Stoomlink’s Practical Guide to Remote Work (3/3): The Culture for a Balanced and Long-Lasting Remote Work

remote work

In this last paper of our “Stoomlink’s Practical Guide to Remote Work” series, we cover the most important success factor to a long-lasting balanced remote work: the company culture.

We will see that all aspects of our organizations need to be carefully redesigned, from the irreplaceable coffee machine to our control-driven managerial cultures. 

But succeeding in this critical cultural change is worth the journey as it unlocks the true potential remote work has to offer!

Step 1: Acknowledging that remote cannot be a simple copy and paste of our previous organisations.

Faced with the urgent need to implement remote work, many organisations have had no choice but to copy and paste their working habits, which is very much centred around “synchronous” work rituals: more or less formal meetings, incessant phone calls, e-mails that require an answer within an hour, …

However, if this way of working is already questioned in normal times (in terms of efficiency, in particular, but also in terms of employee empowerment and responsibility), it becomes a real burden from a distance: Zoom fatigue, interpenetration between family and professional bubbles, feeling of increased control, …

Now, remote work is going to last, and we should seize the opportunity to rethink our organizations, not only to make the exercise less painful but to truly embrace this new path, long taken by some prestigious companies already!

Step 2: Moving from a control-driven to a result-oriented culture.

Managing from a distance is one of the key challenges organizations face, mostly due to the fact our organizations rely vastly on “being there” to ensure a strong link between the managers and their teams. 

Hence, the classical “command & control” way of doing things doesn’t work anymore, unless your plan is to micro-manage and spy on your employees, or to keep them busy with endless Zoom meetings. 

To overcome this, managers need to move away from this control-driven to a result-oriented managerial culture. Start by setting goals to achieve, both at team and individual levels. At Stoomlink, we do this at regular intervals:

Team-wise, we hold a “roadmap grooming” session once a month, to review the macro-objectives and look at the broader picture. Then, we have our Grooming session every Monday to kick-off the day, where we discuss the team’s objective for the week and how we intend to achieve them. Lastly, every day at 10 we have a Daily Standup, a quick 15-minutes meeting where every member shares what he is busy working on and topics he might need a hand on. 

The goal of these short but frequent synchronisation rituals is to create a sense of co-ownership towards the common team goals, and to create room for autonomy within those boundaries. And for the managers, to transcend their role and become true leaders instead! 

Coffee break near the computer

Step 3: Reinventing the virtual coffee machine.

If there is one point on which everyone agrees, both in favor and against remote work, it is the human need to create relationships and the essential function of work in this respect. How, then, can this function be fulfilled at a distance?

First of, transparency and openness should be made default. This is a prerequisite to ensure your employees keep a sense of belonging (remember, all those contextual and semi-private information you would gather around the coffee machine or in the elevator?).

Second, you need to create segregated moments and spaces for informal and team-centric discussions. At Stoomlink, this happens through the week:

  1. Daily, we use Slack and its dedicated non-professional channels to allow our employees to exchange and debate on interesting events, resources or inspirations… Or more simply to share good news or wish a happy birthday. 
  2. Every week, we hold a WeeklyBrief, a 1 hour meeting during which we share our state of mind (the team’s weather), we take a step back on our way of working (the retrospective) and we share our successes and failures of the week. It’s a working meeting where we don’t talk about… work. Recently, we’ve strengthen this ritual with the help of tools such as Friday Pulse and some nice online gaming sessions as well 🙂 
  3. Finally, every 3 weeks, we devote half a day to a face-to-face activity, this time it’s the Non-Remote Friday (except during covid-19, obviously 😉), which is organised at everyone’s initiative. A way to maintain our team spirit.

Step 4: Unveiling the true potential of remote work: Go async!

Now we can imagine all the above is quite a challenge already! But don’t give up now, the true gift of remote lies ahead and is called asynchronous work

To picture it quickly, in an async environment you don’t require people to answer to you immediately. 

As a matter of fact, our rule of thumb at Stoomlink is that you shouldn’t expect an answer within 24 hours (with the exception of true emergencies, of course).

The benefits of async work are enormous, especially in regards to the many critics towards remote work. Notably, it gives employees full control over their workday, as no set office hours are required anymore. It is also the easiest way to prevent the so-called Zoom-fatigue and the many micro-interruptions and interpenetration of work and private spheres that have been exacerbated by the brutal move to remote work. 

From an efficiency point of view, asynchronous work gives the opportunity of a work organisation in complete alignment with productivity. Not everybody is a morning person as much as some prefer to work in the quiet of the night. Asynchronous organisations recognize that difference and allow the employee to learn his/her most efficient moments. Understanding our own internal efficiency machine, allows us to make better use of our less productive moments, without being constrained to a strict schedule. 

Even collaborating is made easier, as bizarre as it may seem. Async work obliges you indeed to carefully and heavily communicate with your peers. The only difference being that, instead of asking for a “quick look at this”, you ask for “your feedback on the technical components of this project brief, to make sure they are understandable to the client”. 

As for emergencies, because there is such a thing, a clear definition and a strict process are required. At Stoomlink, a dedicated Slack channel, and a precise nomenclature are used in order to address issues that need immediate actions.  

Async is the default mode of many leading companies of the original remote-first movement like Doist, BaseCamp and AngelList. 

Would you like to receive more pro tips about remote work? Have a look at chapter one and two !

How to successfully take the leap to Remote? A practical guide (1/3)

Stoomlink’s Practical Guide to Remote Work (2/3): The Ultimate Toolbox for a Seamless and Happy Collaboration