Introduction to Remote Work & Collaboration
For a while, we’ve been hearing that remote work is the trend of the future. However, in 2020 there are enough people working across different offices, satellite hubs, coworking spaces, cafes, home offices, and backyard sheds on a given day that it’s clear: “remote work” describes the way so many of us are already working every day.
Even if you’re physically located in the same office, you may send your coworker an instant message instead of walking over to their desk. Update a project’s status in a spreadsheet. Give feedback in a comment. Put your ideas on a virtual sticky note. You’re practicing “remote collaboration.”
Despite this growing trend, many still view being part of a successful a remote or distributing team as a Herculean challenge. At Miro, we disagree. We believe employees don’t need to be in the same location to produce their best work together, and we live our truth every day with our own internationally distributed teams. Like it or not, virtual work is here to stay—which is why we’re sharing our secret sauce so you can help your remote teams thrive, just like ours.
Miro's team is spread across timezones.
Who this guide is for
Our guides are rooted in years of building a distributed team of 250+ people ourselves (Miro has five office hubs across several time zones), and expertise from leading companies like HubSpot, Upwork, Pivotal, Automattic, AngelList, and Intercom.
We hope that anyone looking to improve remote work processes and culture could pick up some new ideas here. For managers, we've collected a ton of best practices for creating a high-performing team that’s able to turn the challenges of distributed collaboration into a competitive advantage. For teams who are new to telecommuting or working from home, we've also got our most popular tips and tricks for adapting to the remote life.
Now, let's start with the basics...
What is remote work?
“Remote work,” “distributed work,” “telecommuting”—what do all these words have in common? They refer to work that’s being done by individuals who aren’t in the same physical place. Sometimes that means they’re spread out across different locations or in different time zones.
It can also mean they work in different offices than their colleagues or clients—or that they work from home. No matter how you slice it, remote work typically means teams need to leverage communication tools like messengers, videoconferencing, phones, visual collaboration tools, and task trackers to get things done.
There are several popular structures for remote teams. Let’s take a look at each one of them:
1. Fully remote teams
When a company doesn’t have any central offices and everyone works from home, on the road, or from office spaces, you have a fully remote team. While this setup can have challenges, it also has its advantages. Namely, being “remote first” means you can create processes and technologies that facilitate the needs of remote employees from day one.
There are many successful fully remote companies that are considered leaders in their industries, like InVision, Buffer, Automattic, GitLab, and Zapier (to name a few).
“After 14 years as a fully remote company, we’re convinced a distributed environment isn’t just good for our employees. It’s also one of the key reasons we’ve been so successful as a company.”
—Adam Schwartz, founder and CEO of Articulate (fully remote)
2. Distributed office hubs
When a company decides to set up small offices in different cities from its headquarters, its workforce becomes “distributed.” As a workplace becomes geographically divided, executive leadership must decide who works in each localized team and define their role relative to the central office.
This is where careful consideration of organizational structure comes in. The goal is to create a symbiotic relationship in which both localized and centralized teams feel like expectations around roles, responsibilities, and the direction of communication flow are clear. The leadership can define how different offices relate to each other.
Here are the three most common setups:
Setups for distributed companies / Image credit: Sayantan (Tan) Mukhopadhyay, Product Manager at Pinterest
Satellite office: This model is the easiest to operate, as there’s a unidirectional line of delegation from headquarters to remote teams with specific projects by teams.
Local ownership: This requires strong local leadership with talent-dependent teams. Each localized team owns a special project, while HQ serves to oversee the holistic vision.
True partnership: This is the most difficult to execute as it relies on mature teams, typically within R&D. Sub-teams at HQ and local teams work on overlapping projects.
3. Enabling flexible schedules
There’s a third hybrid approach where employees aren’t fully remote or working from distributed hubs – but they’re also not all in the same location all the time.
Some companies allow their employees to work from home a few days a week, others hire people specifically focused on working from a single office, as well as those who want to work remotely long-term. Regardless, these teams often find themselves using the same collaboration tools as fully remote companies – because at least one teammate is in a different location at least part of the time.
Why remote work is the future of employment
According to a 2017 Deloitte survey of more than 10,000 business and HR leaders from 140 countries, the organization of the future is a “network of teams.” Teams are becoming much more dynamic, and work is more distributed.
