There's Nothing Special About Remote Work

Published May 6, 2021

When we talk about how to be successful in the workplace, it doesn't matter if your team is remote or not.

This post started as a post about remote best practices. Then we realized that a lot of the best practices we identified for success in remote work are also applicable to non-remote work.

Clearly, there are things that are amazing about remote work (see our previous post on the pros and cons). But at the end of the day, the key behaviors that make you successful in a remote work environment are the same in-person.

Mise en Place

Good cooks will set the stage for the meal they are about to prepare. They make sure they know where everything is, and that as much prep work as possible is done in advance. The tools they will need to prepare the meal are clean and readily accessible.

For work, making sure your desk setup is dialed-in makes a big difference to your productivity. Disorganized and cluttered spaces aren't inspiring. Even if you aren't onboard with that, they do make it harder to find things.

On-site workplaces that are well designed for focused work are better than spaces full of distractions. We're starting to hear more and more about people moving away from having ping pong tables in the office for that very reason. Indeed, some people are far more productive in a quiet home than a noisy office. The flip side is when you're at home and constantly getting interrupted by family or neighbors.

This might sound silly, but people seem to take office supplies for granted when in the office. Whether in person or remote, is your team prepared to handle someone's laptop dying? There's a lot of thought that goes into making sure the tools that people need are readily available. People who overlook this when working remotely will pay a price in productivity. So you have to make sure the tools you need to get the job done are prepped and accessible.

Communication Agreements

Communication is critical to any successful relationship. This is true for both remote and in-person work. When you're working remotely communication can seem harder because of time zones, schedule conflicts, and people being away from their desks. A best practice for ensuring good communication is to set clear deadlines and expectations.

If you're a manager, make sure you discuss with your directs or colleagues what the expectations are around how people communicate. If there is a deadline, make sure it's clear and accepted. We also strongly recommend developing Communication Agreements. At Cardinal, this is what our company wide communication agreement looks like:

It's important to be clear and communicate with the appropriate level of urgency. When using email be concise. When receiving an email, respond within 1 business day, and at the very least acknowledging receipt, share what the next steps are, and/or drive to resolution. If something is urgent, we call or text by phone at any time. That shows it's urgent. If we send something outside of normal working hours, and it's not an urgent high priority project we've already discussed, we don't expect a response until normal working hours.

It's meant to be concise and does not cover everything that someone acting in bad faith may try to take advantage of. We think this communication agreement would be the same regardless of how we based our team. You'll need to tweak communication agreements for your own circumstances, but hopefully you see how this can be really useful. Communication is critical, and clearly setting expectations and boundaries will improve your relationships and productivity.

Writing is Important

There's a lot of Zoom fatigue going on. Just recently Jamie Dimon said he's going to cancel all of his Zoom meetings. This is the unfortunate outcome of similar problems that non-remote teams experience: the meeting that could have been an email.

Writing skills are crucial to success in the workplace. It doesn't matter if you are remote or not. Your ability to share ideas, advocate for decisions, tell stories, and document lessons through written communications strengthens your ability to contribute on teams. People complain about colleagues who drop in all the time or want to jump on a call for everything, and rightfully so. We're all super busy. There are certainly circumstances where jumping on a video call makes a ton of sense, but leveraging good written communication can create efficiencies that can be leveraged in evergreen ways.

That is a central tenet of Cardinal. It's a platform where written documentation of core business knowledge can be easily organized, discovered and extended.

The behaviors that make you successful in the workplace are by and large the same whether you are remote or not. You need to create an environment where you can be productive and focus. You need to set clear expectations around how and when you communicate with co-workers. Cultivating your written communication skills will be extremely valuable to your long term success. There's of course nuance in all relationships, but keeping these best practices top of mind will take you a long way.

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