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Back to normal or: About the fears of remote workers in a mixed team
Every crisis is also a chance. Corona is a chance for remote work. It created a broad spread of home office and remote working. But why is it so important for remote workers to work in a fully distributed team?
Factors for a positive experience with remote work
As expected, the employee experience with remote working wasn’t consistently positive. Whether or not someone is comfortable working remotely depends on many factors: the social environment; the degree of self-motivation and self-discipline; the ability to relax mindfully.
However, the essential factor is the organization of the teams and the company in general. While for many unintentional remote employers, the technical hurdles were in the foreground, other things are much more important to the remote employee in everyday life: How is communication regulated? What response times are expected? How much trust is placed in me?
Humans are social beings — some more than others. And a certain degree of personal bonding is crucial for successful cooperation. The chance that we’ll bond socially on the side is — in contrast to a classic company — highly unlikely with remote workplaces.
Communicative and social fairness
In times when all workers worked from home, there was at least a communicative fairness. Everyone was — more or less heavily — prevented from communicating in-person with others. However, many companies have allowed their employees to return to the office over the last several months. It’s being thought about and sometimes demanded that remote work is generally made an option. But what does this mean for employees?
Remote employees are severely disadvantaged in mixed operations, both in terms of communication and social interaction.
Remote first mindset
This can only be cured if the company sets up a remote first mindset. This means that all processes are designed to work as if all employees were in the home office. In practice, this is hardly feasible. For example, this would mean that meetings would always be held via video with everyone in front of their own monitor and not, as is usually the case, a few employees on-site in a large meeting room and the remote employees connected to it (anyone who has ever experienced something like this knows that it’s a disaster — no matter how expensive the video system is). But this in turn requires that each employee sits in their own room or at least has a headset so good that other voices in the room aren’t recorded.
But it becomes even more difficult when it comes to communication: who wants to ban ad-hoc communication? And who would think of communicating all decisions made in a personal meeting to all other team members in written communication?
I have heard and read from many people that it’s the fear of suddenly being left out that drives them back into the office. And with good reason.
Even remote only companies aren’t without threat
We, as a remote native company with a fully distributed team, are also familiar with these problems. Whenever we meet in person — be it at a retreat or at a work meeting — we have to be very careful that things that are communicated and decisions that are made during that time together are communicated to all other relevant team members. Decisions may only be made if all relevant decision-makers are onsite. Otherwise, it can only be prepared and must be decided later, in a remote session.
Problems with scaling
Providing information and decisions in writing is an essential step in the right direction. But it’s also not a universal solution. With increasing team size we realize that compressing information and making it available in a target-oriented way is a very important factor. Only if you have the possibility to access the relevant information can make sure that you don’t drown in the flood of information. Of course, this isn’t a new insight but was propagated in knowledge management more than 10 years ago. However, as a remote company with almost 40 employees, the problem is already visible and we’re continuously adapting our ways of communication.
I have huge respect for companies that consider a mixture of office and remote employees. Especially if you come from a pure office operation, significant changes are necessary if you’re serious and want to develop a successful model. On the other hand, I think it would be comparatively easy to set up sites later on, even if you’re a remote native company.
Henning is a Software Expert with strong enterprise skills. He’s worked in many management positions like Product Management, Marketing, Business Development, and Digitalization. He’s one of the Co-founders of Frontastic and works as Integrator and COO.
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