Team Communication

Your Guide To Remote First Processes and Why It Matters

Let’s start by defining what a remote-first process is. Remote-first means something is built and optimized for your remote teams’ environment first. If you’re working in a hybrid team environment, focusing on remote first internal processes means you consider how it will work for office teams as secondary. 

In a remote-first team, processes are built from the ground up with the assumption that not everyone is face-to-face, or even in the same time zone.

Some of the most successful remote teams like Basecamp, Gitlab, and Buffer spend time and resources constantly improving their internal remote-first processes. 

Processes like how their remote team communicates, how projects are managed, how promotions are given, and how performance is measured. 

Everything your team does throughout their workday is a process and one that should be optimized for a remote team environment. 

There are many remote-first processes that I work with companies on developing and improving but today, I’ll be focusing on communication and knowledge management. 

In order to move from merely surviving in 2022, what do organizations need to put in place?

One of the most fundamental aspects of building a thriving remote organization is creating and improving remote-first processes. By remote-first processes we mean: that all internal processes are optimized for remote and flexible environments. Processes like: 

  • How we communicate in a flexible way as opposed to requiring real-time meetings (which isn’t sustainable)
  • How we manage and share information in written form as opposed to having to verbally communicate (which isn’t scalable)
  • How we manage performance by the quality of output as opposed to the input of hours our team’s work (which isn’t flexible)
  • How we equip leaders and employees with the tools and knowledge to develop enough self-awareness that they can manage their wellbeing and maintain boundaries as opposed to burning out 

Below, I’ll outline 2 major remote-first strategies that can support you in building an effective remote team. 

Why Remote-First Matters

It helps our team beat burnout. 

If you’ve been around in the past two years, you’ll probably have experienced or witnessed the amount of burnout experienced by remote team members. Monster found that since the pandemic began, over 69% of the workforce have experienced burnout at work. 

In my experience in working with dozens of organizations, I’ve found that a lack of remote-first processes contributes greatly to employee burnout.

Remote first processes produce & promote greater work-life balance.

For example, consider teams that are focused too much on meetings (synchronous communication). Their teams are stuck all day in online meetings, feeling fatigued. Not to mention, they have to work extra hours to catch up on the work that came as a result of the meetings. I see teams exhausted and unmotivated, due to not having the time or space for creative work. 

To take this one step further, which is the reality for a lot of teams, teams in this situation often don’t take breaks. Meaning, no time for a healthy lunch, a walk outside in fresh air or even a couple of minutes to just breathe. 

A lack of remote-first communication can play havoc on our team’s nervous system and stress response. Having this havoc continue over weeks and even months will eventually lead to a full system shut down- burnout. 

If you’re struggling with burnout in your team or even for yourself, download my free guide on how to Navigate and Reduce Burnout 

It Reduces Proximity Bias In Hybrid Teams

Proximity bias is the idea that team members with close physical proximity to their team and company leaders will be perceived as better workers and ultimately find more success in the workplace than their remote counterparts.

When there is a lack of remote-first processes, hybrid teams tend to have meetings that are based around an office-centric environment.

 Remote team members have to join meetings virtually while everyone else is in one room together. This puts remote team members on the back burner- the playing field isn’t level and it’s more difficult to speak up, give feedback and feel included.

Remote-first processes combat that, level the playing field and ensure everyone feels included. 

Remote First Processes 101

Communication

Communication is at the core of every team. How we communicate determines our success in our ability to maintain team engagement, wellbeing and even effectiveness.

There are two major types of communication that every remote or hybrid team should consider. 

Synchronous communication is when we communicate in real-time, ex. In a meeting or sending even having a phone call. 

Asynchronous communication is when we communicate with each other in delayed time, ex. when we send a Slack/Teams/Google Chat message and wait for a response or write an email. 

As we work on different schedules and are available at different times, synchronous communication can become inefficient. To improve our communication asynchronously and address delays in feedback loops, we have to ask better questions. 

To ensure we are valuing everyone’s time when working remotely, and to promote flexibility in our calendars, it’s important to consistently strive to improve our synchronous communication. E.g the quality of our meetings. 

The goal is to not just reduce the number of meetings that we have in real-time, we want to improve the quality of meetings that we have and reduce ineffective communication. 

We want to use the time we spend together in meetings to create, innovate, problem solve and brainstorm. 

This requires everyone on our team to take responsibility for valuing our own and each other’s time. 

To live into a value of time, we have to create and set best practices together as a team, for example, including an agenda for every meeting. 

One team I worked with had a daily standup every morning. As the team was growing, the time spent in this meeting started to increase from 15- 40 minutes. 

It cost the company a lot of money and didn’t truly value time. We decided to move the ‘information sharing’ piece of their standup to asynchronous communication using Microsoft Team (you can do this on Slack too) and they spent their 15-minute daily standup discussing the blockers that the team mentioned in teams and finding solutions to the most pressing issues.

The result? 

The team not only experienced more time back in their mornings but they were much more engaged. The meeting format changed with a focus on coming together as a team to brainstorm and problem solves, and thus, their appetite for winning as a team increased. 

Knowledge Management

In distributed teams, it can feel like even more of a challenge to ensure teams are aligned and collaborating towards the same goal. 

What any remote team doesn’t want is miscommunication, decisions not being transparent and confusion across projects. 

When teams start to scale past the 50+ employee mark, it’s nearly impossible to continue effective collaboration without clear knowledge management and documentation process. 

A culture of documentation where everything is written down makes it easy for teams to access relevant information in order to get their tasks done and it reduces duplication of efforts- something that’s really vital as you onboard new team members.

Here are a few important areas to consider for your remote team when it comes to documentation: 

  • An org chart that’s updated so everyone can know relevant stakeholders with ease
  • Onboarding documentation- getting to know your company
  • Company policies, core values and culture guidelines
  • Project management system guidelines
  • Technical implementation resources
  • Internal project roadmaps
  • Career development paths
  • Standard best practices for managers, leaders- 1-1 templates, managing performance etc

Instead of trying to create all of these documents from scratch, instead, start to promote answering questions within a documentation hub and linking them within your communication platform e.g Slack, MS Teams. 

Remote first processes are indeed a mindset shift that needs to be adopted by all within the organization. 

If you’re interested in getting support for your organization in 2022, get in touch with me and let’s discuss how I can help you and your team. 

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I help remote organisations sustain their engagement, productivity and wellbeing

HEY, I'M SHAUNA I'M AN ACCREDITED EXECUTIVE COACH AND CONSULTANT

I'm an accredited and award-winning transformational coach to founders, leaders and teams of fast-growing remote companies, a speaker, emotional intelligence practitioner and remote team researcher.

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