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Remote Work - How to get started

Remote Work - How to get started

There are a lot of assumptions we have about how to do good collective work that are actually wrong and counter intuitive.

We’re going to unlearn those & talk about newer healthier axioms on top of which we can build remote workplaces that people are happy & productive in.


Timi Ajiboye

April 28, 2020


  1. Remote Work How to get started by Timi Ajiboye

  2. Let’s talk about *regular* work first

  3. What is wrong with work today? •Micromanaging. •The myth that

    quality work only happens in long, forced stretches of time. •It is (mostly) Synchronous Work.
  4. Micromanaging It can get easy to fall into a habit

    of micromanaging teammates that you manage. But it’s a bad idea: • It inspires bare minimum work. Eventually, most teammates will evolve into doing enough to get a manager off their back. • It is an inefficient waste of time. There are likely other more productive ways for a manager to spend their time.
  5. The myth that quality work only happens in long, forced

    stretches of time. • Nobody does this. No matter how it may appear, no teammate is working 100% of the time they’re at their desk. They’re on WhatsApp for Web. • People need breaks to actually work better. Attempting to force work can be frustrating. This can lead to slower and/or lower quality productivity. • It doesn’t matter when people work. I do my best work at night and sleep through out the morning.
  6. Synchronous Work In synchronous work: Whenever teammate A initiates interaction

    with teammate B, neither will move on until a response is given to A. It can be anything from asking a question (in person or on Slack) to dragging them into a “quick meeting”. • Synchronous work is always interruptive. You always have to stop what you’re currently doing, even if it’s just for a minute. • It wastes more time than the interaction takes. Context switching isn’t easy or fast. One does not resume work (after an interruption) immediately they’re back at their computer.
  7. How do we fix these? •Trust •Communication. •Asynchronous work.

  8. Trust is the most important element of all collaborative work

  9. Trust (as a manager) Hire people who want to work.

    There are many opportunities to detect where a teammate you manage actually desires to do work. If you have to badger them to work, then it’s not a good fit. You can’t trust them to work. You also have to do your best to create an environment they’ll want to work in (thereby building their trust in you). • No who actually wants to do their job likes being micromanaged. • No one likes being forced to work more than the hours they agreed to per their contract. • No one wants a manager they can't communicate honestly and open with about anything from reasonable delays to struggling (mentally) & needing a break.
  10. Trust (as an employee/teammate) As an employee*: • You should

    actually want to get work done. For whatever reason: money, passion, both. If you need someone to badger you, then you don’t want to get work done and can’t be trusted to do so. • If your teammates/manager do not display the core attributes* that signal that they are trust worthy, it won’t be a good fit - you cannot do healthy, efficient work in that relationship.
  11. What are the attributes that signal trust? • Ability -

    skill, willingness to do the work, be it as a manager or an employee. This is relatively easy to measure/detect. The teammate consistently does the work required. • Communication - Proactive, thorough (but not disruptive) communication. It is really important to do this for as many things as possible. • There's going to be a delay with report you planned to finish on x day, communicate it. Explain why, before you’re asked. • You think it'll take 5 weeks, instead of 3. Communicate, the instant you feel that way. • As a manager, explaining decisions & expectations is always necessary. Employees should be trusted to understand requirements beyond "She just wants me to do it”.
  12. Asynchronous Work In asynchronous work: Whenever teammate A initiates interaction

    with teammate B, it does not disrupt B’s work. B can ingest and respond to that interaction whenever they’re free to. Whenever B responds, it does not disrupt A’s work…and so on. Async. Work is the product of: • Trust - You trust that your teammate/manager wants to work. You trust their ability to work. As such, you know that they’ll get to what you want them to when they can, you can move on to other things with peace of mind. • Communication - You have been as detailed as possible with your communication. That way, you know that your teammate will have as much information as they need to proceed (at least to some extent). Your teammate should trust your ability to communicate in this manner.
  13. (Good) Remote Work = Async Work (trust, non disruptive comms,

    ability) + Technology (internet software)
  14. Remote Work & Technology It doesn’t really matter which of

