A Comprehensive Guide to Empowering Effective Remote Work
In collaboration with
Placeless Playbook | Your Effective Remote Work Guide
We introduced the Placeless Playbook in April 2020 to provide transparent remote work guidance for companies rapidly shifting to remote work setups as a result of a global pandemic. Two years later, much of our advice remains the same, but the way companies and individuals think about remote work has changed. Companies are now taking steps to integrate remote work as part of the new normal. However, adopting a sustainable long-term strategy that includes remote or hybrid teams requires dramatic shifts in mindset, infrastructure, and capability.
McKinsey & Company reports that companies looking to attract top talent and remain competitive in their industry will have to integrate some form of remote work. Companies that fail to implement sustainable remote work practices will be susceptible to the following mistakes that can seriously impede business continuity:
- Putting off strategic decisions, challenging work, and collaboration
- Attempting to recreate everything in the office in a virtual setting
- Spending all day in synchronous meetings using video conferencing technology
- Failing to align expectations amongst all stakeholders
- Failing to prepare leaders for managing distributed employees
- Lack of digital tools or resources designed for distributed employees
- Failing to create an environment that enables equitable experiences and outcomes for all employees, regardless of location
- Increasing employee attrition
We’ve designed this remote work guide to be highly practical in a format that assigns ownership. Effective remote work is a collective effort and requires both commitment and alignment throughout every level of an organization. Our Placeless Playbook outlines the steps people at all levels of an organization need to take to achieve healthy, high-performing, and sustainable remote and digital-first business models.
Placeless Playbook | Remote Work Guide by Role
As an executive leadership team, your visions and actions will set the stage for a successful hybrid or fully remote organization. Employees across the organization will look to you for guidance and support so it’s critical you’ve addressed the key elements needed for effective remote work.
If your company experienced any form of remote work during 2020, you likely polled your employees on their remote work preferences. Of course, results vary by company, but BCG reports that on average 89% of professionals would like to work fully or partially remote in the future. Knowing part of your organization will be remote, have you assessed your effectiveness?
✨ With our free Remote Effectiveness Assessment our team identifies critical gaps in your organization’s mindset, infrastructure, and capabilities.
A McKinsey & Company study revealed a concerning statistic: as of April 2021, only 32% of companies had communicated a post-pandemic vision. Even more alarming, employees feel incremental anxiety as a result of an unclear or uncommunicated vision. Not only do company leaders need to have a clear vision to achieve their business goals, but it’s critical for that vision to address the concerns of its workforce.
If you have not articulated an intentional vision for your workforce, the following actions will not be worthwhile for your organization.
Shifting to a partially remote or fully remote setup can free up office space and save on real estate costs. Kate Lister of Global Workplace Analytics estimates, “a typical employer can save about $11,000 a year for every person who works remotely.” However, it’s naive to conclude you can achieve sustainable and effective remote or hybrid teams without any kind of additional investment.
Areas of financial consideration include:
- Learning & Development (L&D)
- Home office equipment
- IT capabilities and support
- Remote-first tools, platforms and software
Your vision needs to be not only comprehensive but compelling—and to be compelling, your team needs to believe that you are completely on board. Allocating resources and delegating responsibilities will only get you so far if you fail to adopt a placeless mindset and continue to resort to office-based practices.
Here are some ways you can model a placeless mindset:
- Adopt more asynchronous communication practices to enable autonomous work, like sharing updates via video recordings or writing, committing to a culture of documentation, and shifting meetings to a blended format.
- Even if your offices are open and available to you, make a commitment to working remotely one or more days per week.
- Document your placeless mindset goals and share them with your team.
No matter how compelling your vision, it won’t be realized if you’re not clear about who owns decisions and actions or if there’s not enough accountability in place to ensure follow-through.
Empower your team members to make decisions by creating clear decision-making structures and practices. Create an action plan that explicitly identifies ownership, timelines, and accountability measures, and make sure that action owners are empowered to adjust their schedules and priorities in order to accomplish the objectives assigned to them.
Our team is experienced in supporting executives with these steps.
Human Resources and People Operations Teams
Every benefit and challenge of remote work impacts and is impacted by human resources—without adequate support, employees will not be successful in remote and hybrid environments.
In July 2020, 69% of employees were reporting symptoms of burnout. This includes Human Resources (HR) and People Operations (People Ops) leaders, like yourself. As Candace Giesbrecht highlighted in the spring of 2020, it’s important to first address and identify your own levels of psychological safety, so you can create safe spaces and develop productive resources for your team members. It’s also important to recognize that many symptoms of burnout are the result of the workplace structures and behaviors, not necessarily the individual. As HR and People Ops professionals, it’s your role to determine which of those causes exist within your organization, and develop effective solutions.
