9 Tips for Creating a Remote Working Culture

Life at SI, Performance Management Jeremy Cothran

Remote work ranks up there with one of the coolest perks a company offers. Who wouldn’t want to trade a workspace in a noisy open office for a hammock on the north shore of Hawai’i? Plus, with inter-office communication tools like Slack and Google Hangouts and project-management programs like Trello, it’s never been easier for employees to work outside the main hive.

But making remote work successful requires effort on both sides. The company has to trust its employees are putting in the same amount of work as they would in the main HQ. The remote worker needs the assurance that their decision to work outside the office won’t affect their standing or be judged against them.  

To find out what makes for a successful and productive remote working experience, we talked with multiple Small Improvements employees who do it full-time. They all work remotely for a number of reasons, but the primary ones can be boiled down to autonomy and flexibility. Here’s our team members’ checklist of the key components that make remote work possible:

Learn How to Overcommunicate

Scott Faverty, who handles Customer Success and is based in California, feels it’s incumbent on employees not in the office to go above and beyond with communication. For him that means being especially active in Slack, asking questions, and having regular 1:1 Meetings with his manager via video chat. And on his recent visit to our Berlin office, Scott made it a point to eat lunch with a different group every day, so he could “put a personality to the avatars/faces he knows from Slack.”

Over-celebrate your Accomplishments

Being “out of sight and out of mind” is the biggest challenge that remote workers have to overcome. Overcommunicating, as explained above, is crucial for keeping up with an ongoing workflow – but even more important than that is the need to demonstrate your impact. Someone working next to your boss will always have an advantage in that they’re more visibly present, so you have to overcompensate a bit (which can be a challenge for introverts).

Create Discipline and Structure

Properly structuring your work day is critical to being a successful remote worker. It can be easy to get distracted and spend two hours watching Star Wars trailers on YouTube when you’re working solo. Linda Jonas, our Director of Brand and Community, recommends creating a dedicated space for work, whether in your home, in a cafe, or at a coworking space, so you can have a physical designation that it’s time to focus.

Know Your Personality

The theory goes that remote working is more beneficial for introverts, particularly those who feel more creative working in solitary environments and perhaps struggle to focus in open offices. Many of our remote employees consider themselves extroverts, though, and have found as much joy and productivity in working remotely, despite the lack of day-to-day contact with their coworkers.

Sarah Burgess, who works in Customer Support, notes that she can feel over-stimulated in office environments. So she likes having the option to detach and maintain communication with coworkers virtually – along with the flexibility of being able to work remotely from places like Silicon Valley or New Orleans.

Scott, on the other hand, will take his work to a nearby cafe for a change of scenery, or hop into his 4G-equipped Westfalia van (which has its own Instagram account) and work from the beach.

Scott Faverty’s Westfalia van during a remote-working trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA.

Agree How Performance is Measured

At some companies, remote workers must agree to a number of performance-tracking measures to ensure productivity, be it screen monitoring, keyboard/mouse tracking, etc. At Small Improvements we don’t believe in checking up on people’s work, but instead trust that they’re responsible and delivering on what their role requires. A culture of regular 1:1 meetings helps insure that managers and employees are in the loop on current progress.  

Face the Realities Of Time Change

Like it or not, employees who work remotely need to tailor their schedule around the office. Our West Coast employees, for example, wake up early on Tuesdays to join in our company All-Hands to compensate for the nine-hour time difference with Berlin (5pm for us, 8am for them). Or it could mean the occasional late night for someone working out of Sydney.

“Being in a different time zone also means missing out on a lot,” Linda says. “Sometimes I would wake up and see decisions had been made without me having a chance to provide input.”

Invest in Tech and Tools

Agree with your home office on a default video/audio software, and make sure the whole company knows. This way you’re not wasting the first five minutes of every meeting deciding between Skype and Google Hangouts. If technology is failing you – choppy video or dropped calls – talk to your HR lead, office manager or sys admin to make sure that you have the right tools in place. Many companies say they’re committed to remote work, but are using cheap speakers or out-of-date webcams. It’s worth investing in higher quality hardware to keep communication lines clear. (GitHub has a fantastic resource page on this.)

Get Help from HR

Remote workers suffer one distinct disadvantage – little-to-no connection of the office culture. For some it’s a pleasure to come to the office and grab some fresh fruit and a cafe latte before starting work. For others it’s those conversations around the proverbial water cooler that are essential to unlocking mind blocks and solving problems. It also means missing out on things like office celebrations, parties and Lunch-N-Learns.

Olga Oulie, who heads up our People Department, has worked to integrate our remote workers into the Small Improvements’ culture. In addition to the annual four-week Berlin trip that everyone can sign up for, remote workers routinely receive small, Berlin-inspired goodie bags for their birthdays and are sent Polaroids from office events.

“It’s simple. Everything that we do here, we should celebrate there as well,” Olga says.

Are We Practicing What We Preach?

At Small Improvements, our US team has been remote right from the start, and we have long encouraged all employees to work wherever they desire for a couple of weeks a year. We’ve had developers fix bugs from locales like Laos, South Africa, and Italy. Customer Success has provided demos for potential SI users on the beach in Carmel, Calif. Linda went completely nomadic and has worked remotely for the last two years.

But it’s also worth noting that remote work is not always glamorous. Sometimes the flexibility of being able to work from home because you need to pick up your kids from kindergarten outweighs the novelty of a beachfront coworking space in Lisbon. (Sometimes.)