Levels of Remote Work – The Discourse #7

Culture, processes, and tools to make the transition to the upper levels

Not all remote work is the same. Some remote work is better than others.

In this edition of The Discourse, we talk about the kind of culture, processes, and tools that you and your team should follow at your organization to move up the levels of remote work.

Here are a few examples of successful companies whose processes can be emulated, and actions you can take to move towards a better level of remote work. 

Level Zero – No choice but to be physically present

This level refers to the people in the service/manufacturing/construction industry that are required to be physically present to get the work done. Think about construction workers, massage therapists, security guards, hair stylists, gym instructors, and so on.

Doctors also are in this list, but that can change with telehealth.

You can have some technology innovation here; however, your work is largely synchronous. 

Our discussion is primarily centered around what would be termed as "knowledge workers".

Level One – Co-located organizations

These organizations are mostly large and non-tech driven ones.

Everyone would reach the same physical location at the same time everyday and leave at the same time.  

WFH is permitted occasionally, even though it is treated with suspicion. Anyone working from home or remotely was a second class employee in many ways. Since you didn’t have the same face time as the others.

In 2020's scenario, these companies will struggle the most, while trying to remotely 'control' their employees.

Level Two – Recreating the office experience online

Most of the companies belong to this level. 

Parallels between in-person and remote work are still maintained to make sense of this situation. 

Since it was easier to have a meeting in a co-located organization to do anything – you try to do the same remotely.

Meeting starts without an agenda. You get some work assigned in a meeting. The other people in the meeting may or may not take notes leading to something lost in translation. 

You do the work and email it to your manager. He/she would be too busy to review and would want you to take them through it yourself in a meeting.

They would give off-the-cuff review feedback that would again not be noted down completely, leading to some information loss. 

Think about how things are run at your organization. Do you still have a lot of meetings? Are your days interrupted by constant pings on Slack or Zoom calls arranged? Are updates provided by team members on calls?

Level Three – Shift towards asynchronous

Companies that start moving towards asynchronous work will be the ones that will succeed. This requires a change in culture, process, and technology with the right tools that facilitate this shift.

Here are a few ways we've tried to do this in my org:

Work is done in documents (docs, sheets, presentations, code) for the most part. Anything that isn't written down isn’t considered to be valid. For feedback and review, comments are invited on the documents, wireframes, designs. Accordingly, updates are made to the documents.

Video/audio calls are used sparingly to unblock issues that need discussion.

Agendas for planned meetings are shared well in advance and updated collaboratively.

While the video meeting is on, usually a collaborative document is being screen shared, and any important notes or action items are noted down collaboratively.

The outcome of this is that good and clear writing is valued, and the time wasted in meetings is reduced.

Level Four – Truly async

At this level, you're covering everything in level 3 + fewer or no meetings. 

Contributors are more empowered and judged solely on their output. Makers can spend more time in deep work and get things done. 

More time is spent on important work rather than only urgent work. Documentation is much stronger, and decision making is decentralized. 

Gumroad is an example of a company that follows this.

Level Five – Nirvana

This level is reached in the event of being a distributed company, where you can outperform other companies that have a physical presence. You have employees all over the world, so the work never stops.


Curated resources for further reading:

  1. https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/asynchronous/

  2. https://basecamp.com/guides/how-we-communicate

  3. https://twist.com/remote-work-guides/remote-team-communication

  4. https://medium.com/@gcvp/going-distributed-choosing-the-right-remote-friendly-team-model-6a04f833267c

  5. https://ma.tt/2020/04/five-levels-of-autonomy/


That's it for today. Talk to you soon! Follow me on Twitter @KavirKaycee

— Kavir

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