We’ve been a remote company since day one. All of our employees work from home or a co-working space. Although more and more remote companies are popping up today, we and our remote work allies are still in the minority.
And now, without warning, COVID-19 has forced most co-located companies to adapt to remote life. These companies are now playing catch-up.
Some cannot work remotely and yet have no choice but to try. For the SMEs out there struggling to adapt, we’ve put together a list of our seven best rules for running an organised and efficient remote company.
1) Apps and tools
2) Asynchronous Communication
3) Output is the only measurement
6 )Have some fun
7 )Check in on mental health
1) Apps and tools
Real-time chat apps, like Slack (the darling of real-time communication), have given companies a tool to keep connected with their team.
But we hate real-time communication.
It forces you to react quickly, when a more thoughtful response would yield better results. It creates a FOMO culture where everyone needs to read every message. It harms productivity more than it aids it and that basically defeats the point of using a fast communication tool.
Slack creates false urgency in decision making.
Slow it down!
We prefer to go slow. We avoid real-time communication whenever we can. Opting for longer form, asynchronous communication where we write well thought out messages meaning that team members can reply on their own time.
We estimate that 98% of our communication happens asynchronously. So we get plenty of uninterrupted time (maybe 4 hours a day) to really focus on producing and shipping work that matters.
For us, Basecamp is the one tool that rules them all. It was built by a remote team for remote teams.
For video calls, Zoom works well. But recently, they’ve been caught with serious security flaws and selling your data to third parties. Naughty Zoom!
So we’re currently trying out Whereby, a Norwegian version of Zoom, and aside from a couple of connection issues, we’re enjoying it’s simple and easy to use software.
For collaborating on spreadsheets, presentations and word docs, we’re using Google Drive. Which works perfectly. Plus, it syncs with Basecamp so you can access all of the most important files directly from each project you’re working on.
2) Asynchronous Communication
98% of our internal communication happens inside Basecamp. That means all company-wide discussions, social chatter, project-related work, sharing of ideas, internal debates, automatic check-ins, status updates, policy updates, and all official decisions and announcements all happen in Basecamp.
Which means we don’t communicate internally via email (just externally).
The rest of our communication, a tiny percentage, happens via video call.
We have automatic check-ins that ask a brief question to the entire company:
Daily, at 16:30 your local time, Basecamp automatically asks every employee “What did you work on today?” Whatever people write up is shared with everyone in the company. How you write, whether long-form stories or just a bunch of bullet points is up to you. The point is to reflect on the work we’ve done today.
Weekly, every Monday morning, Basecamp automatically asks everyone “What will you be working on this week?” This is a chance for everyone to lay out the big picture of their week. No detail required - just your big picture view of the week ahead.
Occasional social questions, asked once a month. This kind of internal communication helps grease the social gears. This is especially useful for remote teams, like ours. When we know each other a little better, we work a little better together. Answering these questions is entirely optional.
Written communication inside of remote companies is ESSENTIAL. Without clear, simple written communication you’re not going to explain ideas properly. You’re going to get confused employees wondering what they should be doing.
Prioritise clear communication.
3) Output is the only measurement
Tim Ferriss said that to get promoted in a corporation, just look busy and walk around the office with your Blackberry in hand.
And that might be true in the office. But not remotely. Workers who have made a career out of playing the game of looking busy, are about to be exposed. Exposed for the little (if any) value they contribute.
In a remote-first company, all that matters is what you produce. That means software features shipped. Products created, built and shipped. Blog posts written. Marketing campaigns up and running.
Once you adopt this results-focused (not time focused) work environment you’ll find increased efficiencies all over the place.
As I said earlier - four hours of deep work a day per employee leads to a high level of quality output. That’s what we expect of our team.
During this global pandemic, empathy for your team is essential.
If your employees have kids playing at home, you might want to offer them a more flexible schedule. We allow employees to set their own schedules - so they can pop to the shops in the middle of the day and look after their kids - but expect them to be available to communicate with 9am - 5pm (asynchronously, so they don’t need to reply immediately).
Allowing employees to keep their calendar private gives them more ownership over their work and less stress. Any company that makes employee calendars visible, should think again - trust your employees to do the right thing and you’ll be surprised by what they give you in return.
Be empathetic with your clients too - if they can’t pay a bill right now, give them longer payment terms (if you can afford it). All of this leads to better and longer lasting customer relationships.
5) No micromanagement!
The technology (mainly Basecamp) we use to manage our remote company eliminates micromanagement. Which is brilliant, because micromanaging bosses cause more trouble than good.
Now you can’t look over your employees shoulder all day. You can’t as easily ask them to perform useless, arbitrary tasks you could have done yourself.
Now is a time to trust your team. Have faith in them to do their work. Sure, one or two of them may disappoint you but I believe that many of them will surprise you by their drive and work ethic in response to the uplifting feeling they get from being trusted to perform.
6) Have some fun
Fun at work is as important as work at work. And chat really works well here. Culture develops, inside jokes flow, emoji, cat pics are circulated, and meme generators are perfect territory for the chat room or channel.
7) Check in on mental health
Lastly, but by no means least, look after yours and your employees mental health.
As our resident mental health person (on top of my CMO role) I make it my mission to look after the mental health of our team. That means checking in with them weekly and creating a safe and open space for team members to chat on matters that aren’t too serious.
If someone is struggling, we take that chat into a private window - or book in a video call to find out how we can help.
I see a therapist on a fortnightly basis. By letting the whole company know this, we’re busting the stigma that getting a therapist is a bad thing. In fact, I believe that every single person on earth should see a therapist at least once. It’s like a mental health gym - a bicep curl for the brain and after every session I come back to my work feeling revitalised.
Breaking the stigma allows us to communicate with compassion and transparency. The last thing I want is a team member sat in another country, struggling with a mental health issue that I could have helped them with but didn’t know about.
We’re going through unprecedented times. There is no map. The best way to survive is to take each day as it comes. In fact, in many ways, we should have been doing this all along. It’s what Eckhart Tolle has been teaching us to do for decades - remain in the present.
For those of you struggling and need someone to talk to about remote working, finance or running an SME, we’re here to help. You can contact us here.