With the rapid growth of remote and hybrid work models, many companies have fallen into the trap of treating remote work as an extension of the traditional office. