Starting Slite 3 years ago I had no clue it would become so connected to the remote topic.
As many, this is how I imagined remote work: on a beach, a Piña Colada in one hand, the other casually typing on my laptop, mixing work and holidays. The dream? Try it for yourself, you’ll be back in a close quiet room with no sunbeams in less than 2 hours 😅.
Ask any remote worker, the benefits are simpler: being close to your family and working on awesome challenges, no matter where you are.
But company-wise, I didn’t expect so many upsides, and got even surprised when some of the expected issues turned into benefits. The informal water-cooler chitchat, the conflict resolution over a coffee all seem in favour of a physical office, right? Truth is, they don’t scale. Ambiguous conflict resolutions, patting your colleague on the back, or joking around the coffee machine won’t work in the long run. They hide issues and lead to rotten situations. Remote teams can’t take these shortcuts, and instead, they benefit from working on constructive feedback and efficient conflict resolution from day 1.
Any company out there should work like a remote one, because it would solve most of its organizational challenges in advance.
The 5 remote principles
As Slite went from being collocated to a half-remote-half-office setup, to eventually full-remote, I spoke with mentors at companies like Invision, Buffer and Zapier and started detecting some patterns.
First, I saw how much harder they are to make work, but how much more resilient they are once working. Second, they were very conscious of how they worked, constantly challenging their organizational model. And third, their core work principles gravitate around:
Granting trust by default
Making information transparent
These are inherent to remote companies, but are in no way exclusive to them. You can work in an office with all your teammates and abide by these principles. Here’s how we apply them at Slite and why they’re so beneficial.
Grant trust by default
If you have hired people you trust, trust they are working.
This quote from Buffer says it all. It is non-negotiable in remote teams: try micromanaging and nudging your employees 7000 km away and with a six hour time difference, it simply doesn’t work.
Since you can’t afford to not trust folks, you need to put in the extra effort during hiring and onboarding.
The untold creates conflicts.
In a remote team, you can’t rely on implicit ideas or body language to convey your ideas or start a discussion. And that’s for the best. It forces you to be extremely explicit on every level, at all times, reducing misunderstandings drastically.
For example, my co-founder Pierre and I were recently talking of hiring an Israeli person and discussing the legal set up. We considered working with him as a freelancer, but something didn’t quite feel right. We could have ended the conversation and moved on but we wanted an explicit reason on why it didn’t feel “right”. Pierre came up with it:
You “employ” people to grant them security so that whatever happens, health issues, personal problems, sector crisis, you know the state will hop in & take care of the person. Having freelancers really creates two classes of citizens in the team.
While the problem remains unsolved, we’re clear and aligned on the downside of this solution.
Hiring and onboarding is the area in which we learned first hand the importance of being explicit. It starts with a scorecard stating exactly what you expect from the candidate, which is then reflected in the job post and job descriptions, assessed during the interview, and eventually in the newcomer’s performance review. At every step, the candidate, your team and yourself know why it’s a go or not.
With folks in different time zones, your communication shifts. You can’t tap on shoulder or ping folks at all times. The alternative is to work in a more thoughtful, lasting, asynchronous fashion.
Consider the half-life of information. Half-life in nuclear physics describes the time taken by the radioactivity of an element to reduce by half. We can apply it to information: how long does your document stay relevant?
An investor update for instance will have a half life of ~2 weeks, losing most of its value within a month or 2. On the other hand, a company wiki's half-life is of ~a year, remaining valuable for a much longer time.
Well, async communication forces you to raise the half-life of your information. You can’t rely on messages with 10 minutes half-lives, they need to have half-lives of a few hours or more to be efficient. They need to be much more thoughtful, usually longer, and probably less frequent.
It creates longer-form conversations, and reduces back and forth. It also gives everyone the opportunity to chime in and contribute thoughtfully — not just the most reactive or loudest.
From documenting thought processes in tools like Slite or using asynchronous videos to make a point with tools like Loom, longer form information comes in various shapes and forms. Here’s an example: our VP of Product, Mike, explaining a product spec in Slite with a Loom video.
Make information transparent
In remote teams, your colleagues might be sleeping when you need them.
It isn’t a problem if everyone always has access to the right information. Make information transparent by documenting everything: meeting outcomes, project status, handbooks, onboarding status, tasks, etc…
It’s exactly what Slite is made for: give your team one space, where all important information is accessible by default.
Speaking with friends I realize this was the biggest misconception about remote: we often think of remote folks as isolated people on every corner of the globe, with almost no social interaction. In terms of valuable, qualitative interactions, most remote teams communicate far more.
This is simply because you can’t (and shouldn’t anyway) rely on informal interactions. Remote teams instead work with many (heavily used) formal communication channels, making information sharing way more inclusive and efficient.
Remote is an incredible way to grow a company. You can hire the best, and give them an exceptional work and life setup. In our current team, we were able to hire Mike living in the Alps with his baby and wife, Julien raising his kite-surfing skills in Lisbon, Charley married to his Brazilian wife, allow Pierre to leave Paris for a calmer city or even Rob to move from Seoul to Dublin, without ever questioning if those choices would be compatible with Slite’s journey.
So if you consider it, go for it, and go all-in.
And if you’re already well setup in a collocated space, do work like a remote company: write things down, make decisions and interactions explicit, centralise information, enforce heavy communication, put trust at the centre of your values. All these combined will let you scale and work in peace.
Christophe Pasquier is Slite’s co-founder and CEO. Chris’ goal is to help teams do incredible work in better environments, by helping them embrace remote work and async communication. He currently lives in Berlin with his wife and baby Noé. Find him @Christophepas on Twitter!
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