For most of us, the future of work is still at its beginning. But Iwo Szapar has been an advocate of remote work even before the pandemic made it real for us. He even wrote a book about it called ‘Remote Work is the Way’ and since then he’s been working with hundreds of companies to help them with their remote transformation. He’s the founder & CEO of Remote How, Co-founder of the Remote-First Institute and a remote work superstar.
He spoke at our first flagship Employer of the Future event recently. You can watch his full session here:
Here are our 10 favourite takeaways from his session:
1. Companies need remote-first principles to be successful
If even one employee isn’t working in the office, you already have a distributed team. Even during the pandemic, we had multiple offices, locations, contractors, freelancers but not much thought was given to this.
Before 2020, mostly only small companies were embracing remote first. Remote-first is no longer only for small organisations. Now, huge firms such as AirBnb and Twilio and even PwC are allowing their employees to work remotely. Forward-thinking companies understand the future and that this is the right way to attract and retain talent.
2. The five levels of remote work Nirvana
The CEO of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg developed a map of how distributed companies evolve. There are five levels as seen in the image below. As of today, most companies are at level 2. There’s still a long way to go before they reach the “nirvana” stage and stop worrying about where their employees are. More than their location, the outcome of their work and their overall happiness is much more important.
Remote working isn’t easy, but it’s a new way of working that we need to relearn. In many cases it’s because we simply were not working as we should have in the past.
3. Remote-first vs remote-ish
Future of work = remote-first mindset. “Unfortunately a lot of companies today are doing something called “remote-ish”. So in theory, they’re doing something around remote, but they’re not going fully remote first.” See the comparison chart below:
4. Qualities of a good remote-first leader
In his book, ‘Remote Work is the Way’, Iwo describes the traits that make up a great remote-first leader. They are:
#1 Trust: The most important quality for a manager is to make sure trust is the basis of all interactions.
As per a study led by Oracle and Future Workplace, 64% of respondents said that they trusted robots more than their managers.
#2 Micromanagement: Employees at companies with a high trust culture were 50% more productive.
#3 Transparency: This is one of the most important aspects of culture in remote work. People need clarity and need to know the logic behind business decisions.
#4 Empathy: Leaders of the future not only understand but embody the meaning of empathy.
According to a Kelton Global survey, 87% of employees say they would like their future employer to be transparent about company actions and decisions.
5. Radical transparency
The book Radical Candor by Tim Scott shows you how to be honest and nice at the same time. It encourages building a culture of direct feedback within your organisation.
Buffer has gone so far as to display the salaries of all their employees openly. One of their values reads, “As individuals, we view transparency as a lifestyle of authenticity and honesty.”
Avoiding difficult conversations is a thing of the past. In the future, it’s all about saying it like it is. You don’t need to be mean, you need to be honest.
6. Sync vs async communication
Asynchronous communication is the foundation of success for all companies following the remote-first model. If you look at companies like Buffer, Doist and GitLab are all working in a remote first model and they’re embracing asynch communication.
Asynch communication means that there’s no need to respond to messages immediately. This is to encourage deep, focused work and reduce distractions. Synchronous communication is ad-hoc and can increase stress and reduce productivity. Asynch communication needs to be implemented and made part of your internal communication policy so it becomes the norm.
Asynch is great, but are there times when synch communication should be used? Of course, yes! Here’s a checklist that explain the use cases:
7. Moving from sync to async communication
Define your internal communication policy: create rules and expectations. You can create something called a service level agreement (very often used in product development) that spells out how fast you should reply to messages.
Transparency: Limit your one-on-one conversations, group conversations, and focus on open channels such as Slack.
Write more: Instead of picking up the phone, send a well thought-out message instead. Organise workshops on how to write clear, well-written and formatted messages.
Experiment with async video: Async is not just text. You can also send short video messages with the help of tools such as Slack video, Vidyard or Loom.
Try the “check-in” and “check-out” method: Introduce async team updates for you to keep track of daily tasks. Share what you plan to do at the start of the day, and before logging out mention what has been done.
8. Remote-first meeting rituals
According to the MIT survey, managers who manage their teams or projects throughout their careers spend 22 years at meetings, 7 of them in meaningless gossip and presentations.
- Meetings need to make sense and have an agenda.
- Build and maintain “your central brain”: a single place where you have all your notes, all your agendas, all your materials. Because right now it’s like all over the place.
- Walking meetings: leverage the power of walking through audio meetings especially when you don’t need to observe info on the computer screen
Our leaders should protect our productivity and not just check if “if we are working.” It’s not about optimising for signals of productivity, but instead for real outcomes.
9. Enabling deep work
Shallow work is all the activities that distract you throughout the day; writing emails, replying to messages, status meetings, minor corrections or updating reports. All these do not take you any closer to getting your big tasks done.
Deep work is all activities performed in a state of concentration, with the maximum use of cognitive abilities. These create new value and boost improvement. This is when real work happens, the one that gives your life meaning and keeps your brain running.
Deep work is about the outcome, and not about the time that you’re investing.
10. Creating a remote-first culture
#1 Work audit
Get an understanding of the current remote/hybrid setup and employee experience through surveys and interviews. These should cover aspects like remote readiness, culture and values, communication, leadership, HR policies etc. Turn company employee data into actionable insights. Create a plan to improve your work setup.
#2 Upskilling programmes
Invest time and effort into educating your HR, Managers and employees have the necessary tools to succeed. Check out the Remote Work Academy to get started.
Create a playbook that helps you define how you’re expecting your employees to work. It’s not just another document that no one cares about. It’s a living centre of knowledge that defines your ways of working that are accessible to everyone.
GitLab is one of the best examples of this. It’s important to assign an owner of the playbook (aka Head of Remote) If you’d like some help creating your own remote-first workplace, visit remote-how.com. And if you’d like free access to more expertise about how to build successful remote teams, head over to the Remote First Institute.
You can also watch Iwo’s full session here: A Crash Course on Remote Rituals by Iwo Szapar