Switching to Remote Work Was Hard… And Yet the Best Thing That Could Have Happened to Our Company Culture!

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3 min

Written by: Tobias Günther

I wish I could say we’d had a plan. But we had stumbled blindly into remote work.

I decided to make the switch to remote work because our CTO — an incredibly smart and wonderful human being — wanted to move back to where he had grown up. With two young kids, he wanted them to be closer to their grandparents. Since I didn’t want to lose him, I reluctantly switched the organization to a remote work model.

But it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped it would be:

We missed sharing lunch together in the office.
We missed grabbing a beer after work.
We missed bumping into each other at the water cooler and chatting for a few moments.

I had no clue how to solve these problems. But over time, I started to understand a few things. One after the other, a few lightbulbs went on in my head.

Lightbulb #1: Remote is Not Just “Work Minus the Office”

Before making the switch, I had a pretty simplistic theory of how remote work would be:

remote = work — office

Pretty quickly, this equation turned out to be false. Building a great remote team wasn’t as easy as cancelling the lease on our offices. In fact, none of the challenges we faced were because we didn’t work from an office anymore.

A closer look revealed what we had to work on: communication, relationships, psychological safety… These topics concern any team — remotely or in the office. But a remote work environment puts them into focus much more clearly and urgently.

Lightbulb #2: It Takes Intention and Deliberate Effort

At least, the penny had dropped: I had realized that, to give this “remote work thing” a real chance of succeeding, I would have to make some changes.

I hadn’t yet developed a “grand plan” to solve all our problems… But I had a better understanding of what mattered.

I had realized that I needed to become more deliberate about culture and team building to make remote work… work.

As long as we had been in an office together, some kind of “okay” culture had emerged on its own. As a leader, I had been lucky to get away with just letting things happen…

But as soon as we had switched to remote work, nothing happened on its own! I had to become much more intentional if I didn’t want this to turn into a culture of disconnection, isolation, and a giant lack of community.

Lightbulb #3: Remote Work is a Gift

This third insight came much later. It was only in hindsight that I became aware of what remote work had done for me: for the first time in my career as an entrepreneur, I had really and seriously asked myself how I could build a great company culture. What I could do to build a strong, connected team. How I could build a workplace that would attract and retain the best people.

To be perfectly clear: I hadn’t asked myself these questions out of the blue. It wasn’t because I was so self-reflected or even clever… The switch to remote work had forced me to ask these questions.

This started an incredible journey for me. I thought to myself: “If I have to put time and effort into building culture anyways… then why not make it a great culture? Why not build something that’s way better than the average? A truly great workplace that allows the people in this company to thrive. One that acts as a magnet for fantastic new employees.”

To this day, I'm absolutely certain of one thing: we would never have arrived at such a great company culture if remote work hadn’t pushed us in the right direction.

That’s why, for me and my team, remote work has been a real gift.

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