Remote Culture Tips From a Distributed Team

We're all remote workers today. There has been a ton of amazing information published by some of the leading remote companies about how to work remotely, but we haven't seen much that talks about what kind of company culture is necessary for remote work to thrive.

Having done this for 8 years, I can confidently say the 'soft stuff' is as important as tooling and process. To that end, I asked our team (over Slack, naturally) to share their tips on how to thrive as a remote worker. Their collective wisdom is worth listening to - some of these tips come from people who have been working remotely for decades. We hope there's something here that can improve your experience of working remotely.

Trust

To me one of the most helpful aspects was trust by default at Rainforest, which removes one very big variable from the equation - Bartek

"But how will I know what they're doing if they are working from home?" This logic is surprisingly (and in 2020, tragically) common. Let me state this plainly: if your primary concern is whether your team are working or not, remote is the least of your issues. Fix those first and then come back and read this :).

Some things we have found that work well:

  • measure outputs, not inputs
  • make "assume good intent" one of your cultural norms
  • model the behavior you want to see: leaders should take days off, work at whatever times make sense to them, and be performatively recreational rather than performatively work-addicted

Home Office Setup

Items:

I think one of the the biggest things is having a professional setup like you would in an office - i.e. don't just work from the laptop, have a real office chair. These things really make a big difference in the overall perception of WFH and staying focused/comfortable. - Josef
Get a comfortable chair / office setup. - Dave
I went for full portability without regrets, because my office can be the same wherever I work from: macbook on a roost stand + keyboard and trackpad - Jan
When you work remotely, you'll be communicating with your coworkers through video-conferencing a lot. Turn your camera on and ask your coworker(s) to turn theirs on as well, make sure lighting is good so they can see you clearly. Being able to see your coworkers helps to build your relationship and avoids misunderstanding - Derek

It seems clear that remote will change for a temporary phase to a fact of life for many of us over the coming years. Investing in a proper 'home office' setup is key, even if like Jay your setup isn't linked to a particular room or location.


Location:

Don't have your office in your bedroom if at all possible - Dave
Have light in your office! If there's a window, great - if not, turn on the lights - don't work in a cave.  I did this for a while and I honestly think it depressed me - Dave
My wife and I both work from home, and having separate offices (mine is in the basement - go figure) has been crucial to my productivity and our marriage! - Dave

Schedule

Routine:

I've always treated WFH like a real job. Get up at the same time every day, shower, put on real clothes, start at the same time, end at the same time (I set an alarm to make sure). That way it's all just a routine, no thinking involved. Has kept me sane the past 10 years and kept the job from interfering with life too. - Jay
I take a 45-60m break to eat and chill with my fiancéin the middle of the day; plus we normally make coffee together; then dinner at ~7; the shared routine is nice. - Russ
Take a shower / get dressed / make yourself presentable - Dave
have a workday closeout routine at EOD: I write 3 things I want to complete/make progress on to make the next day successful and spend a minutes jotting down what I learned + someone I'm thankful for - James
one thing that really keeps me sane and full of energy is working out midday when I can. It breaks up the day nicely so no day feels too long. - Sabrina
I mark my days with 3 walks: 1 before I start working; 1 around lunch and 1 after i'm done working so there's some sense of schedule at home. Varying length of time, sometimes it's simply standing on my front door and stretching for 20 minutes pondering really hard problems in front of us. - James

Flexibility:

I decided to track my time with toggl to keep healthy limits. Sometimes when I find myself fed up or just tired the toggl report makes it clear why. And I literally hated timetracking software in the past, until it became optional! - Jan
Don't feel guilty for peppering in home items - running an errand, doing the laundry - Dave
Allow yourself to take breaks!  Take advantage of working from home - you don't have to be 9 - 5.  Get your work done and realize others are needing your input, but enjoy the flexibility. - Dave
I've worked from home for over 7 years and one of the reasons I can't go back to an office job is because I enjoy savoring my morning coffee so much. I'm massively grateful not to feel rushed. So enjoy the little things you couldn't do if you were hustling to the office, like savoring your coffee, making a proper meal, doing something nice for your partner, taking your dog for a longer walk. - Sabrina

Staying Sane and Social

Friends:

Regularly schedule outside meetings with friends for lunch / coffee - Jan
build a network of likeminded people that you can talk to face to face or just hang out with while working - I usually go for breakfasts and/or coworking time in a cafe with fellow devs ( + others from our area) - Jan
Also talk / zoom with people - Dave
I like to meet and talk fact-to-face with non-devs. Just to switch my mind a little bit. - Roman

Location:

Finding a good strategy to walk away when you're stuck is difficult but I think essential. In an office it's really easy to just turn to someone and have a chat, or get up and get a drink, or what have you. I find I can just get bogged down and spend 3 hours slamming into a wall over something because there's no distractions - Lita
Do not sit and stare into the screen if you can’t solve something. Go outside, change locations, esp when lacking flow/motivation - Dave

Conclusion

It takes work to thrive remotely. At its crux, this is about finding balance and discipline within the freedom of remote.