🌟 Enroll your teams in the Preventing Isolation and Burnout workshop to learn how to recognize signs of isolation and burnout and create a Team Boundaries agreement.
A written remote or flexible work policy is a vital piece of your remote work strategy. It needs to align with your remote work vision while also setting the foundation for compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
⚡ Work with Distribute and their global remote work experts to construct your remote policy and leverage remote work as core business strategy.
If you intend to hire, you need to adapt your practices to accommodate the hiring remote employees as soon as possible. Even if you are not intending on hiring at this moment, you still need to plan ahead to update your recruiting and hiring processes to attract and onboard exceptional remote talent.
⚡ Start with the Remote Hiring Guide from We Work Remotely.
⚡ If you’re opening up your hiring strategy to global candidates, you will need to consider legal and tax implications. Seek advice from global remote payroll specialists like Deel.
Gone are the days where ping pong tables and catered lunches alone will entice and retain employees. As you’re considering your total rewards packages, pay close attention to the inclusion and enablement of your remote workers. This could include items like stipends for home office supplies, coworking fees, or remote skill development. Additionally, consider the significant impact that 2020 has had on the exodus of women of color and working mothers from the workforce. As Sheela Subramanian of Slack shares with Fast Company, “Think about who your perks are intended to retain. And then think again about how many working mothers are on that list . . . reallocate funds to support working mothers with complimentary cleaning services, meal kits, or even credits for virtual tutors.”
With the makeup of your workforce changing to include more remote employees, the number of geographic locations where your employees will be working from will expand. It will be important to establish guidelines and expectations for compensation of remote and in office employees in parallel. Holloway offers a guide for addressing local vs global compensation approaches.
Remote teams don’t automatically equal diverse teams or inclusive teams. Especially on hybrid teams, remote workers often feel excluded due to office-centric habits and distance bias. For professionals of color, who are already fighting against inequitable infrastructures, these feelings can be compounded. Start with these grounding principles for remote DEI strategies.
Learning & Development Teams
With any large scale organizational shift your employees will need support. As leaders in the learning and development (L&D) space, you will be expected to provide insight and guidance into what support your employees will need.
An effective remote work guide goes hand-in-hand with a remote L&D strategy. Delivering impactful learning experiences in a remote and hybrid team requires intentional, strategic design of a comprehensive remote learning strategy. Consider the following:
- What does remote learning mean in your organization? Just as an organization needs a vision for remote work, the L&D function also benefits from having a clear, aligned, and compelling vision for the purpose of remote learning.
- What learning experiences must be delivered in person, and what learning experiences can be delivered online? What should be synchronous and what should be asynchronous?
- What tools (LMS, LXP, LRS, course authoring) are needed to deliver training?
- Does your L&D team have the capabilities to design and deliver training to a hybrid or remote team? For instance, if you have in-house trainers, are they skilled at delivering virtual instructor-led training (VILT)?
- Will there be multiple versions of learning experiences with different modalities, and how will employees choose or be assigned to those learning experiences?
- How will you measure the impact of your learning experiences?
- What is the process for ensuring that all employees have access to learning and growth opportunities that produce equitable outcomes?
Everyone’s past and future experience with remote work will be different—even within your organization. Because of this, you may see disparate opinions about what your biggest challenges are—managers may think productivity is the primary concern, while your human resources team might view internal communication as the most critical gap. A needs assessment is the first step toward aligning on the best plan of action because it provides stakeholders the opportunity to discuss organizational challenges, identifies who needs training, and identifies gaps and priorities for improvement.
✨ Leveraging the findings from a Remote Effectiveness Assessment will help to determine any gaps in competencies between existing workforce skills and our vetted Remote Work Competencies. If you haven’t been through an effectiveness assessment, but your teams are experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to implement remote skills training.
Once you establish your vision and development goals and have a keen understanding of where you need to focus your training efforts, you’ll need to decide whether you should build all of your remote work training resources internally or hire external experts to support your efforts. You can access our guide to walk you through the criteria for making those decisions.
Remote workers face professional isolation challenges that are heightened compared to hybrid or co-located team members. Offering accessible, equitable opportunities for personal and professional development is critical to supporting your distributed team.
Creating a remote career development structure starts by charting out the direction your company is headed, the skills that are needed to get there, the flow of people who already have those skills, and those who would benefit from professional learning and development to acquire the skills needed.
🌟 Our Growplaceless program provides you with a career development structure tailored to a remote or hybrid environment.
We specialize in guiding L&D leaders through all the steps needed to support their remote and hybrid teams.
Leaders transitioning to adjusted workforce structures will need to flex new skills and integrate new practices that empower both autonomous and collaborative work from your team members. Your employees will look to you for guidance and examples as to how remote work will work for them.
