Two years into the deadliest pandemic since the Spanish flu, every organisation all over the world – big or small – has had a taste of remote work. Some have gone on to adopt a remote or hybrid model full-time. Perhaps you’re a business that survived remote (or “office at home” masquerading as remote work). It’s 2022 now – you’re fatigued, concerned about revenues, or maybe you just want to get on with your life because, hey, let’s face it, Covid is here to stay.

Some of the biggest names in business have been raising clarion calls about how remote will kill creativity and enterprise. “I am not a great fan of work from home at all,” Infosys founder Narayan Murthy recently declared at a tech summit. “When people work from home, that institutional culture will slowly become weaker and weaker”. Back in 2021, CRED founder Kunal Shah lamented on Twitter about young people in India missing out on building “real bonds. No social or network skills. Illusion of understanding and learning. No osmosis”. Oh, come now, CRED’s advertising campaigns are far smarter than this uninformed take.

Major news outlets have also been churning out op-eds about how executives are keen on employees returning to the office. Governments have chimed in, too – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson being a key advocate of working from the office.

All of these people would have you believe that remote is inherently evil and detrimental to the quality of work done. Therefore, it is an option only when no other is available.

But NONE of this is true – whether you are a tiny 10-person outfit like Bee or a 10,000-person behemoth. Companies want people back in because it is easier for them. Every study conducted suggests that the majority of the workforce prefers remote. Companies could easily adopt a hybrid setting that takes care of those that want to get away from home – it doesn’t have to be this or that.

In India, remote was never the go-to option. Most organisations simply moved their offices into their employees’ homes, bad habits and all. At least in the workplace, your day has a logical end. So, of course, it didn’t work. And as soon as the first and second waves waned, there began a mad scramble to get people back into their cubicles.

But there are companies still keen to stay remote. Maybe yours is one of them, but you’re on the fence. You don’t know if it’s the right way to go; important people say it isn’t, and you have concerns about the challenges you might face. If this describes you, then this post is just for you. We’ve been doing remote since the time of Moses, and it wasn’t easy when we got started either. Our wins and losses, mountains we’ve climbed, mistakes we made, tears we’ve shed, aha moments – we’ll share them all with you as we go along.

So, why do we love remote? In a sentence – Remote comes with unparalleled flexibility and freedom. It fosters your ability to go deep and focus on your projects – the average office worker does 2 hours and 53 minutes of quality work a day. As an Employer, it opens you to a talent pool not limited by geography. There’s a lot less overhead. You can spend your resources hiring the right people, enhancing productivity and investing in their learning to retain them. A win for everyone!

Before going remote

Say it with me. Remote is NOT work from home. And it’s definitely not the pandemic lockdown flavoured version most office-goers were rudely confronted with. Remote is asynchronous work, a collaborative environment with fewer meetings. It is trusting your people, seeing their performance beyond how much time they’re banging away at their computers.

Getting started

To achieve the outcomes you desire, you need to have a plan, and that plan needs to be in tune with your needs. Before switching your whole company to remote, trial with a smaller team(s). Make sure to include team members from across the in-person-remote spectrum. Document the entire trial. Get answers to questions that help you make an informed decision.

  • What is the balance I hope to achieve or the benefits my team receives if I go remote instead of continuing with in-person work?
  • How will I handle client communications?
  • How do I address the concerns my colleagues and employees have
  • How will I deal with the frustrations/disappointments/confusion during the trial period?

You’ll find yourself on much more solid ground with the results from your trial, ready to get on with the process.

Choose the right collaboration platform for your needs.

The most critical component of remote work is the collaboration tool you will use. At Bee, we trialled collaboration software available in 2012 and settled on Basecamp. Of course, the platform you choose has to cater to your specific requirements. There’s ample information about which platform is suitable for different companies. Make sure to do your research before opting for one of them.

[In 2021, at a time of much disappointment at the goings-on at Basecamp, we went looking for alternatives. We divided ourselves into smaller teams and spread our projects out over a variety of collaboration tools to see if we could find a better fit. This was not a comfortable process – it was inconvenient and annoying. But we had to see what was out there. For us, remote depends almost exclusively on our ability to collaborate and get work done per our individual schedules without resorting to intrusive calls or meetings. Unfortunately, there isn’t an option that works as well for us right now. So until someone wonderful comes up with a viable alternative to Basecamp, it is the devil we use to remote.]

Define your internal communication strategy

You can pick up an extension or walk over to a colleague’s desk when working in a physical office. Remote demands a different strategy, and it has to be a solid, holistic and dynamic internal communication strategy. We don’t want to intimidate you – but clear, concise, consistent communication is the cornerstone of a robust remote work format. At Bee, we have clearly defined rules for situations that demand an immediate phone or online call. Email is used only for external communication. We have check-ins, direct messages to communicate with each other, and a group chat to admire each other’s plants and pets all within Basecamp. We also have weekly team meetings where everyone is forced to say Hi to each other (just kidding – or maybe not). Remote can be lonely and isolating. This is our way of tackling a mass existential crisis amongst ourselves.

Your organisation might have a different way of doing things. Just make sure your employees know what they need to do, and they know how to reach out to you if they need help. At Bee, we explain our approach to remote and asynchronous work, our holiday policy (it is – you guessed it – flexible) and so on in a note that we have potential recruits read before they sign their contracts. Doing this has allowed us to manage expectations and clear doubts about what it is like to work in a setting like ours.

Evolving a smooth internal communication strategy for a newly remote organisation isn’t easy. A tailor-made plan doesn’t drop out of the sky when you decide to take the plunge. It’s something you have to keep working on, a recipe you keep tweaking until the flavours are just right.

Prepping your people

As an organisation that began in a physical space, the faces of some disgruntled employees will likely haunt your dreams. Going remote might pose a challenge to your employees, even those on board. If they’re used to supervision, can’t work from home or miss the social aspect of the workplace, remote work will be daunting and/or isolating for many of them. It’s essential to make them feel that they are part of the decision-making process and make space for hiccups as they get used to the new format.

When you hire new employees, it’s best to recruit independent self-starters who can make their own decisions and regulate their schedules. This way, you save time and energy during the onboarding process. Take our word on this one.

Make asynchronous your bestie

For many organisations, asynchronous work spells doom. They imagine catastrophic scenarios where something will be needed in the moment, and there won’t be anyone around to get it done. In reality, we can count on the fingers of one hand when a brewing emergency has turned out to be, well, a genuine emergency. Work-life balance conflicts are minimised when you move from hyper-responsiveness and real-time communication to asynchronous communication. With the right tools, asynchronous becomes the freedom to decide when and where to work. This makes people feel good about their work; they’re productive and happy.

We hope what you just read has given you some food for thought. Going remote isn’t easy, but IT IS WORTH IT. We’re here to share the lessons we learnt and mistakes we made – and if you have questions, we’re here to answer them.

By Proiti Seal Acharya

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