How to Make Remote Work, Work
When I joined OpenNest in March of 2017, everyone on the team was living in a different part of the country, all living vastly different lifestyles. Tyler lived at Summit Powder Mountain in Eden, UT...skiing every winter morning. Drew lived in a 400 square foot apartment in New York City, which he loved because he could walk to most meetings. I was still going to school in LA, and every meeting was an hour and a half drive away...usually in traffic.
My first day on the job, I was asked to join the standup call - a morning meeting used to recap our wins and losses, creating space to share and plan for the day. That morning, we all dialed in from three different states, across three time zones. At 10am Eastern Time, Drew was deciding where to grab lunch. At 8am Mountain Time, Tyler was dialing in from the ski lift. At 7am Pacific Time, I had barely made it out of bed. Needless to say, I was hardly my most cognitive or productive self on those early calls.
The difficulty of time zones was my first lesson in the multitude of complexities that come with working remotely. The challenges and opportunities of remote work inevitably shaped our culture at OpenNest and in turn, taught us a lot about how to better enable a joyful and distributed workforce.
Communication in a traditional office setting is primarily driven by body language, team bonding, water cooler chats and lunch outings. Teams are able to work through problems, frustrations or celebrations face-to-face. The majority of my professional experience involved this norm of working in close physical proximity to my coworkers.
At OpenNest, it’s not quite that easy. Because we rely on non-physical (and mostly non-visual) communication, we have to be aware tone, tense and jargon as we strive to maintain clarity and transparency. We are careful to be overly vocal and considerate of others feelings, emotions, personality traits, and feedback preferences, in the absence of body language.
Working remotely demands that we all put more energy and focus into our everyday correspondence. The group channels on our messaging app, Slack, provide a convenient window into the worlds of our fellow team members, complete with emoji reactions and silly GIFs. When messages fall short, video chats become our go-to “conference room” for internal meetings. Being able to see each other goes an immeasurably long way.
Remote work offers its share of pros and cons when it comes to productivity. On one hand, we face less workplace distractions. We spend less time commuting. We have more flexibility to fit the work day to our lives - not our lives in to the work day. In a 2015 survey, 77% of respondents who work remotely reported greater productivity and 30% said they accomplished more in less time.
On the other hand, working wherever we want brings the responsibility to avoid the everyday distractions - like laundry, dishes, cleaning the fish tank, going to the dog park. It forces us to be especially aware of bottlenecks, communication breakdowns and silos.
Asana is another key piece of technology that has kept us more productive as a remote team. It’s a collaborative to-do list, with the ability to tag, link and attach documents. We run a planning meeting every Monday morning from a shared Asana project which helps us stay on track with clients and projects.
We’ve discovered that OpenNest applicants are both looking for and also excited by the opportunity to work from home. According to Gallup, 37% of employees said they’d like to work remotely at least part of the time. John, our Digital Lead who lives in Florida with his wife and two kids, was specifically drawn to OpenNest because we welcome remote work. He loves that he can work alongside his children and we love their cameos on Google Hangouts.
As we continue to look for incredibly smart, passionate people to join our team, we’re afforded the luxury of being location agnostic. We just began working with a talented copywriter who is participating in Remote Year. She’s traveling to a different city around the world every month this year and has the flexibility to work with us while she does it. Wherever it is that you call home, whether that be in one place or many, we welcome you!
At the end of the day, video chats, phone calls, and text messages can only develop teams, and relationships, so far. As humans, we crave meaningful interpersonal interactions--ones that can only truly happen in person. Since OpenNest began, we’ve found ways to get together as often as possible. The nature of client work demands a bit of travel...and we use this an an opportunity to build rapport not only with the client, but also with the team.
As we’ve grown and expanded as a team over the past year, we’ve started a tradition of quarterly retreats. We build these shared trips around 2-3 days with cleared calendars, avoiding email as best we can. The retreats offer the opportunity to strengthen our relationships as a team, share meals, check out a live show and build important cultural norms. Three days without meetings and not much screen time allow for some of our most productive, creative and memorable moments together.
I’ll be the first to admit that we haven’t figured it all out. The problems and the solutions we face as an remote company will only continue to evolve. The exciting thing about a growing team and company culture is we develop, mold and shift based on the new hires that join us in the Nest. Each new person fundamentally changes our culture for the better. Do you want to be a part of this team we’re building? Do you have something to share? We’d love to hear from you!
Words by Chad Massura