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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to make remote work your long-term strategy

With clear communication structures and consistent goal-setting (and achieving), fully remote companies can thrive in crisis and continue to thrive after the crisis subsides.

How to make remote work your long-term strategy
[fizkes / Adobe Stock]

My company was operating as a remote business long before the start of the pandemic. I made the decision early on in my role as CEO to keep the company remote so that we could reduce costs, operate with greater flexibility, and reap the personal benefits of a remote work lifestyle—closer to family, the comfort of home, no commute, etc. Remote work has been hugely beneficial to my team, and we have been able to cultivate a wonderful workplace community and environment despite the fact that we live in different states across the country.

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Many companies adopted a remote work model as a temporary solution to the problem of COVID-19. They sent employees home for months, more than a year for many, and created new work structures so that employees could perform their jobs from home.

For most businesses, it was only meant to be a temporary fix and not part of a permanent plan. But with the latest surge of the coronavirus and the development of newer, more aggressive variants, people are reconsidering their long-term response.

It makes sense: we don’t know when, or if, the coronavirus pandemic will subside or how we will adjust. This is one reason companies are considering adopting remote work as a long-term strategy. In part, it’s a solution to the unpredictability that the pandemic has caused, and another part of this decision may be motivated by the functionality and cost-effectiveness that remote work has brought to the workplace environment.

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Over the last decade (plus a few years) of leading a remote company, I’ve learned that there are a few critical factors necessary to achieve success. Here’s how to create a long-term remote work strategy and make it work.

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND CONSISTENTLY

I’ve found the biggest hindrance to productivity and effectiveness in a remote work environment is a lack of communication. Instead of the ease of office communication—remember when you could just walk up to someone’s desk?—remote work requires multiple chains of communication. We talk with colleagues through email, messaging systems, phone or video calls, and even on project management platforms. These many moving pieces can complicate communication and cause confusion, making employees feel unsure of job expectations or uncertain about how to complete tasks.

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That’s why it’s essential to create clear processes for communication, project management, and client interactions. If you’re working in a remote workplace, set standards for communication. Determine what merits a message, an email, or a video call and ensure that managers lead by example.

It is very important to help employees define the line between personal time and work time, especially when workplace messaging systems can cause a constant stream of notifications. Encourage employees to schedule emails or Slack messages if they are working unusual hours and want to message another team member who may otherwise be off at that time. This helps support the flexibility of remote work while also showing employees that they’re not expected to work every hour of the day and night.

Similarly, communicating workplace processes clearly can support the healthy function of a team. Determine the best format to send work documents (perhaps via email or project management software), the best way to ask questions about a task, and so on.

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SET GOALS AND TRACK PROGRESS

In addition to setting company-wide goals, help team members set personalized, professional goals—big and small—so that they know if they are on track. Build a consistent structure into the schedule where managers can help employees set and track goals. This also creates a built-in structure where managers can measure and celebrate the successes of their employees, which can create a positive work environment and help employees feel engaged.

The narrative around remote work is shifting. It’s no longer a temporary solution, and leaders are weighing the benefits of a long-term remote schedule as they consider how to move forward. In 2022, we will see more companies adopt remote and hybrid strategies—perhaps more, even, than in 2021—and these strategies will be comprehensive, thoughtful, and structured.

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Here’s my best advice as the leader of a longtime-remote company: know that you will need to evaluate and re-evaluate your processes and goals. Remote work is still a relatively new concept, and we are still learning. You will find strategies and technologies that work to support your company, and then, as your company grows, you will need to adjust them. With clear communication structures and consistent goal-setting (and achieving), fully remote companies can thrive in crisis and continue to thrive after the crisis subsides.


Shama is the CEO of Zen Media, a B2B PR and marketing firm for technology-driven B2B brands, a best-selling author, & a keynote speaker.  

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