Aside from a general trend towards dispersed teamwork, more employers are recognizing the benefits of expanding their hiring beyond a single location.
Here are some of main reasons companies are hiring remote:
1. Reducing costs
One of the biggest benefits of remote work is reducing costs. According to the PGi 2019 report, organizations save on average $10,000 per year for real estate savings per one full-time employee. A lot of remote teams usually have an offsite for the whole team once a year, but the cost per person is usually much lower.
2. Hiring top talent
Wherever you’re located, it can be hard to hire top talent. If you are building a company based in Silicon Valley or another bustling area, the competition for the best professionals might be too high. Or if you live in a smaller city, it can be hard to persuade your prospects to move there and change their lifestyle for a new job.
So building a remote team gives you a lot of flexibility to hire top talent from all over the world. Increasingly, people expect flexible remote work policies when they are looking for a new job. Over 70% of employees report that the ability to telecommute will be extremely important in choosing their next job.
3. Higher employee retention
If remote work had an NPS, it would be sky-high — according to Miro’s survey of the remote workforce, 91% think that remote work is a good fit for them. As the trend has grown, people generally report the benefits of flexible schedules, work/life balance, and productivity improvements.
And being able to work remotely definitely influences people’s loyalty to their employer. Gartner estimates that organizations that support a “choose-your-own-work-style” culture can boost employee retention rates by more than 10%.
“Remote teams almost have an unfair advantage in hiring. I regularly talk to San Francisco teams that lose candidates because other companies offer an opportunity to work from wherever they want. This has become more and more common.”
Andreas Klinger, Head of Remote at AngelList
4. Diversity that drives better products
Hiring top talent from different cities, countries, and backgrounds can also help you create a diverse team and give you a competitive advantage.
According to a McKinsey report on more than 300 public companies, organizations that are in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.
5. The sustainability of remote work
Ecological sustainability is another important long-term benefit of remote work. According to Global Workforce Analytics data, if people who had remote work-compatible jobs worked remotely half of the time, it would lead to the following savings:
$20 million in gas
54 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to taking almost 10 million cars off the road for a year)
640 million barrels of oil (worth $64 billion)
119 billion miles of highway driving
Being conscious of your business’s impact on the planet is a big accomplishment in itself, but it's also a strategy that can help you attract more customers. According to Nielsen, “55% of global online consumers across 60 countries say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.”
How technology enables companies to go remote
As we mentioned, remote work can’t be possible without the technology that enables it. Things like broadband internet and cloud computing phone plans make remote work possible. Modern teams usually use some combination of messengers, email, video conferencing, cloud documents, and project management software.
There are also thousands of tools that are created for teams with different specializations: from apps that allow UX designers to create wireframes to roadmapping tools for product managers, trackers that are specifically created for engineers, and lots more.
As an example, at Miro we use our own product to replace the experience of being gathered around an in-person whiteboard, when we're working from different locations.
Read more about our recommended tools for remote work.
Remote work myths—busted!
In the past, we used to view remote work as a challenge that we have to overcome. But if done right, a remote environment can rocket your team to success. It’s true that some teams never manage to thrive in this environment, and that’s how myths get started. Here are some common remote-work myths you might have heard—but that we’ve busted via data and our own experiences.
Myth #1: Remote workers are lonely and unhappy
There are certain clichés that may come to mind when you think about remote work: a consultant in a dark room, or an engineer who never leaves the house or sees another human being, except maybe the pizza delivery person.
In reality, the everyday life of a remote worker rarely feels isolated. Working remotely doesn’t mean just working from home and avoiding all social interactions. The popularity of remote teams created a market for coworking spaces, while libraries, coffee shops, and restaurants have added charging stations and “quiet” areas, ideal for remote workers who want to get out of the house. It means that a lot of people have access to their local communities, build horizontal connections, and bond with other remote workers in their area.
Additionally, a lot of people choose remote work because they believe that it makes their quality of life better and allows them to feel like a better parent, friend, or partner. According to FlexJobs, the top four reported reasons people seek flexible work are work-life balance (75%), family (45%), time savings (42%), and reducing commute stress (41%). People feel happier and more productive when they have control over their schedules and their lives.
Work-life balance and family top the list of reasons people work from home.