“If you have one remote employee, you have a remote team.”
One of the most common mistakes of remote team leaders is falling back on in-office habits. Leading in a virtual world requires developing your leadership skills and style to a digital-first approach. Critical digital leadership skills to develop, practice, and fine-tune include:
- Meeting Effectiveness
- Virtual Connections
- Performance Management
- Effective Use of Tools
- Boundary Setting
Our 2020 Remote Work Training Report revealed that individuals at every level of the organization feel and business outcomes would improve if leaders had more remote leadership skills training. In addition, we hear anecdotally from our clients how being remote magnifies leadership weaknesses in communication, change management, and feedback, which is especially true for newer managers.
🌟 Our Leadplaceless program helps you develop these essential digital-first leadership skills.
Honestly, you don’t need a ton of tools to be a healthy and high-performing remote or hybrid team. You do need an assortment that are geared toward remote worker inclusion and with async-first practices in mind. While this remote work guide aims to be tool agnostic, we recommend looking for ways to streamline your tool stack so that communications are happening in the same “place” as much as possible. With employees spending 25% of their time searching for information, having more channels isn’t always better. At minimum, you’ll need a platform that allows video conferencing and one that enables asynchronous collaboration like Google Suite or Microsoft Teams.
⚡ Additional remote-first tools that we can attest improve team results include those that add contextual cues to information sharing, like the video messaging platform Loom, or digital workspaces for visual collaboration like MURAL, where you can ideate, clarify, and work together toward a shared understanding.
⚡ If you’re pursuing a hybrid model of remote and in-office, you need to consider investing in technology that bridges the gap between the experiences of in-office and remote employees. Owl Labs makes 360° video conferencing devices to create immersive experiences for hybrid teams.
Teams are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by communication messages and communication channels. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index identified weekly meeting time has more than doubled, chats per person are up 45%, and teams feel siloed. Meeting and information overload are contributing to increased employee burnout. However, as Hannah Fleishman at HubSpot shares, “our comms tools aren’t causing friction as much as the way we’re using them.”
Optimal remote work behavior is a balance of asynchronous and synchronous communication. Defaulting to synchronous communication results in overworked and unproductive employees. Relying solely on asynchronous communication heightens misunderstandings and limits innovation and connectivity. Different communication styles and channels are warranted in different use cases dependent upon the goal. However, an async-first approach is the key to unlocking the full potential of remote teams. Asynchronous communication demonstrates respect for each individual’s time and work style as well as manages the team’s overall energy, focus, and attention. Prioritizing asynchronous communication with strategically selected synchronous interactions encourages freedom for individual workers and maintains meaningful interpersonal communication.
✨ Sign up now to be the first to access bite-sized answers to async and sync communication.
✨ Start the Async at Work eCourse to build async-first habits in 45 minutes.
In optimal remote and hybrid environments, performance is measured by results, or outcomes, instead of input like hours worked. Leaders need to be intentional about creating processes and structures that lead to these desired outcomes, which include tangible business results, like sales calls or project completions, and structural needs, such as inclusive decision-making and diversity of thought.
To achieve desired outcomes in a distributed environment, leaders should work backwards: identify the desired outcome, then create the structures and processes that will allow employees to achieve those outcomes.
Effective leaders of hybrid or fully remote teams trust employees by default. Trust is the essential foundational element in ensuring that remote workers feel empowered to accomplish their work and feel valued as important members of the organization. Overuse of screen and time tracking software, while it may make leaders feel better, erodes trust with your employees. However, simply trusting the independent work of your employees doesn’t directly translate to remote workers feeling supported. Leaders need to create channels for individuals to feel like they have access to advice and know where to go to overcome hurdles.
True problems or challenges can go unseen or fester for too long without the visual cues that are present in a co-located office. Leaders must create safe spaces for feedback and to raise concerns, especially for remote employees. Examples include:
- Calling on remote employees first to contribute in hybrid virtual meetings or proactively seeking out their contributions.
- Establishing regular check-ins about emotional state, during sync moments or asynchronously using our Stoplight activity.
- Instituting daily Standup messages sharing blocks and positive moments.
Leaders must also lead by example in all of these elements of trust, empathy, and transparency. Simple actions of announcing that you’re picking your child up from school, gives your team permission to take a break and manage a distraction. Or suggesting a walking phone meeting instead of a video call for 1:1s can help your team members feel that you understand the additional pressures of video-first virtual environments.
✨ Access 24 tips for hybrid team inclusion.
Ready to take the next step to more effective leadership?
So much of individual successes in remote working environments are a result of the support provided by companies. However, there are steps every remote professional can take to ensure they set themselves up for success in work from anywhere.
