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In this post, GetThru's Founder & CEO Daniel Souweine talks about four key challenges of running a remote organization, along with some of the tactics we use to respond at GetThru.
CEO & Founder
Last year, I wrote about the joys of remote work and promised to follow up with reflections on some of its challenges. Those challenges have been especially pronounced during this past pandemic-year, so it seemed a good time to deliver on my promise. In this post, I’ll talk about four key challenges of running a remote organization, along with some of the tactics we use to respond at GetThru.
Challenge 1: Building Camaraderie
I’ll start with how remote work makes it harder to build camaraderie -- aka mutual trust and friendship -- because it is so central to building a positive, collaborative work culture. Simply put, it’s harder to build relationships with people you rarely see outside of a Zoom meeting. There are no impromptu lunches, happy hours, or coffee runs where teammates can organically bond. Nor can we be together when a colleague is having a hard time, celebrating a life event, or departing the organization. We're hardwired to be together in moments like those, and opportunities to build connections are lost when we can’t be.
It’s especially hard to celebrate accomplishments remotely. After the November 2020 election, I wanted nothing more than to gather our team over good food and drink to appreciate their hard work and celebrate the victories they helped make possible. Instead, I was left to express my heartfelt gratitude over Slack and Zoom, which just isn’t the same.
Challenge 2: Communication
Communication is hard in any organization, but it’s extra hard in a remote workplace where so much has to be written down. Between Slack, email, Google Docs, Jira, GitHub, Asana, and more, the volume of writing can be overwhelming, and it can be harder to communicate tone. Difficult conversations are also harder to have remotely. For many people, giving and receiving critical feedback is easier in person.
A standard knock against remote work is that it makes organized brainstorming sessions less productive, but I think the bigger loss is opportunities for impromptu creativity. Some of the most important insights come when you just happen to start talking to the right person at the right time about a new idea or insight.
But all meetings, whether planned or not, are harder in a remote setting. Zoom fatigue is real, which means each meeting “costs” more from an energy perspective. It’s also harder to be in a conversational flow over video -- internet issues crop up, people forget to unmute, etc. And there is no way to vary the setting by going out to lunch, walking and talking, or even switching up the conference room. Variety and movement are underrated tools for improving energy and creativity.
Lastly, having employees in different time zones creates communication challenges. Someone on the West Coast working closely with someone on the East Coast only have 5 working hours when they are online at the same time.
Challenge 3: Isolation / Disconnection
On the personal side, some people, especially extroverts, struggle with the amount of time spent alone in a remote office. It can be harder to get motivated without the energy of others to feed off of. Remote employees are also more on their own to deal with tech problems, which can be especially stressful if they have to meet hard deadlines.
From a collaboration perspective, working remotely means our day-to-day experiences are individual instead of shared. If the office internet goes out or its plumbing breaks, everyone experiences that together. But when that happens at one person’s house, they may be scrambling to solve the problem while keeping track of work and letting colleagues know what’s happening. The same goes for the weather. On any given day we might have one employee suffering through a heat wave while another is dealing with a flood warning.
Time zones are a factor here too. When one meeting participant is full of morning coffee and another is battling post-lunch malaise it can be harder to find the collaborative flow.
Challenge 4: Blurred Boundaries
A final major challenge of remote workplaces are their inherently blurred boundaries. If work is at home, then in some sense you are always at work. This can make it harder to put work down at the end of the day. And blurred boundaries are especially hard for parents with kids at home, which has been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic.
When I first started working remotely, it was like any new relationship -- my excitement about the good stuff drowned out any downsides. Five years later and with a team of 50 full time employees, I’ve come to better understand remote work’s unique challenges. For me, the pros vastly outweigh the cons, both personally and from the POV of running a progressive, sustainable company. But after 18 months of a pandemic that has strained all workplaces, remote or not, I’m looking forward to when everyone at GetThru can get together in person to talk about how much we love working remotely.
Do you have remote or WFH tips & tricks to share, or just have more questions about our approach to a remote workplace? Let's talk! You can find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or good old email. We'd love to hear from you.
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