Although everyone has had a taste of remote work, we’re still learning about the challenges that come with it, and how to get it right. Codility and OfferZen collectively surveyed over 2300 engineers globally on how they feel about remote work and recently released reports on their findings.
In this discussion, Rachel Whitehead, VP of Marketing at Codility, and Stephen van der Heijden, VP of Growth at OfferZen, unpack some of the insights from the reports, and discuss what they’ve seen it takes for tech companies to win at remote work.
The takeaway points discussed below are:
- Define what remote work looks like in your context to build sustainable systems
- Be flexible – not everyone has the same options or preferences when it comes to remote setups
- See remote work as brand new, and not something to which you can apply old ways of work
- Shift to a more trust-driven culture
- Be open to iteration – remote work is new and hard for everyone
Clearly define what remote work looks like at your company
First and foremost, remote work requires companies to actually define it for themselves. ‘Remote’ means different things for different people: For some, it might be one day a week. For others, it might mean people can do what they want, when they want – every situation will be different. Understanding what your setup is and how your team functions is the first step to building out processes that work for you in this new work environment.
That’s why companies need to take the time to define what remote work really means on a practical, day-to-day basis.
From the insights in their respective reports, Rachel and Stephen have seen that when companies don’t dedicate time to integrate remote work into their specific contexts, they struggle to make any sustainable progress in building a remote-first culture. Stephen explains:
“As a tech company, you’ve got to be decisive and say, ‘Look, this is how we see the world right now, this is what we’re testing, and you’re going to be a part of that test. You’ve got to explain to someone, ‘This is our stance’ — and, if you don’t have a stance by now, get one quickly.”
Have personalised and flexible remote work options
Although both reports showed that more than 90% of engineers would choose a job with remote work benefits, Stephen and Rachel both say that companies cannot exclude the other percentage of engineers for whom remote work is difficult or less favourable.
“For us to build teams”, Stephen explains, “we need to collaborate with everybody in our company.” In other words, tech companies need to see remote work as dynamic, and something that can be customised to suit individuals
For instance, Codility found a difference between what Millennial and Gen Z software makers want from remote work. From their report: “The older the engineer, the more likely they are to work remotely full-time and the more likely they are to want flexible working arrangements.” This is tied to a person’s home environment, as well as their concerns over privacy and security around using tools and accessing servers externally from their homes.
Companies who are doing this well are following a very simple approach: “They’re just talking to employees to start with”, Rachel says.
“Companies need to understand that it isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of situation. The first thing they should be doing… is talking to their employees and understanding how they feel about the situation. It’ll depend not just on their generation, but on their personal home setups too.”
However, this doesn’t mean that this approach is easy. In fact, Stephen says that the companies he is seeing take a more personalised approach to remote work are also re-evaluating how they collaborate as teams. “As we figure this stuff out”, he says, “and we start to become more personalised, we also have to be less organised. Then we start to question the nature of synchronous meetings, and I think the real thing that’s going to change is how we collaborate.”
Redefine your ways of work and collaboration
Remote work fundamentally impacts team setups and communication: “Being remote requires discipline”, Stephen says. “For me to even just have a coffee with someone, I need to set time aside. I need to do all these things just to reap the benefits of what I used to get by walking down a corridor.”
This means that, in most cases, shifting to remote work is not just tweaking old processes. In the software communities with which Rachel and Stephen engage, tech companies who are succeeding at remote work are treating it as a completely new thing. Stephen explains:
“The companies that are winning the most are the ones that are taking it insanely seriously… that have dedicated their CEO’s time to figure this thing out… and that have understood that this does not require just an alteration of the way we used to do things, but a complete rethink.”
Being open to these changes, and seeing it as an opportunity to find new — and potentially better — ways of doing things is key to making remote work work for you. Part of that is also understanding what remote means, and how it looks at your company.
Shift to a greater trust-driven culture
Another area of remote work that Codility and OfferZen’s reports looked into is the role that trust plays in how well remote teams operate. “Having accepted the fact that things are different, and that our delivery and methods need to change,” Rachel says, “I think what it comes down to at its core is that managers need to trust their employees. If we look at it from a base level, it’s a lot about trust.”
From OfferZen’s report, the amount of trust managers build in their teams seems to have a significant impact on how developers experience remote work: “From our report”, Stephen says, “of the interactions with direct managers… 40% of that was positive.” The specific responses highlighted managers being more available, as well as having more productive meetings with managers.
However, for the 10% of developers who said remote work negatively impacted their manager relationships, the responses highlighted micromanagement as one of the main reasons why. In other words, where there’s little-to-no-trust between managers and developers, Stephen is seeing that companies tend to micromanage their teams more, and thus impact how productive their developers could be in a remote environment.
Companies winning at building trust in remote teams are working on vulnerability, and to being honest and transparent about remote work as a whole. From the companies and teams Rachel works with, she says that trust starts with being vulnerable as a leader:
“If you’re a manager right now, and you’re struggling with trust, I would start off by just being really honest with your team. Talk about the things that aren’t working, and say ‘Let’s figure it out together’.”
Don’t define the future so strictly
Both reports showed that remote work is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ system. It’s a huge deal, that requires — as Stephen says — “an insane amount of effort.” Rachel says that companies winning at remote are holding this as a guiding principle, and are staying as agile as they can: “We have to be iterative with such a big change like this.”
Based on what they see from their communities, Rachel and Stephen say that a short-term approach to remote work is fine provided that you maintain trust by staying transparent, communicative and honest with your teams. “Personally”, Rachel says, “I think it’s okay to work on a six-month roadmap and to say, ‘Look, from now until the end of the year, this is what it’s going to be… and then review it again as a team.”
“There’s no need to say it’s everything or nothing today. It’s okay to have a little bit of fluidity there.”
These are five ways companies who are winning at remote work are getting it right, based on what Stephen and Rachel have learned from their reports.
If you want to win at remote work, start by downloading Codility’s and OfferZen’s remote work reports, and use these insights as conversation starters in your own teams for what remote work means and looks like for you. And, if you’d like to, reach out to Rachel and Stephen on LinkedIn and ask them any questions about the above insights!