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Remote Work and Travel

How Should 100% Remote Companies Communicate?

Greg Caplan, Founder and CEO of Remote Year, shares how the "All or Nothing" rule has shaped company culture - and how other 100% remote companies can implement it.

What percentage of your work has gone digital? How much of your current workload can you manage on your phone or laptop?  How have collaboration and video conferencing tools impacted or replaced traditional face-to-face meeting time?

Productivity has moved to the Cloud.

Gone are the days of being shackled to our desks because our company’s servers are physically in the office. As more and more processes move to the Cloud, we’re able to effectively access our work from anywhere in the world. Farewell for good, local connections.

As a result, more employees are searching for ways to work remotely - and forward-thinking companies are trying to keep up with demand. Not only are they looking for ways to capitalize on the benefits of remote work, but they’re invested in creating a sustainable remote work programs in order to retain, and attract, top talent to their company. After starting a 100% remote company, I have a few thoughts and pieces of advice on how to do it successfully.

Remote Work is the New Normal

While remote work is old news for say, companies that create consumer applications, it is only very recently that it is becoming normal in an enterprise environment. Location independent work has become so common that even in massive, traditionally conservative institutions such as Goldman Sachs, every employee 'remotes' in to their workstation.

Here’s why: the workforce is changing.

According to a study by Upwork, nearly two-thirds of companies have remote employees today. A third of the companies that were surveyed said that they predict that their employees will predominantly work remotely in the next ten years.

It helps that people want to work remotely. A survey by FlexJobs found that 81% of US employees selected remote work as the type of work flexibility that they want most. Among UK employees, this number was 87%.

Remote work’s popularity as a flexible lifestyle option is just one of the reasons that it has exploded as a working style over the past decade or so. Remote work programs provides many benefits for employees and employers alike. The subtle, and incorrect, judgment that people who worked in the office were accomplishing more than those who were telecommuting is wrong.

Employees that work remotely state that they are more productive, and physically and mentally healthier than they were when required to be in an office full-time. With more flexible schedules comes greater opportunities to “be in the zone” when they’re working, and focused on their family (or other personal priorities) when they’re off the clock.

Another beneficiary of remote work programs? Employers. Along with a more engaged team that is less likely to burnout and increased retention among top employees, remote work can act as a tool to attract prospective hires.

Talented employees around the world are searching for professional opportunities that offer flexibility. By opening up the candidate search beyond geographic location, companies can attract talent from any city across the globe, diversifying their applicant pool, and bringing new perspectives into their business.

One more thing to consider: once a company reaches a certain size, maybe 100 people, they usually have multiple offices anyway and are therefore inherently a distributed organization. Gone are the days of massive office parks and campuses. Companies are embracing globalization and opening offices in cities around the world, turning their once small, geographically-concentrated teams into fully-distributed powerhouses.

Remote Communication

Most in-office communication has gone digital. There is a tool for everything from brainstorming to project management to onboarding. Everything that you need to say to someone can now be done via email, chat, phone calls, and video calls without skipping a beat.

The most important (and also the most difficult) component of in-office communication to translate into the digital world: meetings.  

We’ve all been in meetings where there’s one person on the screen, constantly plagued by connection issues, not being able to hear what is going on or participate effectively. 

Those issues can really kill a great creative discussion and, man, do they suck up a lot of time.

However, meetings are an integral part of work culture and getting things done. Even when you’re working for a company that is 100% remote, you’ll still need to have meetings so that everyone is on the same page and ready to deliver on their part of a project.

The ‘All or Nothing’ Rule

The video calls of old got a bad rep for being inconsistent and largely ineffective. Those days are firmly in the past.

Video call services have evolved so that fully-digital calls can now potentially be even more productive and intimate than a bunch of people sitting in a conference room. There may not be donuts or freshly-brewed coffee, but there’s a heck of a lot more getting done.

Video meetings and in-person discussions can be effective and impactful on their own. It’s when you try to combine video calls with in-person meetings that things break down and productivity tanks.

Remote Year is a fully-remote company and early on we were facing this exact challenge. People felt that they were missing out if they were the only person who was dialing in to a meeting, and it was difficult to make sure that everyone felt like they could participate in the discussion. Enter the 'All or Nothing Rule'. The All or Nothing rule dictates that if all people can't be together in a room for a meeting, nobody can be together in a room for a meeting. Instead, everybody has to individually call-in to the video chat privately.  

This small rule changed everything for us as an organization.

Almost all of our meetings are done via video and it makes operating remotely incredibly seamless.  Not only are meetings more productive, but we can  schedule meetings back-to-back, since the digital commute time is seconds rather than 10 - 15 minutes.

I was recently chatting with an HR leader at a large public company about how they could create a more inclusive culture for their remote team members. When I told her about our 'All or Nothing Rule', I mentioned that for this policy to work, they may need to build more call booths in their office, a cheap and quick process if prioritized. She chuckled and said, "So everybody is renting out their own conference room for every meeting?  That doesn't make any sense!"

It’s worked for us. We’ve been able to avoid the negative side effects of having hybrid digital and in-person meetings, like errant side conversations. Distractions are less likely to occur when everyone is focused on their own screen. Our meetings are no longer socially isolating for remote employees, as everyone is entering the meeting on the same playing field.

What the HR leader didn't understand is that the world of work has changed - and the office environment needs to follow suit.

Take it slow when adopting remote work policies. Allow your employees to work remotely one day a week in order to experience the benefits. However, if  you decide to put remote work  on the backburner, you may fall behind. Even the most conservative corporations are implementing remote work programs in order to attract top talent.

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