Finding the Remote

It’s 6:23am, the house is quiet, kids are asleep, and I am walking barefoot downstairs to make coffee. With a fresh cup in my hand, I head to my patio and crack open the laptop. 

I am the CEO of CG Cookie, an online training platform that helps digital artists become successful in the video game industry. With the opening of my laptop, I’ve just entered the office. 

Typical reactions I get are, “Wow, must be nice!” or “Pff, hippie...get a real job and put on some shoes.”

In fact, remote is hard.

With 10+ employees scattered in different cities and countries around this pale blue dot, remote work comes with a unique set of challenges. Sure, we don’t have to worry about workplace romance springing up, but instead, we deal with virtual (mis)communication, shuffling different time zones, and the risk of forgetting that our closest co-workers are, in fact, also human.

After 10 years of running CG Cookie, do we have remote work all figure out? The answer is a resolute no. But we’ve learned a few crucial lessons on navigating the murky waters of remote.

Lesson #1 Stay away from instant chat. 

Whether your chat tool of choice is Slack, Stride, or the techy Blind, the rule is simple: nothing important should be discussed on chat. While great for a quick riff or confirmation, chat is not the place to make big decisions. 

To avoid team members missing out on a discussion, or awarding an idea to someone who can type the fastest, we always move to an asynchronous discussion software like Basecamp.

Capturing ideas in a more formal, permanent format allows everyone to read, digest and respond thoughtfully and leads to better decision making. And the choice of emojis is (almost) as good.

Lesson #2 Get some face time. 

Your co-worker responds with a “Yup” to your suggestion on how to deal with a problem. Are they just short because they are busy, or do they feel a little miffed? Tone and delivery get lost with text communication and imagining malice where there is none is all too easy. 

In our experience, a quick call solves 10 out of 10 chat-based heated discussions within 5 minutes. When a team member’s tone seems negative, we always assume it’s just crossed wires and hop on the phone immediately to prevent an escalation.

But phone calls alone don’t cut it. Once a year, we all gather for a company retreat to spend some quality time and be reminded that we work with other humans, not lizard people. It’s a crucial investment in our company culture and the team’s happiness. When we go back to our remote offices, we have a better understanding of their personalities and humor and know which of us have switched to a gluten-free diet. 

Lesson #3 Known when to stop working. 

Remember me barefoot on the patio? Now imagine the glow of the monitor on my face as my family eats dinner in the other room, or my laptop open in the garage within incoming messages while I mow the grass on a Sunday. Contrary to some beliefs, you don’t work less when you’re remote. In fact, it’s stopping work that’s the real challenge.

There are no environment shifts or a commute to define when your workday ends. Your work is always there sitting on your kitchen counter, calling to you, like that second slice of chocolate cake you know you should save for tomorrow.

We’ve come to accept that there will always be work. You’ll never catch up. Instead, accept the Pareto Principle into your daily life: 80% of the desired effects come from just 20% of the causes. Focus in on those tasks that represent the 20%. At the end of the day you will feel more accomplished versus keeping yourself busy all day with random emails.

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If you’re thinking of switching to remote, our advice is 100% go for it. While it doesn’t work for all professions (any dentists reading this?), the benefits are immense, from lower overhead to a happier, more flexible team. But having a game plan is crucial. Avoid the biggest pitfalls, be prepared to put in extra footwork to keep communication clear, and know the right time to unplug. 

Pro tip: in your instant chat, set up a special channel just for sharing memes. After all, it’s remote work, not rocket science. 😜

  • Michallis Pashidis

    Hi Wes, interesting to have your feed-back on that.
    I'm a cto of an IT security compagnie, working with employees remotely, on top of that we have consultants in different countries and targets must be aligned. Couldn't give a better top 3 lessons :-).

  • Matthew Ullrey

    I like how you think of unfinished work as an extra piece of chocolate cake. It is your will power that keeps it safe until the next day. Although, I can’t imagine the rest of the family viewing the uneaten dessert in the same manner. 🍫🍰 Yum.