Stop Pretending Your Company is Remote

The pandemic made evident how much work can, and should, be different. The forced change to accommodate remote workflows also brought to light what I like to call “virtual offices”. Unlike truly remote friendly workplaces optimized for asynchronous communication, these aim to merely transport the office into a virtual space keeping the same unnecessary constraints of synchronous work intact, only replacing shoulder taps with Zoom calls. I’d love if we collectively agreed to start using a more appropriate name for these. They are office-less companies but they are not remote-friendly.

Signs of these environments are not hard to spot. Unplanned meetings appearing on your calendar all the time, managers and co-workers starting every message with “hello, how are you doing?” and waiting for a response, the common “can we do a quick call?” instead of writing down what you need, employees adjusting their work hours to join meetings at absurd times and the typical conveyor belt of pings on Slack. Even companies that were born remote, not forced into it, often slowly devolve into this fake remote state.

If what I wrote so far resonated with you, and especially if you can influence this, please stop this farce and start truly supporting remote work. Real remote work does not force employees to bend their work hours even when they many times say “it’s not a problem”. After all, what will they say other than that? There’s a huge power imbalance present. Even more so because many times these are the people that don’t have time zones neatly aligned with the company’s executives main hours.

A remote friendly company does not depend on employees’ self-defined work hours or presence indicators. It does not force you - directly or indirectly - to put statuses on yourself to say you are eating or will be right back. Do you need a poop emoji status if you have to use the restroom? What if it’s a long one? Most likely you’ll take your phone with you just in case you need to show you’re available!

Remote is about getting things done asynchronously. Is it perfect for every type of work? Of course not. But should we default to copying the inefficient processes of physical offices because you’re used to “talking it out”? No!

Stop pretending you’re a remote friendly company because you don’t force everyone to be on a physical office. Take real steps to make processes asynchronous. Train people, that are many times on their first remote jobs, to think and act differently. Be conscious of the power imbalances involved that can make us take the phone to the toilet not for HN or Reddit, but for Slack. Incentivize written communication and by all means use synchronous meetings when necessary, but don’t default to it.

Remove the shackles of synchronous work and replace it with trust. Give us the power to deliver the best work we can and finally see all the benefits of remote.

HN discussion