Running a remote business comes with a different set of challenges to having a team who all work from the same office. Things that once made sense now don’t. Lines that were definite are now blurred. There’s a new set of expectations and myriad ways to operate.
The events of 2020 forced many companies to adopt remote work with zero training or guidance. It’s no surprise that feelings of burnout and a lack of work-life balance were at an all-time high. Not only that, but the definitions aren’t widely understood. Working remotely does not mean working from home. Truly location independent companies understand the nuances and are creating a structure that means business success and an enjoyable life for everyone involved.
Mitko Karshovski is the host of That Remote Life, a top 2% podcast covering the remote work revolution and the digital nomad lifestyle. Since 2018, his work has helped remote companies establish operations and culture from a remote-first perspective. After guiding hundreds of entrepreneurs looking to better run remote teams, Karshovski created a set of rules for effective remote work.
Karshovski believes following these 12 simple rules will mean you and your team are, “more productive, less anxious, and positioned to grow and thrive.”
1. Look for answers before you ask questions
Karshovski believes that all companies working remotely not only need to make good use of Google, but they also need to have “a handbook that keeps track of how things are done in the company.” Your manual, playbook or collection of SOPs. Whatever it’s called, it needs to exist.
He advised that, “before asking anyone in your team how to do something, check if the answer is in the company’s handbook.” If it takes more than five minutes to find the answer, that document needs to be improved.
2. Only solve problems you are qualified to solve
“The person that is closest to the problem is usually the one that is best suited to make decisions about that problem,” said Karshovski. They have the most information and are most likely to come up with the best solution. “Trust t hem to make the right call.”
You wouldn’t “ask managers how to solve a coding issue” or a developer how to solve a marketing issue and Karshovski agrees this “will likely end in disaster.” But, similarly, avoid weighing in on decisions you aren’t best placed to make, because this overcomplicates and creates unnecessary lines of enquiry.
3. Create physical and mental boundaries
Avoid burnout by creating “a sacred work space both digitally and physically.” Karshovski advised you don’t work where you relax. Instead, “Go to a coworking space, find a coffee shop you love, or even try working from a local museum. You’d be surprised how good the internet speed is at museums.”
If you use the same computer for work and fun, use different profiles and accounts so you keep work and home separate. Karshovski uses Notion to create dedicated spaces for work and life.
4. Identify and share your weaknesses
Karshovski encourages his clients to, “share their weakness with the team.” This doesn’t “make you a bad worker,” he said. Instead, it will make it easier for them to know where you might need support and how they can help. “No one is perfect, we all struggle with something.”
Your team exists to cover your weaknesses, and you theirs. Accepting that you each have downfalls focuses your mind on the solution; on solving the puzzle of how everyone’s strengths are best utilized.
5. Maximize your non work time
If you work largely asynchronously or have the ability to get your work done without a time overlap with the rest of your team, make the most of it. “This allows you to work around your life, rather than the opposite,” which means you can rethink your time. Use this to “do epic stuff,” said Karshovski. There’s no excuse.
Get your work done to a high standard and use every other second to “travel the world, take on side projects or experiment with a new hobby.” Karshovski said having fun remote working is the whole point.
6. Create and stick to a routine
As a wise man once said, discipline equals freedom. Routine doesn’t stifle creativity; it allows for it. Karshovski guides his clients to, “create boundaries for your work so it doesn’t blur into the rest of your life, and vice versa.” He knows that in the long run, “your family, coworkers and mental health will thank you for it.”
Your default day could be exactly the same, as long as the structure works for you. Perhaps you do deep work in the morning, exercise and eat in the middle of the day, then do manager work and smaller tasks in the afternoon before exploring a new city in the evening. Whatever works for you, just make sure it’s intentional.
7. Only your results count
The golden rule of remote work, according to Karshovski. “How you get work done doesn't matter as long as you deliver.” Duration, effort and input doesn’t matter, it’s the results that count. But while you can only be judged on your results, if they’re not up to scratch, your methods will be questioned.
“If you’ve found a way to get something done in less time while meeting expectations, more power to you,” he said. “But if you’ve found a way to do get things done faster, cheaper, or more efficiently, it’s your responsibility to show the rest of your team so they all benefit.”
8. Invest in your hardware
If you aren’t seeing people face to face, how you appear on a screen matters, so Karshovski wants you to “invest in a good microphone and webcam.” For less than $100 your video can, “look and sound as good as your local TV anchor,” an investment that you should absolutely make.
Karshovski compares this to office work, where you wouldn’t, “turn up wearing a stained shirt and dirty sweatpants.” For working remotely, don’t show up for a video call sounding like you’re in a hurricane.
9. Plan for no response
Being left hanging isn’t ideal in a work situation, and with a remote team it’s inevitable as you all clock off at different times. Karshovski advised you “always add a ‘dead man's switch’ for decisions.” This means you let people know what action you will take if they don’t respond.
For example, “let them know which option you will go with if they don’t answer in a certain number of hours,” but give them plenty of time. No one wants to work in a place that forces urgency and hurried decisions, so aim to overcome blockers to action without enforcing them on others.
10. Improve your written communication
Without face-to-face interactions happening (unless they are planned), written communication becomes even more important. Karshovski said you should take extra care to improve your emails and messages.
Ask, “Is your question clear? Did you make any silly spelling mistakes? Did you include answers to any obvious follow up questions?” Finally, did you signal the best solution or the next steps, or is the way forward ambiguous? Karshovski believes “your team will appreciate the extra effort.”
11. Assume positive intent
“Communicating through text can sometimes make things sound sharper than they were intended,” said Karshovski. “So always assume that messages are positive.” As the writer of messages, remember text will be inferred in the worst way possible, so read it as such when you proofread and adjust.
Karshovski knows that emojis are your friend. “They may be silly, but they are a great way of making sure that a message that may come across as sassy is received in the positive way that it was meant to.”
12. Overcommunicate your availability
Working remotely puts you on a different schedule to your team and your availability is likely not to overlap very much. Karshovski says overcommunicate your availability to avoid issues. “Make it clear when you won't be at your computer,” which he said avoids the team, “assuming you're available and waiting on your response.”
Similarly, respect the stated availability and working patterns of your team members.” Overcommunicate to find a cadence that works well. If you absolutely need crossover time with certain members, agree on this together.
Follow the 12 commandments of remote work to communicate effectively, do your work to a high standard and enjoy your life when you’re not working. Edit these rules to suit your workplace and share them somewhere everyone can see.
Image Credit: Getty Images
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