6 Steps to Building a Remote Work Environment That’s Sustainable

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When COVID-19 began, work-from-home seemed like a blessed stopgap — a way out of working in potentially health- and life-compromising environments, and a way to (partially) manage kids who had nowhere to go during the day. But now, more and more organizations are focusing on how to transition to remote work for the long-haul — from Twitter to Google, work from home is the new office, and likely will be after the long shadow of coronavirus has finally faded.

How do I know this? Because I run a 1,000- employee strong remote organization aimed at helping companies build connected, collaborative cultures outside the traditional office, and we’ve been watching the remote work wave come toward us since long before coronavirus set in. We started all the way back in 1999, and despite the raised eyebrows and lack of roadmap, we’ve fostered some unthinkable transitions. Today, I believe virtually any business can — and should — go remote for optimal results. My book, Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture With Virtual Teams, outlines all of the tips we’ve collected along the way.

One of the most common concerns we hear from businesses of all sizes and industries is: How do we make remote work last over time? How can we keep this from feeling like there’s no real connection or organic collaboration?

Below are some of the tips we’ve learned for making a remote work environment stick and stay productive:

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Give trust before you get results.

Don’t worry about whether remote employees will work hard: they will. In fact, remote workers tend to work harder than their in-office counterparts! Lack of trust in remote workers remains a common mistake companies make when they start building a remote workforce. They waste money on tools that monitor when the employee is sitting at their desk, what apps they are using, and what sites they are visiting. No one is happy when they are not trusted. You will have a culture, but it won’t be good and certainly not great.

Get vulnerable; get goofy.

Vulnerability is critical to building relationships and culture. I personally have struggled with learning how to model vulnerability as a leader. It was painful at first, but over time, it’s become easier. Leaders must be real about what makes them tick as people, and show new hires how to do the same. It might feel like oversharing, but without face-to-face interaction, sharing your human side is critical.

Let your employees take hangout time, and pursue other things during the day.

Remote work can be lonely and even occasionally boring. On top of that, one of the biggest issues is usually that employees end up working too much because they do not have the natural break of going into and leaving the office, hanging around the water cooler or stopping by a colleague’s work area. Encourage your remote employees to take the time they want to simply hang out on screen with other employees. Let them schedule and attend a mid-afternoon yoga class or go to pick up the kids at 2pm each day. Your outcomes will be better.

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Plan in-person meetings, and make them happen.

In-person meetings are a powerful way to take your virtual culture to a new level. And they can have a huge ROI: They help employees deepen relationships founded virtually, develop new networks, and feel excited and engaged about their work. To get the most out of your in-person meetings, you have to consider the type and frequency of these interactions. We found it’s best to combine business and team building, relationship building, and, of course, fun.

Isolate “the unteachables” for making new hires.

Some people tend to get tripped up on how to hire once they’ve gone remote. The secret is you don’t have to do anything to isolate which workers will work well remotely. Virtually everyone can transfer their in-office skills to a remote setup. Instead, focus on finding someone with the right skills who is a culture add. Ask yourselves: which parts of your company culture can and can’t be taught? The list of things that work for your company that can’t be taught is your checklist for new hires.

And don’t forget to go with your gut on all of the above. At its core, a virtual culture is no different than that of traditional in-office companies: It’s the set of spoken and unspoken rules for how things get done. The only difference is you need to layer in some extra considerations to ensure your culture extends to employees who log on from home. Do that, and you’re on your way to a remote work culture that shines over the long-term.

This guest post was authored by Larry English

Larry English, author of Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture With Virtual Teams,  is president and cofounder of Centric Consulting, a management consulting firm that guides organizations in the search for answers to complex digital, business, and technology problems.

Before Centric Consulting, Larry worked for a large international consulting firm out of college until he got burned out at 25. He and his newlywed wife backpacked around the world as he tried to find his path in life—and he did. Shortly after returning home, he and his like-minded pals founded Centric with a focus on changing how consulting was done by building a remote company with a mission to create a culture of employee and client happiness.

Today, Centric is a 1,000-plus person company with offices in 12 US cities and India. Larry is father to four boys and husband to an adventurous wife. They reside in Columbus, Ohio. Larry is donating a portion of the royalties he receives from Office Optional to charity.

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