10 remote work patterns that could make us counter-productive.
Design patterns are intriguing, but perhaps anti-patterns are even more intriguing. Put simply, design patterns are good practices to solve common problems while anti-patterns are the exact opposite and undesirable.
For example, it is good practice to break classes and functions into smaller units with clearly-defined and singular responsibility. As opposed to this is the anti-pattern where a single class has lots of dependencies, responsibilities and grows beyond all logic to become the class that does everything - God Class.
Anti-patterns provide a healthy dose of self-criticism and help detect unproductive behaviour or processes. This got me thinking about a similar approach for remote work - finding patterns that are counter-productive.
This post is about 10 such remote work anti-patterns.
1. Remote is your standard work-life on video
The biggest mistake would be to assume that working remotely is going to be the same as in-office except for the cameras. It is important to understand that it requires conscious efforts on rethinking communication & documentation, building trust & social interaction among other things when building a distributed team.
2. The shift to remote is a 0 to 1 switch
Buffer came up with ''The Remote Working Scale' which categorises the way a company could approach remote working. So, the shift to remote is ideally not a 0 to 1 switch and has many intermediate levels that could be implemented.
The important point, however, is to build a truly remote-first culture rather than just being remote-friendly even at the intermediate levels.
There can't be a better example to demonstrate this anti-pattern than the sudden remoteness situation due to COVID-19. Individuals and companies have been able to 'work from home', but are still finding their way to operate efficiently as a remote team. Companies like Facebook, TCS, etc. who had announced their plans of going remote are also doing so only gradually.
3. Hybrid Meetings
When one person is remote for a meeting, everyone else should be too. For example, when a team takes a call from one room and just one member dials-in, a comedy of errors entails. All that the person on the other end hears would be noise, echo and side conversations.
4. Every interaction is a formal meeting
When you are in-office, communication doesn't just happen in the form of scheduled meetings. Most of it in fact tends to be impromptu and informal - water cooler chats, spontaneous decision to grab food or a chance meeting in the hallway. These aspects are super critical to forming a supportive team.
This isn't happening in a remote setting unless you are intentional about it. If all the communication in your remote team happens only in the form of pre-arranged meetings, there's no chance of team bonding and getting to know each other.
Something as simple as having a text chat group or dedicated Slack channels can help break this anti-pattern.
5. Out of sight, out of mind
In a remote setting, it's easy to assume everything's ok when you don't see or meet your coworkers. However, mental health challenges accompanying remote work are for real and we should openly acknowledge them.
It could be as simple as someone feeling low on a particular day or having problems with depression, anxiety, or stress. It is important to support your co-workers in such situations and your company's culture should reflect concrete steps that support mental wellbeing.
6. Wrong notion of time
When you are in-office, you usually adhere to a common 9-to-6 schedule or the likewise. In a remote setting, even if you are in the same timezone, enforcing such a schedule is almost impossible and highly inefficient. A more practical approach is to align on overlapping time blocks throughout the day for which all of your teammates are available.
Another common fallacy is that remote meetings usually take longer than in-office meetings. If this is indeed happening in your team, the solution isn't to extend the recommended hours for remote meetings but to find and fix the underlying inefficiency.
7. Big Brother
This tweet explains the extent of craziness. The person's boss installed spyware on their computers to track "productivity" via keystrokes and mouse movement. If the productivity falls below 80%, they get penalized.
Of course you may never opt for such extreme measures but any kind of micro-management usually is a recipe for failure in a remote setting. You should trust that your employees do good work and instead focus on being output-driven.
8. I don't have a plan B
Almost every situation in a remote context should have a fallback.
What do you do when your Wifi suddenly stops working in the midst of a meeting? Have a backup hotspot connection ready.
What if Zoom fails during your regular standup? Have an alternative in the form of a phone conference or hangouts.
It's important to test and have the backup options ready beforehand. You shouldn't be thinking of the backup when things fall apart.
9. Assuming everyone's prepared for the meeting
When someone is not prepared for a meeting, it can be quite problematic for the others in it. This is of course not specific to a remote setting but the problem gets compounded due to added complications in a virtual world (video conferencing system, audio issues, internet bandwidth, etc.).
It's often a good practice to allow all participants to go through the agenda or the deck in the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting. Simple yet effective.
10. Lack of Netiquettes
It's a no-brainer but things like not interrupting, muting yourself when not speaking, and ensuring a quiet environment for a meeting are often taken for granted. Matt Mullenweg, Co-founder of WordPress & Automattic, has an interesting opinion on muting though - he says it is very unnatural for anyone to speak to a muted room. So, as much as possible, one should ensure a quiet surrounding for calls and mute only for breaks (e.g. drinking water).