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An expert guide to remote working for businesses

By Anastasia Stefanidou, Associate Manager — Branded Content Strategy

We met with Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, to talk about remote working and what it takes to build and manage a fully remote team.

Working from home used to feel like a luxury, but with coronavirus forcing millions of people into self-isolation, it’s become a necessity.

 Some companies could easily support staff working from home because they already had policies that give workers flexibility on when, where and how they work. Research shows that such policies don’t hurt business performance, and in fact, can lead to less stressed and more satisfied employees who are less likely to quit. 

Some companies weren’t ready for their staffs to telework 100%. But this global pandemic has allowed us to rethink how business operations are organised, and how to modernize policies and practices.

What does it take to build and manage a fully remote team? Policies that give workers more control over when, where, and how they work don’t hurt business performance. Instead, such who are less likely to quit.

We met with Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, and Guinness World Record-holder as the most prolific professional blogger, to talk about remote working and what it takes to build and manage a fully remote team. 

What can businesses do to foster successful remote working?  

  • A handbook first approach  
    This sharp shift to remote working may be challenging for many organisations because there hasn’t been time to develop a process or help team members adjust to a new way of working.
    If you’re just getting started or need tools to stabilize remote teamsThe GitLab Remote Playbook covers a wide range of topics, including communication, meetings and management.

    To build a remote team, businesses should set staff expectations by implementing a handbook-first approach for navigating day-to-day activities, such as participating in meetings, documenting decisions and collaborating with teammates.

    Having a central location where team members can identify guidelines helps decrease confusion and miscommunication. This single source of truth can be a shared document on Google Docs (or GitLab) that covers everything from managing teams remotely to building sustainable culture.

    The handbook should be a living document that’s updated with team members’ feedback. Everyone at the company should be able to contribute and make suggestions. Feel free to use GitLab’s handbook to draw inspiration to create your handbook. 

  • Don’t try to replicate an in-office experience 
    Best advicedon’t try to replicate an in-office experience in a remote environment. Since it’s no longer possible to see a team and verify that they’re working, managers may be compelled to micromanage by asking for status updates multiple times a day, requiring that messages and emails are answered within a certain time frame, or scheduling multiple meetings throughout the week. Remote working is about trusting team members to work to the best of their ability. 

  • Active listening skills 
    Fostering successful remote working entails listening to team members, receiving feedback and being compassionate. Leaders should be open to hearing what’s working and what needs to be changed to empower success for team members in a new environment. People are dealing with stress and anxiety aside from work, and many team members have never worked remotely before. There will be an adjustment period. Leaders can make the transition to remote working as stress-free as possible by exhibiting kindness.

To what extent are tools and software the key to remote work? 

Selecting the right tools and software is an integral step in developing a strong remote environment. Here are tools and tips and a list of software GitLab uses to ensure that 1,000+ team members can effectively work remotely. 

  • Calendly allows people outside of your company to easily book time with you.

  • Freedom blocks distracting websites when you need to concentrate.  

  •  GitLab is a single application that teams can use to organise their work, collaborate and document decisions.  

  •  Google is helpful software for remote teams. Team members can collaborate in online documents, share information broadly, and chat in Google Hangouts. 

  •  Slack is an instant messaging platform that connects not only the entire company but also smaller teams that need to collaborate. 

  •  Zoom is a reliable video conferencing app.  

If your team can only learn a few new tools, I recommend adding Zoom, Slack and the Google suite.

What are practical alternatives for facilitating large meetings, brainstorming and holding crucial conversations — tasks that are typically performed in-person?  

Many tasks usually conducted in person can be done remotely. One-on-one meetings, for example, can take place over video conferencing using apps.

Brainstorming and strategy sessions can be done though online collaboration, either asynchronously or during a dedicated meeting.  

To connect team members and decrease isolationconsider virtual coffee chats and informal team social calls. 
Communication and collaboration must be more intentional in a remote environment. Make overcommunication and documentation the defaultgiving team members as much information as possible. 

Will this time of lockdowns and self-isolation change working styles indefinitely?

Yes, this could be a game-changer. The shift to mandatory remote working may enlighten people —individuals need flexibility; and team members work best in different environments. 

Leaders will gain new understanding that many roles can be remote. There may have been misconceptions that only certain roles could function, but now we see historically in-office positions thriving in a remote environment.

To ensure that team members succeed in remote environments, organisations must embrace cultural changes, asynchronous communication, transparency and documentation. 
Remote working is the present. And likely, the future.  

Check out more tips for remote working.