Question: how do you treat a broken bone?
Answer: certainly NOT by putting a band-aid on it.
Still, this is how many teams try to treat their remote work problems.
They introduce a better chat tool.
They buy standing desks for everyone’s home office.
They start running virtual game nights.
But none of these things fix their problems.
So… is it remote work’s fault? Is it an utterly broken way of working that you cannot get to work, no matter what?!?
Countless successful (and happy) teams around the world prove otherwise.
Which is why we have to ask a different question and find out what the real problem is.
It’s true that many teams face challenges when they switch to remote work:
These are classic problems you hear from teams that are new to remote work.
But here’s the thing: all of these could be happening to co-located teams, too.
Unclear communication and lack of community, to take just two examples, aren’t exclusive to remote teams.
What’s happening here is that remote work acts as a fire accelerant: it reveals and enlarges an organization’s existing weak spots. Often in painful ways.
Here’s a helpful rule of thumb:
Adopting remote work — and making it work — is 20% about remote-specific issues and 80% about building a great culture.
That’s because many problems that smell like “remote work” problems are in fact cultural challenges.
Take a look at that list of challenges from above once more: unclear communication, too many meetings, or a lack of community… all of these are really cultural issues — not remote work issues!
I know it may sound like bad news; that we have to put more time and energy into team building and culture… Founders and leaders already have enough on their todo lists.
But when I think back on my own journey, I can’t help but see it as an advantage. Going remote had forced me to become deliberate and intentional about building a better team. I’m sure I wouldn’t have dedicated as much time and energy to this topic otherwise.
And, as a consequence, I wouldn’t have reaped the benefits of this work: a team that’s much more resilient and healthy, but also more productive and effective! These things go hand in hand.
It’s true: building an effective remote work setup takes work. It’s not just “work minus the office.” And it’s not as easy as introducing a better chat tool.
It asks founders and leaders to dig deeper; to become intentional about building healthy and connected teams.
But if you get this right, you have not only built a productive remote work environment — but also a stronger company.