When I joined 10up two and a half years ago to lead our strategic and commercial growth across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), I was not only starting a new position, I was beginning an entirely new remote work experience. Inspired by companies like Automattic and Basecamp, and fueled by the explosion in video conferencing and digital collaboration tools, 10up was founded as a fully distributed digital agency: our entire team, now 200 full-time team members, works from home or in some cases, co working spaces, around the globe.
10up has been featured in case studies, books, ebooks, interviews, and articles about remote work culture, including a Forbes list of notable remote work companies. Our founder and president, Jake Goldman, has guest lectured at universities like Stanford and University of Michigan on the subject.
As a social person who enjoys collaborating with others, I didn’t know what to expect from a work-at-home culture and I wondered how I would be able to collaborate effectively with colleagues located around the world. Thankfully, my nerves were laid to rest quickly as I learned that a remote work culture can operate and even feel very similar to an in-office culture.
Faced with global health concerns and efforts to contain a rapidly spreading virus, many traditional in-office workforces are asking employees to work from home. For many professionals, this will be their first time navigating a remote work lifestyle. With that mind, I thought it might help to share some of the ways we approach remote work, foster meaningful connections, and cultivate a vibrant team culture.
Same Working Hours, Different Location
At least at 10up, remote work does not mean total schedule flexibility. The reality is that consistent core working hours are critical to the success of a distributed workforce.
Consistent and understood office hours for all team members is an essential foundation for successful collaboration. 10uppers are spread across six continents and twenty-four countries — all of whom have a consistent core set of known working hours in their time zone, most often a normal 9-5 workday. Our global distribution does allow for exceptions, if the individual has a preference for a different — but still consistent — set of hours. As many of us rely on coworkers for input, feedback, and advice, knowing when they are available makes it easier to complete tasks in a timely manner. Similarly, keeping normal business hours make it easier to schedule meetings and work with clients at times that are convenient to them.
At the same time, because we don’t have to be in an office building during its open hours, we can be uniquely supportive of occasional exceptions or adjustments to the schedule. Right now, with some parents facing unexpected child care challenges, we’re able to support shifts in working schedules with minimal business impact.
Routines Influence Mindset
Many routines associated with getting ready for work and going to an office are healthy habits that lead to a productive workday — remote work habits are no different.
From exercising, showering, and dressing for work to eating breakfast or securing morning coffee, establishing a morning routine that facilitates the transition from “relaxing at home” to “focusing on work” is essential. If you stay in pajamas and attempt to work from your bed, you won’t be in the right “headspace” to focus on important tasks and deliver your best work (and might make your bed an unhealthy headspace for resting).
Our president leaves his house to grab coffee at a local coffee shop almost every morning, finding that the quick 15 minute round trip replicates the feeling of going to work. I start my day having breakfast with and spending time with my son — only after I drop him off at preschool do I begin my workday. Other parents found that saying goodbye to their children and actually walking out the door (only to sneak back in) helps the entire family transition to “work time.”
Many also find that working in a consistent, distraction-free work space greatly influences productivity. When we focus on and complete specific tasks in a specific place repeatedly over time, we train our bodies and our brains to associate the work with the environment.
Communicate More Often With More Detail
Err heavily on the side of over communication when working remotely.
Remote workforces often need to overcompensate for a major reduction in spontaneous communication and information sharing, which can lead to team members feeling isolated or disconnected. At 10up, we mitigate this problem with inclusive company-wide communication guidelines and tools. From video conferencing to all-hands meetings and an active intranet, we make a more deliberate effort to keep our team connected and in-the-know.
There is an abundance of widely known tools available to support remote communication, and fortunately, many “in office” businesses have already incorporated many of them. The method and practices are more important than the tool, when it comes to remote work. Our approach to good digital communication includes:
- Video and audio conferencing — we use Zoom for internal meetings and client meetings. 10up adheres to a “cameras on” approach to ensure focus, read visual cues, and encourage empathy.
- A chat platform, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, that promotes personal expression and supports social channels. We use Slack for individual and group chat conversations to talk about projects and deliverables, solve client problems, ask questions and get help, share ideas, and more.
- Project stand up meetings focused on the work at-hand and deliverables for a specific project; weekly team meetings to accomplish defined goals, catch up, and more casually chat about what each person is working on; and company wide meetings where we celebrate recent individual and collective accomplishment, spotlight challenges, and promote open dialog and discussion. You may have some of these rituals in an office — they are all conducive to video conferencing and even more important to maintain when working remotely.
- Digital tools and cloud solutions designed for remote collaboration facilitate open communication, knowledge and data sharing, and the joint completion of work. A few of our favorite tools that don’t require everyone to be in the same room to collaborate include Teamwork, Google Docs, and Miro digital whiteboards.
- A company intranet and internal blog that allow team members at all levels to post and share content. Along with our own intranet, we have helped several clients implement robust internal communications platforms and tools tailored to the size and shape of their business. The format lends itself to leadership driven content such as updates on policies, educational resources, and more casual material like our day-in-the-life series that highlights a new 10upper every week.
Prioritize Personal Relationships
Adults spend nearly one-third of their lives at work. Whether working in-office or working at home, relationships with coworkers are a sizable part of regular, healthy adult social interactions.
While remote teams may not be in the same room as their coworkers, building and nurturing personal relationships can still be a priority.
We have more than 85 Slack channels dedicated to hobbies and shared interests, which helps replicate the watercooler chatter in an office. Make time for casual conversations with coworkers to see how they’re doing, hear about their recent vacation, or chat about shared passions. These moments foster deeper, more meaningful personal connections that might be easily overlooked when moving work out of an office space.
While not applicable to temporary work-at-home conditions, if you’re facing a long-term shift to a work-from-home model, considerations need to be made for in-person relationship building. At 10up, we hold an all-hands annual summit where the entire company converges for a week of learning, collaboration, and social outings. Coworkers who live in the same general region get together periodically for social activities, and team members who travel to the same conferences or events meetup for meals.
Model Healthy Behavior
Creating a successful remote work culture — even a temporary one — includes leadership that models healthy boundaries and habits, such as taking breaks during the day to eat lunch or get the body moving, joining phone calls while standing or walking, and closing chat windows and project management tools outside normal business hours.
If you’re a business leader faced with asking your team to work at home for the first time, or are even considering a long term shift to a remote work model, and you’re looking for insights and guidance, reach out. We want to help businesses making the transition, especially given today’s circumstances.