations to what is coming.
Businesses must be proactive, supportive and inclusive when trying to explore different adaptations to what is coming.
Whether you are a manager, an employee, or someone who is just interested in remote work, it is clear that this trend is here to stay, and will continue to shape the future of work for years to come. The rapidly changing world we live in today requires adaptive, resourceful and opportunistic people.
Lastly, what are your top recommendations to a team that wants to move to remote working and how to manage this change?
“Three things to remember. 1: Hire for autonomy 2: Manage for growth 3: Have realistic expectations around relationships.” – Dag Flachet
So what do we work on remotely?
Codific is a team of security software engineers that leverage privacy by design principles to build secure cloud solutions. We build applications in different verticals such as HR-tech, Ed-Tech and Med-Tech. Secure collaboration and secure sharing are at the core of our solutions.
Videolab is used by top universities, academies and hospitals to put the care in healthcare. Sharing patient consultation recordings for feedback trains communication skills, empathy, and other soft skills.
SAMMY Is a security posture management tool. It enables companies to formulate and implement a security assurance program tuned to the risks they are facing. That way other companies can help us build a simple and safe digital future. Obviously our AppSec program and SAMMY itself is built on top of it.
We believe in collaboration and open innovation, we would love to hear about your projects and see how we can contribute in developing secure software and privacy by design architecture. Contact us.
Cohen, J., Wronski, L. (2022). Where the mindset of office, hybrid and remote workers is diverging. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/06/01/where-the-mindset-of-office-hybrid-and-remote-workers-is-diverging.html
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