After two years of studying remote work, the tech giant comes out with a few recommendations.
When I was at Google, I did tons of remote work. I was in an office, sure, but my boss, his boss, and my immediate team were all placed elsewhere. And a lot of the colleagues I worked with where spread over several countries as well.
Fortunately, I was no novice to remote working, and had even advised companies on remote work strategies. And Google is no slouch when it comes to handling remote work well.
In fact, they’ve now spent the last two years studying 5,000 employees trying to figure out what makes for successful remote work. Here’s what they found:
- No difference in effectiveness. A common trope among those adverse to remote work is that people just aren’t as efficient at their work, compared to people who work together in the same physical location. Which hurts company performance, as well as individual career paths. Not so, Google found:
“We were happy to find no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office,” writes Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google’s People Innovation Lab.
- Get to know your people. One of the drawbacks to working remotely is that you generally only communicate when there’s something business related to communicate about, whether it is via e-mail, Slack messages, or video conferencing. And that makes it hard for people to get to know each other, an important component of helping feel trust, connectedness, and loyalty. So set aside a little time in meetings to chit-chat about people’s weekend.
- Think about the remoters in scheduling. Try to make meeting times fit everyone’s schedule, and if you can’t, consider rotating them so the inconvenience of a less-than-ideal meeting time is shared in turns, instead of always being placed on the same people. And when you do have people working off-hours to join a meeting, acknowledgements and a ‘thank you’ goes a long way.
- Set clear expectations. If there’s one thing I’ve seen ruin remote work, it’s a lack of shared expectations. Too often, they’re left implicitly, rather than spelled out, and everyone ends up with their set of expectations on how everyone should work. Talk about things like when you’re supposed to be reachable, what kind of turn-around time is OK for a request, how quickly you should reply to e-mails, how scheduling should work, and everything else that can impact collaboration.
- Don’t for the human connection. Picking up the phone or doing a video call, instead of always relying on e-mail or Slack, helps put faces to names, and helps people build trust and rapport. And if at all possible, schedule a physical meet-up every once in a while, either as an on-site conference, or an off-site work/social event.
Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google’s People Innovation Lab
“We were happy to find no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office”
None of this is really jaw-dropping for people who have worked in remote teams (successfully or not), but the breadth and depth of Google’s study goes a long way in adding substance to common sense. The bottom line in Google’s study is that companies shouldn’t fear remote work, but they do need to manage the specific challenges it presents, just like all forms of work present their own challenges that need to be managed.