It’s clear that remote working is becoming more and more popular around the world. With people wanting to travel the world, work from the comfort of their own homes, avoid long commutes or just organise their day however they want, remote work is clearly giving more flexibility and freedom than the regular 9 to 5 job.
Technology plays a huge role in facilitating remote working and a lot of entrepreneurs seized the opportunity and built tools and businesses to support this trend. With a good WiFi connection and your own laptop, you can be working from a beach in Bali, a coffee shop in Bucharest, from a co-working space in Amsterdam or your own home in Argentina.
But does this work revolution come with only advantages? Evidently not.
At 90 Digital, we’ve worked remotely for more than 5 years and here’s what we learned about building a distributed team.
Working from anywhere
Definitely, one of the biggest advantages of working remotely is the freedom and flexibility it gives you. Being able to organise your own work day helps you choose the time of day you’re working, when you’re more productive and create the right environment for you. You can even choose to be in different places when you do creative work or when you have a long to-do list that requires all of your attention. It breaks the monotony and it can help build discipline. To get things done you need discipline and you need to test and learn what works for you.
When working remote, it is very difficult to rely on external motivation and expect that a colleague or manager should keep you motivated. Having the flexibility to choose your own place to work, go for a run in the middle of the day or cook your own lunch might give you that extra boost you need to keep yourself focused instead of looking for external motivators.
This kind of lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone though. Making the switch from a fixed work environment to constantly changing your workplace can be tiring. Not having the same routine makes it harder to build that discipline. So a lot of people prefer to choose a co-working space and consider that their office or simply go back to an office environment. Always choose what works best for you. Don’t just follow the trend.
Benefitting from this freedom of choosing your office every day can also become lonely. You’re on your own most of the time and even if you’re having video calls with the people you’re working with, it doesn’t compare with being surrounded by people day by day.
Loneliness is one of the main disadvantages remote workers or freelancers mention when talking about remote working (Buffer State of Remote Work 2019) and it’s a hard one to tackle no matter the tools or technologies adopted by distributed teams.
Access to global talent and team diversity
One major benefit of building a distributed team is that you can hire people from anywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter where they are located. This way you get to choose the best candidates for a job based on their skills and experience and don’t compromise on hiring who’s available for that role in your city or having very big costs with relocation.
In the long run, this can help people choose the place where they want to live based on their own wishes and not based on where they can find a good job. People who move to smaller cities and villages so they can live closer to nature no longer need to worry that the exciting jobs are only available in the big cities.
Being able to build a team across time zones and cultures also means you can build a diverse team who bring different perspectives to the table. So even in a small team, you can work in an international environment.
Hiring people who work remotely can have its disadvantages too. Interviews are done through video calls so a lot of times you miss the face to face interaction or literally spending a few hours with the candidate and seeing how he or she interacts with a team. You miss the body language.
A lot of people apply for remote jobs being attracted by the perks but it’s very important to understand how they will handle the disadvantages as well after joining a distributed team and that’s difficult to test in the recruitment process.
Also, if they were never in the position of working with people from so many different countries, they might have a hard time adjusting to the different communication styles or personalities, especially in a remote environment.
Communication and building a community
With so many tools available, remote teams have really many options for taking their communication processes to the next level.
At 90 Digital, we mainly use Slack and Hangouts for communication and it works great for us. Being a fully remote team made us realise that communication is extremely important and you need to say everything you do and give constant updates about your work.
It keeps meetings to a minimum and more efficient. But you need to learn how to be a good communicator. Even when you have a bad day or you’re not feeling well, you need to say it, otherwise your colleagues won’t notice. They can’t see you when you start your day and you’re in front of your laptop.We’ve learned how to express our feelings better and how to give better feedback.
This also increases the level of trust we have in each other and in everyone’s ability to manage their own work. When results are more visible than the actual hours you put in, it’s very important to step up and focus on getting things done.
Organising regular workcamps also helps building a cohesive team and having strategic meetings face to face and conversations about more than the regular day to day tasks.
Even though the technology is doing a great job facilitating communication in distributed teams, it’s still difficult to build strong communities when you’re not in the same place, the same office, when you’re not going for beers after work or when you don’t meet your colleagues at a festival during the weekends. It’s not impossible but it definitely takes more time that being in a regular office with everyone around.
Even though meetings are more efficient, sometimes communication can be slower if you’re not in the same office and you can’t just go to your colleague and ask something on the spot.
There are clearly advantages and disadvantages for many aspects of this way of working (and living), but remote working is here to stay. It’s not suitable for everyone and even though it sounds very attractive at the beginning, a lot of people struggle with this kind of lifestyle. One thing is clear: you need to take responsibility for how productive you are and make more decisions about how your day will look compared to an office environment where most things are set for you. So choose wisely, set your intentions and make it work. Even if you are a freelancer, a consultant or working remotely for a company, learn how to benefit from the highs and how to overcome the lows.