Going the Distance: Making Remote Work Successful title image

Going the Distance: Making Remote Work Successful

It’s no secret that remote work has been #trending in the current employment landscape -- an enviable benefit offered by the most progressive of companies. But if this is indeed news to you, allow me to recap.

As of 2016, 43% of employees work remotely at least some portion of their time, and it’s safe to say that number continues to climb. Additionally, when it comes to recruiting, companies with a remote workforce have greater access to candidates with niche skill sets and specialized training. According to this report from Upwork, “52% of hiring managers cited talent shortages as the key driver to adopting a more flexible workforce.”

Since remote work isn’t likely going away anytime soon, it seems advantageous for businesses to have a distributed team.

I’m part of the approximately 35% of Rainforest that works remotely full-time. In this post, I’ll share what I believe makes remote work successful on a larger scale, what Rainforest does well for its remote workforce, and what other organizations who are interested in pursuing or improving their distributed workforce can do for their teams.

Communication Creates Stronger Teams

Communication and inclusion are baseline essentials for working with remotes. And I find the idea of a long-distance relationship to be a helpful analogy to explaining why.

To maintain a strong foundation in any relationship, working or otherwise, consistent and thoughtful communication is crucial. There are a plethora of tools available to encourage communication (even across varying time zones) in the workplace, but it’s important to opt for ones that your employees will actually enjoy using. At Rainforest, we love Slack for quick messages, shared interests, and witty banter, and prefer Zoom for video meetings and virtual interviews.

When electronic interactions just aren’t enough, there’s nothing like quality face time to help drive a long-distance relationship forward. We never go more than a few months without seeing each other. Rainforest hosts quarterly onsites, during which all of our remote workers travel to our San Francisco HQ for a week of collaboration and bonding. Onsites are a delicate balance of team building, strategy, and indulgence good, clean fun. And, while we haven’t yet perfected the science, we’ve created a formula that most seem to like.

If you have a partially, or even fully-distributed workforce, remember the importance of in person collaboration, and ensure everyone comes together in one place at least twice per year. Employee happiness will be positively impacted and there’s just no suitable substitute.

Inclusion is About More Than Just Occasional Get-Togethers

Communication and quality time are fundamentals, but adding a layer of intimacy (or inclusion) really takes a relationship to the next level. Here at Rainforest we strive to include our remote team in as many of our processes and activities as possible -- even when it’s challenging to do so.

Remote inclusion at Rainforest comes in many forms. During the interview process, every candidate participates in a panel interview consisting of both technical and behavioral-based questions, as well as questions around alignment to our company’s core values. The latter interview type is conducted by one of the members of our interview team (‘iSquad’). That interviewer is not on the same team as the candidate, and is often remote, which allows for more holistic, inclusive input for hiring.

Post-hire, we pair each new Rainforester with an existing employee to spend some one-on-one time, go for coffee, etc. Remote employees are able to both be new hire buddies as well as have them, so the division between onsite and remote employees is softened. Another opportunity for remote employees to get involved is through ‘xSquad’, our internal committee focused on all things related to company culture and employee experience. Employees are able to apply quarterly to join xSquad, and members of various teams, tenure, and work location are all included.

Sharing the Remote Experience with HQ Builds Empathy

Once remote work guidelines have been established and a foundation has been laid, it’s wise to request feedback regularly, from both remote and onsite employees, to make necessary adjustments in the structure.

To foster more meaningful insight into how we can improve the remote experience, Rainforest has biannual ‘remote weeks’, where HQ employees work remotely for a full week. This has helped employees gain a better understanding of the daily challenges (and perks!) of working remotely, promoted a sense of empathy, and given us the opportunity to iterate where needed.

Remote Work Means More Flexibility and More Productivity

While the quantitative statistics make a compelling case, there are also countless anecdotes of the benefits of remote work. I am myself a remote worker and here’s what I know to be true. As a military spouse, the option to telecommute full time is priceless. Military life requires that my family and I relocate every few years, often internationally, and with Rainforest I’m now afforded the opportunity to grow my career without switching jobs every time I have a change of address.

Aside from the potential to grow with the same company, remote work caters to my personality (an extroverted introvert) and lifestyle preferences like, more walking than driving, the ability to work out midday, or even gather my husband’s Amazon deliveries from the front porch (does he own stock?!) give my dogs a quick cuddle. I have ample, distraction-free quiet time to work on projects, a better ability to decide when and why I interact with others, and the choice to work in the comfort of either my own 100-year old home, a dive bar, or an airplane. In my experience, productivity is optimal when options are profuse. And remote work simply provides greater choice.

Making Remote Life a Reality for Your Team

Now that I’ve shared some of our best practices for remote relationship building & inclusion, and continuous improvement for remote work, it’s your turn to get started.

1. Create a Remote Work Policy

If your company is interested in offering a remote work option, a good starting point is to create a policy around it. Who is eligible to work remotely? What are the guidelines and expectations? How will team communication change? These are some questions you’ll want to address.

2. Invest in Communication Infrastructure

Once you’ve identified who will be working remotely, make sure you have the right tools in place to make it successful. Internal messaging platforms (Slack, Skype), and video-enabled meetings (Zoom, GoToMeeting) will foster natural collaboration and real-time communication.

3. Offer Lots of Opportunities for Interaction

Make a concerted effort to include remote employees in company activities and team offsites. Offering a dial-in option so remotes can participate, provide a small stipend for remotes to enhance their regular workspace, or plan a team offsite and pay for the remote(s) to attend.

4. Check In Frequently

Take regular pulse checks from all employees to see what’s working well and where there are areas for improvement. Designate scheduled weeks for onsite employees to work remotely, and encourage remotes and onsite employees alike to get a change of scenery in their workspace (coffee shop, library, coworking space), or travel to another city or country to spend time working alongside a remote.

5. Remember Why Your Remote Team Rocks!

Above all, and no matter what your remote setup, try to make a conscious effort to remember all the positives that remote workers bring to the table. Purposeful communication, diverse talent and varied culture, and unique perspectives all make for an interesting and rewarding long-distance relationship.

At Rainforest, we’re always open to new ideas. What is your company doing to include remote workers and focus on employee experience? Share in the comments below. And if you’re interested in joining our team, we have a number of remote roles open. Visit our careers page to learn more!


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