How not to run a remote team

In their article 5 Best Practices for Running a Successful Remote Team, “Sparky” writes:

All team members should have their working hours posted publicly, so colleagues know when they’re “on the clock,” so to speak. If you have a hybrid environment where some people are remote and others aren’t, this will help alleviate pressure on the remote employees to feel like they always have to be available. […]

It’s also a good idea to schedule daily syncs with remote people, as well as weekly feedback sessions where you can dive deeper into anything that needs a course correction.

I’m excited about this awful advice because I get to tell you one of my favorite Wildbit stories.

I joined Wildbit a week before our yearly in-person retreat. It was a little daunting but really exciting to meet everyone I would be working with mostly remotely. Anyway, one of our team sessions was a discussion about the tools we use, and specifically Slack. Up to that point we had this unwritten convention where everyone would say “Hi!” and “Bye!” in the #general room when they come and go. Remote workers went a bit further with messages like “Stepping away to make coffee!” During our discussion it became clear that no one — no one — liked this. It caused noise, didn’t add any value, and just felt like a chore.

At that point I spoke up and mentioned that I think the reason why remote folks tend to tell everyone when we’re getting coffee or lunch is that we don’t want it to look like we’re slacking off. I said something to the effect of, “I don’t want everyone to think I went to a movie in the middle of the day, or something!” The answer I got to that statement was not what I expected. Someone said, “Well, what’s wrong with that? Maybe you needed to go to a movie to clear your head so you can come back later, refreshed and ready to go!”. If I recall correctly, my response to this was, “Uh, this thing where you guys all trust each other? It’s really weird…”

We all had a good laugh together, but I learned pretty quickly that this is just how the company works. The two things that make Wildbit’s remote culture different are:

  1. We all implicitly trust each other.
  2. We optimize for asynchronous communication.

We do this because we learned something that should be painfully obvious. When people have the freedom to work when they are feeling their best, they do their best work, and they enjoy the work more.

So anyway, back to “Sparky”. I don’t want to tell people how to live their lives, but that advice really is terrible. It’s the type of advice you give when you believe the purpose of remote work is to replicate an office. Once you realize that the purpose of remote work is to enable everyone to do their best work, everything changes.

I guess my one piece of advice for remote cultures is this: try trusting each other first. Imagine what your work environment would look like if every employee is trustworthy. And if that’s too difficult to imagine, maybe ask why you’re not able to trust your employees.