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Collaborating Effectively as a Remote Workforce

Collaborating Effectively as a Remote Workforce

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On any given day, the Crema offices look different. Sometimes, they are bustling with meetings, conversations, collaboration, and maybe even an impromptu limbo contest (It’s been known to happen).

Other times, you could hear a pin drop. You’d see a few employees deep in their work, heads down and focused. While things might appear to be slow and empty, in reality, work is getting done and collaboration is happening remotely.

Over the last few years, we’ve invested in the practice of remote work because we believe our team members deserve to be wherever they need to be to get their best work done. As long as results are met, it doesn’t matter whether they’re at home, a coffee shop, or in a beachside bungalow.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about my evolution to a full-time remote employee. We wanted to generalize that a bit more and identify some best practices to effectively collaborate as a remote workforce. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Defining a Results-Based Culture
  • Benefits of Remote Work
  • Ensuring Production is Met
  • Tips for Collaborating Remotely
  • Building a Culture that Supports Remote Work

Defining a Results-Based Culture

Years ago, our co-founders set out to document our work process and culture at Crema. One of the most critical elements of that was the concept of a Results-Based Culture (RBC). This was adapted from the research and practice of Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson’s Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).

For us, it’s summed up best in the most recent version of our culture deck, a resource we’re building for new and existing team members: “Crema’s value of results reflects a belief that time spent is not an accurate measure of success. What’s accomplished is what’s most important. It’s a belief that empowers employees to exceed expectations and deliver the best value for clients, while also continuing to thrive as individuals.”

Our RBC encourages employees to choose their appropriate path when setting out on their work for the day and instills our value of trust in the process. A person may want to come into the office for a full day because they’ve got back-to-back meetings and need to land the plane on an important product decision. Or they may be traveling and have communicated that they’ll be online for a set amount of hours. Whatever the decision may be, the expectation is that results will be met.

However, a results-based culture is not without its challenges. Our approach to remote work has changed over the years to meet the needs of our team and the realities of remote collaboration. Even if one person on the team is working outside the office, there’s an overarching sense of autonomy and accountability to which each team member must adhere. We’ve set expectations for how things ought to happen – things that will be unpacked later in this article.

Every company has its own permutation of culture. If remote work is a part of it in any way, documenting and implementing a specific process for the team will lead to a better shared understanding.

Benefits of Remote Work

It’s 2019, and many companies are leaning into the idea that “butts in seats” doesn’t necessarily lead to better or more results. There are many articles out there – like this one  and this one – that dive deep into the benefits of remote work and prove that teams can accomplish great things even if they’re distributed across the world. The shift to a more global workforce has helped to familiarize the concept of remote work and make it more ubiquitous.

Some benefits of working remotely include:

  • Choosing an environment that may provide less distractions, and thus, a better output.
  • Working out of the office if you’re feeling under the weather but still able to produce work.
  • Setting your own timeframe of hours to work within that fit your peak productivity levels. This is especially helpful for people (like me!) who may be in a different timezone than other members of the team.
  • Feeling empowered as an employee to choose when and where to work best.
  • Finding space and time to be strategic and creative, which can often be difficult to carve out in a traditional office setting.
  • Creating your own workflow that suits your individual & team needs.
  • Carving out space for personal time, errands, and life events that will come up.
  • Holding yourself accountable for the tasks and priorities you’ve committed to.

The list goes on. In fact, the most beneficial thing about remote work, in my opinion, is that it highlights in the individual that traditional 9-5 office routines tend to overshadow.

Ensuring Production is Met

The question, “how can I know people are actually getting work done if they’re not in the office?” goes deeper than whether remote work is the right fit. It comes down to trust. For a remote work culture to flourish, it has to ladder up to the value that people can and will be trusted to get their work done.

This leads into hiring. Companies with a remote element to their workforce need to be focused on hiring and investing in the right people. Candidates who showcase self-starter personality traits often do well in remote work settings. Also, to state the obvious, those who’ve been freelancers or worked remotely at previous jobs have a higher likelihood to do well on a remote team.

We’ll get into more tips below, but one practice to ensure this is happening is to create frequent feedback loops between team members and leadership. At Crema, we use 15Five to capture highs, lows, and suggestions week over week. We rank our performance and sentiments using our values as a scale. The platform also allows us to track quarterly reviews for ourselves, our teammates, and our managers.

It’s safe to say that collaboration takes much more intentionality when team members are remote, but it’s worth it.

Tips for Collaborating Remotely

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but these are distinct tips I’d give any person who’s considering or presented with the option of working remotely.