Myth #2: Quality of communication diminishes
Another popular myth often associated with remote work is that it leads to bad communication. Some people believe that to be successful, teams need a lot of facetime together and they can’t move as fast in a remote environment.
It’s true that managing timezones can be difficult and some projects really call for face-to-face collaboration. A lot of successful remote companies still fly their teams to a shared location to kick off high-priority projects and host team off-sites. However, working from the same location or even the same timezone is not necessary at all.
Contemporary tools like messengers, task trackers, cloud documentation, video conferencing, collaboration software, etc. allow you to create collaboration hubs that keep track of all your team’s projects and interactions.
Wipro Digital uses Miro to coordinate projects remotely.
Moreover, we’ve seen that the timezone difference encourages each teammate to be more autonomous and also intentional in the way we communicate. Ultimately, people who master these two skills make up teams that are stronger and have a competitive advantage over those where people need a lot of FaceTime to make any decision.
Myth #3: Remote meetings are ineffective
The myth that online meetings are ineffective can be challenged by examining two big benefits of hosting remote meetings:
More prep work leads to greater efficiency. Remote meetings often require more planning in advance. Inviting the right people, creating an agenda, and asking people to do homework gives attendees the opportunity to be well-prepared and action-oriented during the meeting.
Remote meetings create a sense of urgency. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time if your teammate is eleven hours away and calling you late at night or early in the morning, so coming up with a clear plan and a list of action items after each meeting is a must.
Myth #4: Productivity decreases
Some people see those who work from home as slackers who never take off their pajamas. It’s hard to find data about remote workers’ fashion choices, but we certainly know that 65% of people feel more productive in a “work from home” environment.
A lot of companies prefer an open office layout, but the majority of people report that they feel distracted and stressed in this type of environment. Other stats about open offices are also pretty bleak: 31% of people have “held back their true thoughts and opinions while on calls in the office because they don’t want coworkers to hear and judge them,” and 16% of people feel their “overall quality of health has declined” in open-plan offices.
So being able from home often helps focus as well as communication—people feel empowered to speak what they think and can create a bond with their coworkers.
Myth #5: Team culture is nonexistent
A company’s culture is made up of the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a team. It’s how people work together towards a common goal, and often it’s the framework or guidepost an employee uses to make decisions independently.
Team culture is defined, not diminished, through remote collaboration. It’s true that building remote team culture requires rethinking all the conventions that collocated teams use, from recruiting and onboarding to employee performance and career progressions to collaboration and project management. However, if communicated well, team culture can be really strong in remote teams. Shared values allow people to act independently, yet feel like they belong to a bigger group that is united by the same goal.
Here are some of the best practices that helped us created remote team culture at Miro:
Create a space to outline your goals and values as a team. Collaborate with your colleagues to come up with your mission, vision, and core values and outline it in a shared document or on a virtual whiteboard, so everyone can revisit it and make sure their personal goals and OKRs are aligned with it. Set quarterly or monthly check-ins to track performance based on those values.
Walk the walk. When it comes to a healthy flexible working arrangement, managers can lead by example. When leaders are taking advantage of remote work and flex work options, it makes it a lot easier for their employees to follow in their footsteps.
Be thoughtful. If it’s morning or dinner time, ask if you can have a meeting at that time. Get familiar with your remote team members’ work environment: if they are working from a different hub, book the best possible meeting room(s) for people in the remote office, know the site leads/administrative stuff to learn, understand the café hours, etc.
Make time for chitchat. Take a few moments at the beginning of each meeting to focus on personal stuff, like your kid’s baseball game or a team member’s upcoming vacation. Talking about what you did over the weekend isn’t “fluffy stuff.” In fact, it’s crucial for building relationships and strengthening team collaboration.
Consciously re-create the best of in-office culture. Don’t forget the little things. Host a virtual happy hour or a breakfast session where people from the same field (for example, product development) can discuss their challenges. Send people a card for their birthday or other special occasions. Order coffee or food for remote employees who are in meetings to help them feel included.
Read about how we build team culture remotely.
More tips to manage your remote teams
It’s true that remote work is the wave of the future, especially with jobs that can be completed digitally. We’ve gone through the different remote works structures, common remote work trends and myths. Now, browse more articles in our guide to get tips on managing your remote team.