Remote is awesome but can cause loneliness, burnout and misalignment. After many years of remote working — with several highs and lows — here’s how we’ve learned to make it a joy.

1. Remote may feel isolating, or may not build deep connections

You join the company, get an invite to all the tools, and suddenly you’re expected to have an impact right away. You go to standups and video meetings, but you wonder who these people you work with really are. And do they really care about you, or your interests and dreams?

It’s easy to feel alone in remote.

Solutions:

  • If there’s a company offsite, make sure you attend! It’s a huge component of building remote relationships.
  • Make a conscious decision to be very communicative. Go all-in. Share what you’re feeling and going through. Call colleagues often, even unannounced.
  • Be vulnerable. Treat coworkers as trusted friends. Open up.
  • Find neighbors who also work remotely, and hang out. Go out for lunch together, go to the gym, take turns working from one another’s house.
  • Find a co-working space and ask your company to pay for it.

Solutions for leaders:

  • Host week-long offsites three to four times a year at a nice location. By far the best solution.
  • Set up an #emotions channel for people to share in
  • Build cross-functional teams in the same time zone. Don’t hire all of one function (like engineering) in only one time zone, instead spread them out more.
  • Don’t hire wider than 9 hours time zones apart

Parts of the Lookback team at an offsite in Montreal.

2. Remote can be mentally taxing and cause burnout

Work can feel like it is always on. There are a hundred tools to keep track of, with notifications and inboxes everywhere. Or, you’re working hard, but nobody sees it. You’re in charge of too many things, but no one knows.

Solutions:

  • Mute channels you don’t need in Slack, use Priority Inbox in Gmail, filter stuff out.
  • Pick your working hours, and disable notifications outside of them (Slack has Do Not Disturb, iPhone has Screen Time, etc.).
  • Tell people to call you if it’s urgent, and then don’t check in all the time. It can wait.
  • Be super mindful of where you spend your time: You have access to almost every conversation in the company. That doesn’t mean you should join them all!
  • Make exercise a daily part of your schedule. With remote, you can!

Solutions for leaders:

  • Set up an anonymous, weekly poll with questions like: How stressed are you feeling? 1-5.
  • Clearly communicate expectations: no work on weekends/evenings, take vacation, you’re not always on call, etc.
  • Limit the amount of communication tools people are expected to keep track of (Slack, Trello, GitHub, Intercom, etc).

3. Teams sometimes aren’t aligned and everyone has a different vision

As with everything else in this post, this can happen at offices, too.

But with remote, it’s harder to correct for, because people are in different time zones and locations. How do you keep up with all the new things that are happening, and get everybody on the same page?

When you’re sitting (literally) a world apart, sometimes your context is very, very different.

Solutions:

  • What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to others. Begin meetings by taking turns to state the obvious, to identify misalignment.
  • Keep a running, shared list of decisions you’ve made in your team.
  • Adopt and agree on the terminology people use internally. Remote teams rely so much on writing that this really helps.

Solutions for leaders:

  • During offsites, schedule quality time for alignment discussions, and for sharing new trends and insights people have had during the quarter.
  • Create an internal forum for long-form discussion that doesn’t fit in Slack (we use Discourse).
  • Over-invest in communicating about mission and culture. Keep explaining the why.
  • Write a weekly, company-wide post with what’s going on and how it relates to quarterly & annual targets.

4. You sometimes don’t learn as quickly in a remote team

And finally, the bonus problem: personal growth.

Working closely with people can accelerate growth. But what if you feel like this little island in a remote company, that no other boats visit?

Solutions:

  • Actively ask for feedback several times a week.
  • Find a ‘work buddy’ to share feedback/coaching with.
  • Synthesize your daily learnings and compare with others, using the One Insight Per Day Method.
  • Schedule time to have coffee with interesting people in your industry, attend meetups, etc.
  • Take time out of your work week to read and stay up to date (Pocket, Medium, Kindle, Podcasts, Industry websites).
  • Have recurring one-on-ones with team members.

Solutions for leaders:

  • Run lots of debriefs, critiques and retrospectives, especially during offsites. Post learnings on the forum.
  • Set up a #learning channel in Slack for sharing interesting stuff.
  • Actively encourage remote code pairing and other forms of working together, as it may not happen organically.

The future?

So those are my best tips after 15 years of doing this. Going forward, I’m mostly excited about the possibilities of VR — but that’s for another post.

If you got better solutions, please share them with @lookback, and don’t forget to subscribe for more tips, thank you very much!