  • Read about how other teams are doing it. As remote work became more of a routine for our team members, we set out to learn from groups that have done it for awhile (and done it well). Companies like Zapier, InVision, and Hanno have published their approach to remote work and made them available for the masses. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Read, try it out, and iterate.

  • Use the right tools for the job. This varies from company to company, but I’d venture to guess that Slack holds many teams together. For Crema, it is arguably the most crucial tool in our tool belt, especially when it comes to collaboration. Here are some of my key tips for Slack:
  • Set a status and update it frequently. It should be easy to tell if you’re available, in a meeting, heads down, out on a walk – whatever it may be.
  • Use reminders, mark messages unread, and manage your notifications. There are a lot of powerful features of Slack. Use them to your advantage!
  • Know when not to use it. As amazing as Slack can be, sometimes a phone call or video chat is necessary. Find those moments & talk to someone live instead.

  • Give and ask for feedback. This was mentioned above, but a powerful aspect of building a team of any sort is creating open feedback channels. Whether it’s tools like 15Five, regular 1:1s, quarterly reviews , or – for us – all of those things, ensure that everyone has an open and frequent opportunity to provide feedback on how things are going.

  • Keep lines of communication open. Similarly, encourage team members to openly communicate about the status of their work and what may be getting in the way. In many agile work environments, it’s common for things to be re-prioritized. It’s important to ensure that all members of the team – especially those are remote – have all the information. Even if a decision is made in the office during a lunchtime conversation, make sure that it’s communicated properly across all channels so everyone can be on the same page.

  • Be empathetic. It’s crucial when working on any team to be empathetic towards each member. After all, the whole point of remote work is to allow the individual to thrive. Look for queues on what someone may need or the conditions they’re under and offer up assistance or the chance to discuss it. Even if someone isn’t physically working in the same office, it’s still important to put yourself in their shoes to understand their perspective.

  • Build relationships. On the heels of the tip above, it may be a little more difficult to forge relationships with remote team members, but it’s certainly possible. Find times to get together as a team and talk about non-work things. Set up calls to check in with each other. Send pictures of your day or your vacation or your dog – things you would normally share if you were in the office. This takes intentionality, but the payoff is huge. At Crema, we’ve created semi-regular “Crema Bunch Lunches” where members of the team join a Zoom link to eat lunch together and chit chat about anything, really.

  • Experiment. Sometimes you may come up with a new idea or read something that could improve the team’s collaboration. Don’t hesitate to pitch these ideas and identify how long the experiment will be & what desired outcomes look like. At one point, we had a shared Zoom Room where people could join and work in a digital space at the same time.

  • Document a process. As organic as working together can be, it’s important to document the way things ought to be done so that everyone has the same expectations. If there are specific policies or even assumptions about how a team should be collaborating, make sure they’re documented and in a shared space for easy access.

  • Invest in tech. Many remote team members have meetings throughout the day, and if those are using any sort of audio/video output, it is critical that these function properly. If people can’t hear or see what’s going on in the room, you can bet that things will be missed. For example, we switched to tools like Miro that bridges the gap in many of our physical brainstorming meetings. We also brought in a Meeting Owl camera for all-company meetings. Invest in the tools and technology on both sides so that it’s not a distraction from the work at hand.

  • Go the extra mile. If you plan on being offline for vacation or because you’re under the weather, make sure that everyone on your team has exactly what they need from you. This is a no-brainer, but it can be easy to forget things if you’re out of the office environment. Build a checklist. Inquire with members of your team. Make sure you’re holding yourself accountable for your priorities.

Building a Culture that Supports Remote Work

It doesn’t happen overnight. Creating a work environment where the individuals and company thrives is an ongoing practice. At Crema, we’re invested in making sure that all employees – especially those like me who might be remote full-time – feel integrated and supported.

A lot of the tips mentioned above give some insights into how we’ve done this, but it’s important to note that it’s evolving every week. Whatever the change has been, it’s in an effort to create a culture that supports getting work done, whether that’s remote or not.

To sum it up, remote work has great benefits for both the employees and the company. It gives employees more freedom to work the way they work best. It also empowers them to be self-starters and take the initiative to drive projects forward themselves. Companies who invest in remote work and the culture surrounding that can expect to gets the same great work out of their people – and sometimes even better results. I’m here to say that effective collaboration is possible between remote workers with a certain degree or responsibility and intentionality.

Are you considering rolling a program like this out and aren’t sure how? Let us know! We’d love to chat about it. Stay on the lookout for more remote content coming out from us in the future – from collaborating with clients across time zones to continuing to hone our remote work processes.

Last updated
Nov 9, 2022

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