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The One Thing Remote Work Advocates Get Wrong

There are laws, admin work, and a lot of planning that goes into making a job offer. Double (or triple) this amount of work if you want to hire an employee that isn’t in your home country. With the rise of remote work, this will be a key challenge for distributed companies in the future – and it’s a problem that Job van der Voort is solving with his company, Remote.com, a platform that handles all backend administration for hiring employees around the world. 

In our interview, Job shared his experiences on how to onboard new employees remotely, why a day of zoom calls is the wrong day to succeed in remote work, and what remote work advocates get wrong about the future of work.

Onboarding the right way

→ In Job’s experience with Remote and GitLab, good remote onboarding is a function of three things: 

  1. Communication.
  2. Documentation. 
  3. Welcoming. 

→ Communication should be frequent and try to answer every question before it’s asked. Companies should provide all standard messaging and go further to ensure that they are answering every anticipated remote-work related question. All of this should be documented and made readily available for new employees. 

→ When it comes to being welcoming, Job means helping new employees build their network within the organization. Professionally speaking, this takes the shape of encouraging coffee calls with either the whole organization (in small businesses) or the person’s new team (in big companies). Outside of the professional realm, this is also about creating social opportunities.

→ At Remote, for instance, they have a question of the day where everyone answers in a thread. These questions are meant to be philosophical or just fun (for instance “What’s the best food you’ve ever eaten?”), but never about work. 

A day of zoom calls is a day wasted

→ Job is a huge fan of asynchronous communication, and says it should be the default in every remote organization. If you’ve filled your days with zoom calls, “you’re doing it wrong,” since that will lead to the lowest levels of productivity. 

→ To get better at asynchronous communication, Job advocates a standard framework in the organization of what kinds of communication go on which platforms. (This is very similar to the “communications triage” framework advocated by Floyd Marinescu in our interview).

The power of human connection in remote work

→ While asynchronous communication should absolutely be the default in remote companies, there are clear exceptions to the rule for Job: 

  • The moment when you have too many back-and-forths. 
  • Anything social or with the purpose to help people bond.
  • Creative sessions and brainstorming. 
  • Just wanting to work together. 

→ The last bullet – just wanting to work together – is a critical one. This is the area Job says remote work advocates often get wrong. Promoting asynchronous communication and remote working arrangements should never imply that human connection isn’t important or desirable. 

The final word

“I think the biggest mistake in remote work advocates can make is to deny the value of being together in person.”


Remotely Inclined Chats with Job van der Voort

Transcript edited for brevity and clarity. Listen to the audio of this interview on Remotely Inclined.

Stefan: Welcome, Job van der Voort! To start, can you explain your role as CEO of Remote.com?

Job: I founded the company along with my co-founder, who is the CTO. It’s my job to make sure that we execute and operate well. I started Remote.com after experiencing the struggles of international hiring when I left my previous employer. 

We founded Remote to solve what we believe is one of the biggest challenges when you want to build a distributed teams – when you hire someone in another country, you have to pay them, be compliant with local labor laws, and provide benefits. Remote has its own global infrastructure, meaning we have an entity in each country in which we operate. Through those entities, we can employ people for you. We act as the employer of record

In practice, let’s say you want to hire Jane from Portugal. You come to us – within a day we can onboard Jane. We give her employment agreements, any benefits you would want to offer, and we invoice you as the employer each month, but you just treat Jane like any other employee. For Jane, she gets a local payslip, benefits, and everything else she would expect from local employment. 

Do you only support full time employment or also contractors, consultants, and other forms of work?

Most of our clients have a number of contractors working for them. They start paying them through our platform, which we allow them to do for free. Once they feel it’s necessary to convert those contractors to employees, they can easily do that through our platform as well. 

What’s your advice or process for onboarding employees you’ve never met before? Any examples to share?

The important thing is that you communicate a lot, especially early on to create many moments of interaction and communication – and not just between managers and a new hire, but within the whole organization. 

You don’t get any accidental interactions when working remotely, so you have to force it. For onboarding, that’s where it starts – literally just have a call with each other. Make sure there are plenty of ways to talk with each other. 

Then make sure all information they might need is well documented and they could easily find it themselves.

But the most important part of this is that you should spend time thinking about how to make people feel welcome and comfortable in a new situation. When you do things in person, we have social standards. We have social scripts that we can follow to make sure someone is comfortable. When you’re remote, those aren’t established. You have to spend time thinking about making someone feel welcome. Once someone is onboarded, ask for feedback and let people tell you exactly how they feel.

For example, we encourage people to set up coffee calls with almost everyone else in the organization. Of course it depends on the size of the organization, but at least encourage people to have coffee calls with every single person on their team so they get a bit of a network established throughout the day.

Beyond that, the most important thing is to have many moments of interaction that are not about work. On our team, we play a lot of games together. We have a Minecraft server at the company. We play Pictionary together. We share news with the team. We have a question of the day, for instance “What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten?”

What’s the best balance of asynchronous versus real-time communication?

This work should by default be asynchronous. It helps a lot to establish standards around what communication happens where. Slack doesn’t really encourage asynchronous communication, whereas other platforms (we use GitLab, for instance) helps a lot with asynchronous communication because it doesn’t feel like a chat. 

But there are very clear exceptions. 

  • The moment when you have too many back-and-forths. 
  • Anything social or with the purpose to help people bond.
  • Creative sessions and brainstorming. 
  • Just wanting to work together. 

I think the biggest mistake in remote work advocates can make is to deny the value of being together in person or doing synchronous work.

Changing gears, should remote teams care about data security more than in-office companies?

I used to work in an office building software for government, so it has to be highly secure. What we did there is if you walked away from your computer and left it unlocked, people would run a script on your computer to set your wallpaper to something ridiculous. It’s to make fun of you but also show you that you left your machine unattended and you run the risk of someone walking in and doing something with your data. 

When you run a distributed company, you can’t do this. So you have to create a strong culture around security awareness. There are some basic things you can do. It starts with educating people and giving people great hardware and software. 

I’m not a fan of bring your own device. I feel like that’s mostly a cost-cutting measure for organizations. Everyone at Remote gets a Macbook Pro, it’s very simple. The hard drive is encrypted by default and has good security practices. And then we know exactly what can be ran there and what people run over there. 

We also manage our passwords through password managers, which is one of those simple facts that makes your life a lot easier when it comes to security. 

Your culture of awareness needs to make people think about what it means to be secure and what you can do to prevent others from messing with your data. For Remote, we handle a lot of personal information. What we did is created extremely limited access to essentially everything. Even as CEO of the company, I cannot access our customers’ data in any way, and everybody in the organization is very clear on that. The way we built our software is that if you as an employer or employee were to revoke access or delete something, it would be unrecoverable for us. 

What’s your advice for folks who want to stay remote post-COVID?

The best thing you can do is treat your organization as one of your products. Review it and try to improve it – and never stop trying to improve it. You do so iteratively because there are no hard and fast rules and how to make remote organizations work. There are just a handful of examples. You really have to invent much of it yourself. 

There are many challenges of working together in an office, but we’ve been facing them for one hundred-plus years. Whereas the problems of working remotely we’ve been facing for maybe the last five years or do. 

Also: I would tell every leader that if almost every day is full of meetings or zoom calls, you’re doing it wrong. That is not necessary. The only way you can work effectively is by working asynchronously more and adopting modern tools. 

Amazing, thank you for your insights!

You can get in touch with Job van der Voort on Twitter or check out Remote’s website.

This article was originally published on Remotely Inclined.

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