Starting a job as the Head of Remote Work? Find the best productivity tools that will accelerate your distributed team to success

Arguably the hottest job title in the current market is the Head of Remote Work. This role gained importance with the shift to decentralized working models. The transition was significant enough that a dedicated role was imagined to lead remote teams to success. If you are a new Head of Remote Work, and are looking for some guidance on how to be successful in your new role, we have pulled together some thoughts to consider as you create (and document) your plan.

Let there be light!

Ok, so you’ve landed the job, but the closest thing to remote work that you’ve done is changing the channels during commercials. Never fear, we’ve got you covered. A great place to start is Gitlab’s Remote Manifesto, taken from their handbook guide to all-remote work. This has become a bible, of sorts, to those seeking a rigorous structure and strategy to remote work. Here are their 9 tenets of the Gitlab manifesto.

All-remote work promotes:

1. Hiring and working from all over the world instead of from a central location.

2. Flexible working hours over set working hours.

3. Writing down and recording knowledge over verbal explanations.

4. Written down processes over on-the-job training.

5. Public sharing of information over need-to-know access.

6. Opening up every document for editing by anyone over top-down control of documents.

7. Asynchronous communication over synchronous communication.

8. The results of work over the hours put in.

9. Formal communication channels over informal communication channels.

Gitlab’s Remote Manifesto

Many of these items required remote-enabling technology in some way, so here are a few ideas for what you need to get started thinking about the tools that you will want to make sure you have available to your team.

Whether you work in a centralized or remote setting, you’re going to need a decent computer. We won’t debate the pros and cons of the hardware basics here. This guide will be more conceptual in nature. We might point you toward some brands, but that is more to identify alternatives that suit your needs rather than to making direct recommendations of one service or another.

Working from anywhere

When you can work from anywhere, something that you may not have noticed is that the place where you used to work, probably had a secure network that you could connect to for internet access. All bets are off when you’re remote. You will need to guard for potential security leaks. Things to consider are:

  • VPN for encrypted connections
  • Password Managers to ensure secure authentication
  • Antivirus software to protect from malware

These products should form the basis of your team’s security stack. You might have more industry specific needs that you will have to address as required.

Flexible working hours

Not much to say here. Just make sure you encourage your team to seek out a good work-life balance! Remote work has a habit of bleeding into personal time frequently, so to stay fully charged and ready to be most productive, encourage your team to make a clear separation between work and life.

Because distributed teams might not be in the same timezones, conducting “stand-ups” might be held virtually. Having a Slack-integrated stand-up tool would make this daily task easier:

Writing and recording knowledge

Ok, now we get into the meat of the remote tech stack. Successful remote teams live and die by their documentation. What this means is that you need a cloud-based solution to capture, access and share knowledge acquired at work. While simply creating a repository for knowledge in a team drive does achieve the objective of capturing knowledge, it doesn’t scale well. If you are a new Head of Remote, there is a good chance that your company has outgrown the disorganized team drive stage and has matured to using a proper knowledge base solution. Whether that is a wiki like Confluence, or something with a modern spin, that is up to you and your team needs.

Written processes vs. on-the-job training

On-the-job training is unlikely to happen in a remote setting because there may be multiple time zones between team members and sitting in virtual meetings multiple times per day is painful and unproductive.

Instead, lean on your internal wiki or knowledge base solution to do all of the onboarding work for you. This enables new team members to work at their own pace, and reduce the amount of time that is wasted for both themselves and other team members.

You might look for a dedicated onboarding tool that ties into your documentation for new hires. Here are a couple of examples:

Public sharing of knowledge vs. need-to-know information

Making knowledge available on a need-to-know basis is a surefire way to create a lot of unnecessary questions and shoulder-taps that inhibit productivity.

Liberate your knowledge by ensuring that its publicly available to anyone that might ask for it. There are many ways to achieve this outcome, but it all begins with a shared drive that is permissioned for all.

  • Intercom
  • Gitlab
  • Zendesk
  • Google Drive
  • Microsoft SharePoint or OneDrive

Open document editing vs. top-down access

Nothing is worse for a remote team than trying to collaborate on a document that does not have shared live access enabled through the software that was used to create it. Much of this issue has been resolved by cloud-based document collaboration popularized by Google Workspace and Office 365. The old style of having a personal Microsoft Office license that was on your desktop forced this problem to persist for years and years. Shared drives don’t necessarily solve this problem either. Only a collaborative document editing software will enable teams to freely collaborate and edit documents on the fly. This strategy facilitates faster workflows for remote teams.

  • Google Docs (GSuite)
  • Office 365

Asynchronous communication

Synchronous communication is quite possibly one of the biggest timewasters in the modern workplace. This would include in-person meetings 😱 as well as virtual sessions, via Zoom and Google Meet and the like. Remote teams thrive in situations where there is no immediate expectation to communicate in a synchronous manner. Asynchronous communication includes utilizing platforms like email 😱, Slack and Teams. But there are new and interesting ways to succinctly communicate asynchronously:

There are some situations, such as sales calls and first time meetings when only synchronous communication will suffice, but the key is to use these channels sparingly and only when necessary.

Work results vs. time

Embracing remote work, at its core, is really about embracing the concept that work results are not necessarily correlated to time input. This item is less related to tech and more of an ideology.

Formal communication channels

Formal communication channels enable employees to communicate more effectively and with more certainty around the outcome of a conversation. Informal communications channels most akin to “gossip”. They are difficult to trace and have confidence in because they lack a structure that conveys certainty around the origins of each conversation.

Bonus: To track or not to track?

Something you might want to distance yourself from is productivity tracking software for your team. These software solutions are kind of like a “net nanny” for work. They track time on various applications, idle time and just generally provide a report on how each employee spends their days when they are on a computer. Monitoring software is generally perceived as an excessive invasion of an employee’s privacy and underscores a lack of trust by managers. It’s a slippery slope and you should probably pursue alternative means optimize the output of your remote team.

Obie helps accelerate remote teams to success by making all of your organizational knowledge instantly accessible from within Slack or our browser extension. If you’re curious to learn whether Obie fits with your remote team’s tech stack, contact us to learn more.