How to: work remotely when the adrenaline wears off

Remote Work 1.0 and Remote Work 2.0

There are companies that have been working remotely for a while now. Companies like Basecamp, Buffer, Doist, Zapier, Wildbit.

They’ve gone through a natural learning curve of what I call Remote Work 1.0 to Remote Work 2.0 by having honest and open conversations with the people on their team and by discussing remote work across these respective companies.

Remote 2.0 is what makes remote work sustainable. To make Remote Work 2.0 work though, you have to really align through communication, documentation, values, and structure.


The Learning Curve

Right now, this ‘natural learning curve’ is happening at a global scale for the people who are fortunate to have the option to work from home. The sample size is huge! People are talking to their co-workers, their friends, their siblings, their dogs and cats about the pros and cons of working remotely.

Granted, no one has experience working and trying to do their best during a global pandemic. This is hard even for teams who have been working remotely for many years. But, this is really fascinating as it unfolds because I think there is an opportunity for companies to learn and mature to Remote 2.0 faster because of this large sample size.

For example, the past week we’ve been seeing more and more content about ‘Zoom fatigue’ or 'having screenout'. Companies obviously didn’t choose to go remote but they are learning that we don’t need to be in the same place to work: Remote Work 1.0.

But, now people are starting to experience Zoom fatigue because a lot of companies (not all but a lot) are defaulting to video calls.

They’re trying to operate as if they were still working in an office, just over video. But the adrenaline is wearing off and people are starting to voice this and express their fatigue.

Depending on the size of your company, it is up to the People Ops team and leadership to hear this feedback and provide structure for communication, documentation, values, and structure. I view these as the four pillars of Remote Work 2.0.


4 pillars of Remote Work 2.0

Clear expectations for communication

Even though there are a million tools for remote teams, communication and collaboration remain top challenges. In an office, it’s easier to get away with blurring the lines between a meeting, an email, Slack, and a hallway run-in. When you’re remote, being explicit about how your team organizes communication is crucial. Otherwise, you’ll have people wandering your ‘virtual’ hallways hoping to run into someone for guidance. That’s either a day of work lost or this concept of Zoom fatigue we’re seeing where people don’t know what medium of communication to use so they default to Zoom. Gitlab has over 5,000 of public documentation on how they operate. Not everyone needs to go that far but perhaps start with 5 pages.


Default to asynchronous communication

This is the heart of not having to work at the same time. And, it takes a lot of practice in overcommunicating to make sure people have all of the information they need. Asynchronous communication is kind of just a fancy phrase for the opposite of real-time communication. Remote work requires a ratio of the two communication types, synchronous and asynchronous but should be weighted toward the latter. The opportunity here when you're onboarding new team members is to teach them how to learn with your culture and systems. You don't have to sit down and teach them all the information but you do have to teach them how to find the information they need in their role.


Values to inform decision making

In this Remote Work 2.0 setting, you have to give people tools to make decisions and move forward without consensus. The best way to do this is through clear and explicit company values that also outline what the values look like in action. Integrate your company values with the behaviors and norms of your team. It is also important for leaders to model this behavior or the values will be thrown out the window.


Structure to support unplugging

Without the cues of changing physical space, people are working more than when they were in their office. Overworking and isolation (even more right now) are challenges of remote work. You need to be proactive about encouraging people to disconnect and about modeling this or people will burn out. Work can become people’s predominant hobby.

I fell into this while I was at Buffer. I loved my job, I loved the people I worked with, I loved what we were doing. I began to evaluate my self-worth and tie my identity to ‘Mary at Buffer’. I had lost track of some of my pre-Buffer hobbies. When I realized this, it scared me. So, my logic at the time was to detach and work for Hipcamp, a company with a business model more closely aligned with my personal interests. I’m sharing this just to say I learned this lesson on the importance of unplugging the hard way - I left a great job and a great team and I don’t want this to happen to other people. Hipcamp was and is a great company and I absolutely love the work I am doing now. But I was working in People Ops, reading and thinking about how to support people at a company leading the way at putting people and culture first and I still fell into this.

You have to work really hard on putting in structure to help people unplug. And, there are some great examples! A trend we saw a few years ago from Remote companies was recognizing that unlimited vacation was a bit too vague. For international teams, there were different norms around vacation. And, generally, people weren’t taking very much vacation. So, companies have started shifting toward minimum vacation.