Exposing half-truths about remote work

We are often surprised by the volume of misinformation we encounter regarding the nature of remote work. Misinformation which we want to dispel for you here.

“The most dangerous untruths are truths slightly distorted.” - Georg C. Lichtenberg

“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” ~ William Gibson

The future is here

Remote is the future of work. Period.

Many people don’t realize this as a fact. Rather, they believe a “remote lifestyle” is a fad, or a “dream job.” But those people would be wrong. There is actually more remote opportunity than ever before. And the opportunity continues to grow at a quantum pace.

A unique perspective

Our company has been 100% remote for over a decade, and consists of over 4,000 full-time team members. We know what it takes to build and grow a successful remote company.

We are often surprised by the volume of misinformation we encounter regarding the nature of remote work. Misinformation which we want to dispel for you here. For each half-truth we expose, we provide an alternative “full truth,” which represents attitudes and actions which can help ensure your success.

Half-truth #1: “Over-communicate”

The cadence and orientation of remote work is quite different from traditional office-bound work.

Traditional office environments provide plenty of opportunity to communicate with coworkers throughout the day. If you miss key information during one interaction, don’t worry. Just walk back over to your cohort’s desk and clarify your needs. For remote workers, it’s not that simple.

In fact, the most profound challenge you encounter as a new remote worker may be learning to communicate optimally within an asynchronous environment.

Along your journey, you may receive the well-intentioned (but worn out) advice to “over-communicate.” Over-communication tends to work for office workers who, working a couple of days from home, want to show their bosses they are, in fact, working.

However, in a fully remote environment, you are judged, not by the amount of emails you send, but by the quality of your outputs. Consistent over-communication compromises overall results. Instead, you should learn to communicate optimally.

Full-truth #1: Communicate optimally

Not every business scenario is the same. Therefore, your approach to communication should be professional, responsive, and above all, flexible.

Steer clear of rigid or inflexible approaches to communication. Be clear about what’s important. Present key ideas clearly and don’t lose them in the details.

Over-communication overwhelms and confuses your recipient, while optimal communication makes priorities obvious. For the most effective communicators, less is usually more.

If you’re unsure how much messaging waste you’re generating, install a program such as RescueTime to find out. This study found the average to be over 20 hours per week!

In remote environments, trust is built not by staying busy, but by delivering quality outputs and empowering others to do the same. Consistently flood team members with unimportant information, and you will erode trust.

Half-truth #2: Remote work is always easy and fun

It wasn’t too long ago that nearly every blog post or online article covering remote work included an obligatory laptop-on-the-beach photo. Seriously, nearly every post.

The overarching misconception of nearly all such articles is that, transitioning to remote work allows for immediate and full freedom of movement and schedule. Such articles insist that to embrace the future of work is to live the Good Life, sipping piña coladas on the beach, laptop in lap. However, that’s not exactly reality.

Practicality

While remote work is the new reality, we must be practical in how we approach it. Let’s be honest. Would you really want to work on the beach for hours at a time, day after day? Is it practical to imagine you’d have the same level of productivity with the sun blazing on your computer screen - and on you - all day? Probably not.

Professionalism

And how would your conference calls sound as you try to speak over crashing waves and honking seagulls? Working remotely cannot excuse us from being professional. Maintaining professionalism is a fundamental requirement for success in any company or career, remote or not.

Full-truth #2: Prepare for an incredible challenge

There is no question that a remote career can create or enhance the freedom we experience in our lives. Such is the incredible benefit of a remote lifestyle.

However, working remotely isn’t nearly as easy as most people imagine. In fact, transitioning to remote work may be one of the biggest - and most rewarding - challenges you’ve ever experienced.

Outputs vs inputs

Remote work requires that managers measure quality as a function of their team’s output, which is a key distinction compared to an office environment. In an office, when we’re all in the same room together, the manager can (theoretically) track the quality of your inputs. And (theoretically), quality input ensures quality output.

However, remote environments are characterized by the challenge of managing quality outputs rather than quality inputs. This can be difficult for new managers but, like all skills, can be learned and improved upon. Embracing the challenge is half the battle. Expectations are high. And you can do it!

Half-truth #3: Holding lots of meetings ensures quality

Remote workers can’t simply step outside of their office, or walk down the hall to engage with their coworkers. As a result, there is a tendency to schedule too many meetings in an effort to ensure quality output. However, this rarely works and, in fact, the opposite is usually true.

There is a phenomenon which both traditional office and remote workers will recognize, called death by meeting. Death by meeting occurs when meetings are too large, or too long, to be effective. Such meetings are characterized by long stretches of seeming (or actually) irrelevant information.

We are not only disengaged, but our individual and team quality is decreased. The accumulation of such waste, over time, usually has a substantial negative impact on quality.

Full-truth #3: Have frequent, meaningful touch points

Instead of holding lots of meetings, hold fewer of them. Focus on quality and make them well-run. Large meetings should be infrequent, and long meetings should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

As your efficiency in running meetings increases, your meetings become highly-effective, usually short, touch points. As your touch points grow in effectiveness, they become a platform to quickly frame and add value to the day, and frequency flows naturally from there, often becoming automatic.

Documentation + 1-on-1’s

A great way to avoid death by meeting is to maintain great documentation. When it is clear, concise, and readily accessible, documentation is infinitely more scalable than meetings.

Additionally, 1-on-1 meetings are a highly effective tool. Unlike large or long meetings, one-on-one meetings can surface issues earlier, and generate insights deeper, than large meetings.

Half-truth #4: Multi-tasking boosts efficiency

In the digital age, business and life happen faster than ever, and are only becoming faster. To keep pace, humans are evolving into highly-advanced multi-taskers.

Juggling tasks has become a way of life, and everyone’s doing it. But humans are bad at multi-tasking. And multitasking is a bad strategy for knowledge workers, too.

However, these aren’t the popular opinions, in recent days. More often, you’ll hear that multi-tasking is a sought-after skill that you should develop in order to advance your career. However, we’ve found the opposite to be true.

Full-truth #4: Single-minded focus drives deep work

Deep work is the state of productivity you achieve when you are focused on a single activity. Deep work is akin to a flow state where quality output occurs with minimum resistance. Such a state is, simply, unreachable when we busy ourselves multitasking.

In other words, you can routinely output 100% while working on one deliverable at a time. Or, you can produce subpar quality on multiple, simultaneous activities. But why produce two mediocre outputs in the same amount of time you can produce two great ones?

Overlooking the obvious

The truth is, it takes roughly the same amount of time to deliver world-class products and services as it does to deliver mediocre ones. However, we tend to overlook the time commitments required by our own rework, or the burden of quality assurance we’ve placed on downstream team members.

Whatever efficiency we lose by refusing to multitask, we more than make up for by producing high-caliber deliverables, and a near non-existence of waste or rework. Such are the benefits of deep work within a remote culture.

Our company’s entire value proposition revolves around these principles. Our success is directly attributable to it. And yours will be, too.

Embrace deep work. Refuse to multitask as a way of life (or of business). Learn to foster immense quality and engagement through the practice and promotion of single-minded focus.

Conclusion

As you continue your transition into a remote career, you will surely encounter myths and half-truths about the “remote-lifestyle.” While many of these misperceptions contain a grain of truth, they are worth examining more closely, in order to gain a realistic perspective on what being a remote worker really means.

As you progress through RemoteU, your understanding of remote culture will continue to grow. Such insights are invaluable to your success in this program and in your career beyond.