Many professionals first experienced remote work via forced work at home scenarios due to the pandemic of 2020. As offices, libraries, coffee shops, and coworking locations begin to reopen, it’s worthwhile to determine when and where you are most productive.
⚡ Codi is the first company to offer access to daytime workspaces in private homes, giving people the opportunity to walk to work in their own neighborhoods.
Leveraging some of these out-of-home work location resources can also help to combat remote worker isolation.
If your company is pursuing a hybrid-remote approach, providing guidelines or parameters around flexible working locations can help professionals reach greater productivity while maintaining energy.
You’ve potentially spent 2020 working from home. No matter your personal situation, it wasn’t ideal. But hopefully you learned along the way what worked for you and areas where you might have struggled. Unpreparedness to work well remotely negatively impacts employee satisfaction, team productivity, and company profitability.
Take a moment to self-reflect on your proficiency level across the key skills needed to succeed in remote work:
- Productivity & Time Management
🌟 Enroll in our Workplaceless Remote Work Certification program to strengthen these skills. Check to see if your company offers learning stipends.
Especially when you work from home the line between work hours and play hours can begin to blur. This commonly leads to burnout. Identifying your personal boundaries alongside team boundaries sets the stage for an optimally collaborative and productive work environment.
Poor communication practices on behalf of individuals, leaders, and teams can make burnout worse, such as constant interruptions and overreliance on live video calls. A better balance of asynchronous and synchronous communication will save you time and energy and protect your boundaries by giving you dedicated time for deep work, decreasing the number of unnecessary meetings, and making information more accessible.
🌟 When teams enroll in our Preventing Isolation and Burnout workshop they learn how to recognize signs of burnout and create a Team Boundaries agreement.
Social capital is one of the keys to successful remote career development. Building your network within your organization can increase your visibility and your access to resources and opportunities.Taking time to build relationships outside of your department and organization can help you overcome feelings of isolation. However, networking for the sake of networking can be draining. Here are a couple ideas to get the ball rolling:
- Start small by following people you admire on social media, and write messages or comments to join in the conversation.
- Ask for a phone call or Zoom coffee chat to gather information about someone’s job, or ask questions about an industry.
- Attend webinars and virtual events to stay updated on trends (which gives you something to talk about when networking), and learn from new people.
Distance bias is the tendency to favor people who are closer to us in time and space. Leaders must take intentional steps to overcome their own distance biases, especially in hybrid settings. However, individual contributors can take deliberate actions, specifically self-advocacy, to overcome distance bias present in their own careers. This skill takes time and practice to develop. Ways to get started include:
- Asking for your name to be credited on work.
- Chiming in at meetings to share your perspective and present your ideas.
- Showcasing your achievements throughout various levels of the organization.
- Sharing routine updates about your wins with colleagues and leaders.
- Tracking your accomplishments and regularly reviewing these with your manager.
Building relationships with people who have the ability to sponsor, mentor, and advocate for you.
🌟 Our Growplaceless program gives you the tools to develop these relationships through a distinctly remote lens.
We’re ready and available to support.
Remote freelancers, depending on their area of expertise, may need to reference advice in the individual contributor or team leader sections above, however, there are a couple of actions we recommend freelancers intentionally focus on.
While isolation is a common mental health concern among remote employees, it’s even more prevalent among remote freelancers. Without the inherent support of a team and ongoing conversations, freelancers may lack opportunities to deeply connect and form relationships with clients beyond the scope of the work. Freelancers need to proactively connect with others either within their local communities or as part of virtual professional communities. We welcome anyone to join our monthly Networkplaceless virtual networking events.
Career trajectories for freelancers often do not follow an established roadmap and upward mobility may be limited. Whether or not you intend to work or own a business in a freelancing capacity during your professional career, it’s important to start an outline for yourself detailing what you want to achieve and the incremental steps needed to get there.
🌟 Growplaceless can specifically help you to reflect on your aspirations and establish a clear plan for achieving your remote career goals.
Similar to internal employees, freelancers need to strategically seek opportunities for growth and to advocate for their expertise. You may lack the guided learning and development opportunities available to employees within an organization, however, the number of opportunities to learn and engage with others in virtual ways have grown exponentially over the past year.
Attending virtual events and webinars can round out your learning experiences while connecting you with like-minded professionals. Proudly share your certification, achievements, participation, and learning across professional networks, like LinkedIn, to further demonstrate your expertise. Additionally, focusing on cultivating a support network that can both challenge and support you throughout your freelance career can be incredibly valuable.
One Page Remote Work Action Guide
We are with you every step of the way. Every remote team is unique and we are here to tailor a plan that addresses your specific needs.
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