    the many, many tools you use to manage remote work. Use whatever (combination of tools) you want to manage tasks. However, it’s important to be very careful. Some tools, in their default state, can actually be counterproductive in the quest to do good remote (async) work.
  15. Instant Messaging is (mostly) bad • If you’re working in

    a role like support, where you need to respond as fast as possible to user issues, this doesn’t apply. • Tools like Slack, by design, encourage interruptive, synchronous “instant” communication. While they can be used to do remote work, there’ll likely be a lot of wasted time context switching. You answer a question quickly and have to reorient your brain to focus on your current task (until the next message comes in).
  16. Instant Messaging is (mostly) bad • Instant Messaging is often

    not sticky. It’s often difficult to find a specific message at a later time (thereby increasing pressure to deal with it immediately it gets in). • Instant Messaging does not encourage very detailed, thorough written communication. The UX of instant messaging often does not cater for well written posts that give context and guidance for when you’re not present to explain. There are occasions where instant messaging is useful, such as emergencies but it’s better to use it as sparingly as possible.
  17. What is the alternative to Instant Messaging? Tools like Notion

    & Basecamp are great for avoiding disruptive communication. • Both are designed for well thought out, detailed written communication. Be it a post on a message board or a task you’re assigning to a teammate, you’re always greeted with the UX to write and format your text to your heart’s content. • They’re also designed for sticky communication. You can easily find what was written or assigned to you because it’s saved in a logical “project” or “folder” that pertains to that subject matter.
  18. Notifications are (mostly) bad • For the same reasons instant

    messaging is bad. They’re disruptive and will distract from what’s currently being worked on. • Most of the time, it is much better to “pull” information when you’re ready to. As opposed to it being “pushed” to via an instant notification that takes your attention away from your work. Most tools have granular notification settings (that are unfortunately enabled by default) but it is better to get less notifications. As long as your teammates communicate properly and can trust that you’ll eventually get to it. All is well. Turn off as many notifications as you can…yes, including email.
  19. That (Zoom) meeting is a waste of time • Meetings

    are the Thanos of Synchronous Work. They’re interruptive and more often than not, aren’t necessary. • Most meetings can be supplanted well written communication and asynchronous responses. • More often than not, meetings still need to be transcribed into writing anyway so as to be able to refer to what was said at a later time. It’s mostly better to forgo the meeting itself and just write.
  20. • Some meetings are necessary, it is sometimes useful to

    get members of the team talking. However, one should strive to keep these at a minimum. • If meetings must be held, then they should be scheduled at a time that’s sure to not disrupt the work a teammate is trying to do. • At BuyCoins, everybody sets out time on their calendar that they’re able to meet. No meetings are booked outside of this “office hours” window.
  21. My favourite tools • Basecamp: This is built with asynchronous,

    healthy remote work as the priority. Basecamp deprioritizes instant, synchronous communication and pushes users towards adding detailed tasks & writing detailed posts. • Notion: Notion has more tools to format detailed written communication (Basecamp doesn’t have tables for example). A lot of the time, we write things in Notion and then post on Basecamp so that teammates can easily find them when they’re looking at the activity that concerns them.
  22. A Note about Remote Work in Nigeria Nigeria is not

    exactly flowing with reliable access to internet and power. However, this is actually a case for more asynchronous remote work: • Commuting in Nigeria, especially Lagos, can be hell. Those are potentially productive hours that we never get back and the entire experience really affects the mental capability and eagerness to do good work. Eliminating commuting as much as possible is good. • Given *some* reasonable amount of access to power and internet, asynchronous work is perfect. Teammates work when they can, there’s less pressure to do things when Swift is being annoying. You can just finish up when it’s back up and running. It’s no problem, your team trusts that you want to and will work.
  23. Extra resources • Remote: A book by Jason Fried and

    David Heinemeier Hansson. They’re the founders of Basecamp. • It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work: Another book by the same authors. • Shape Up: Another book by people at Basecamp including DHH and JF. Of course, you don’t have to take every doctrine from their books and apply them exactly to your company. It’s just useful to understand some of the axioms they posit.