remote work challenges

Remote Work Challenges? Get Yourself a Culture of Trust

Overwork and visibility are the most oft-cited challenges that creative people express regarding remote work. Loneliness, managing interruptions, and bonding with the team are other typical remote work challenges. Are these inherent to remote work, or are they more telling of a company’s culture?

At Revelry, the process we’ve set up for managing projects and communication has produced a productive, transparent culture that, in itself, solves most remote work challenges. This is Part One of a Three Part Series. We’re going to share how we dedicate ourselves to an overall culture that supports and nurtures work flexibility and distributed team members.

Your organization has to work hard to support a better company culture that facilitates the nature of creative work. You’ll find that productivity and transparency follows this intentional effort.

How do we overcome remote work challenges at Revelry?

Building and nurturing a culture that supports the remote team means living our core values. We challenge each other to weave them into process updates and daily work. The core values that we rely on to build our remote work culture are:

  • Earn and dispense trust
  • Fear is the mind killer
  • Work-life alliance

It takes more than words and a pretty poster, though. Here’s how we do it:

Trust: It’s complex, and it forms the cornerstone of successful remote work teams.

As individuals of a tribe, we execute upon our commitments and presume the same from those around us.

The Revelry team made a commitment to earn and dispense trust. This trust shows itself across multiple processes and practices, so the whole team has a bevy of resources on which to rely to combat typical remote struggles.

Remote workers say they’re prone to overwork.

Creative projects require a lot of thinking and planning. It’s natural to build learning time into software development. So it’s tempting to discount these necessary efforts if you’re not at an office where another teammate can confirm what you were doing.

On a regular basis, we remind and encourage our team at Revelry: Always reflect reality. We reinforce that if it took several hours of research before starting to write any code, those hours should be reflected in your workday. It’s important to equip the team to be able to trust that we really mean it. 

  • The team trusts each other to ask for help when stuck.
  • We offer multiple ways to ask for and give help:
    • We maintain a #firedrill channel in Slack where even potential problems can be called out.
    • All projects have dedicated channels where it’s known and accepted that we can learn in public and call out blockers daily.
    • Peers, department leads, managers, and senior leadership are all available to be booked for a quick sync or pairing session.
  • There is no such thing as overtime and weekend work.
    • Truly.

Remote workers aren’t sure how to demonstrate accountability.

Earn and dispense trust means that, not only will I call out the work I’m going to do and leave progress updates, I know you will too. And when you’ve been given a platform to call out the work you’re doing, you can go do that work and rest assured that your team isn’t wondering what you’re doing.

At Revelry, we use ticket comments to provide updates. Here are our expectations around communicating progress:

  • We leave a comment shortly after picking up any new feature ticket to work.
  • In the comment, we share what we’ve done, what we’ll do, or what we’ve found.
  • If we’re pausing work on a ticket (for the day, for a moment), we say so.
  • We comment when we hit a progress milestone: When we submit a Pull Request or move it to testing.
  • After an in-person meeting, we may have some more context or information to add.
  • When we notice stalled progress, we say so, and we identify our blocker.
  • And if none of the above has happened, but we’re still working a ticket after a day, we still comment with some sort of “I’m still here” update.

Remote workers are prone to more interruptions

One of the great things about remote work today is that we have some amazing chat tools. But these chat tools can give the false impression that folks are required to be “always on”. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that Slack = synchronous conversation. I have no idea why that happened, but let’s put that idea in the ground for good.

Asynchronous conversation is why chat apps like Slack are so useful. Still, there are remote workers who worry:  “If I don’t respond to this question or ping, my team will think I’m not really working.” 

A culture that supports creative work acknowledges that creative work requires heads-down blocks of time.

At Revelry, we trust each other – and continuously remind each other – to be OK with missing messages or hitting messages later. One Monday morning, our Director of Product reminded the entire PM team:

“Let’s help spread the Gospel throughout the team (that includes the client members of our team) to to go “heads down” for significant chunks of work. During Kickoffs today is a great chance to drop that reminder.”

We know that we can tag each other on a ticket or in a Slack conversation, and that we will all manage our own notifications to facilitate those blocks of work time. We trust that our teammates will answer our questions when they get to a stopping point. And, we can always rely on the rest of the team – since comments and messages are completely transparent –  to jump in with an answer if they can in the meantime.

Even better: we remind ourselves every once in awhile that immediately answering every question reinforces a false reality of having to be always on, always available. And that’s not the type of work culture we’re going for. A good way to fend this off is by replying with something like,  “good question, does something here work? [insert your Calendly link]” as a response in Slack or even on a GitHub comment.

You don’t have to allow interruptions. Take that pressure off yourself.

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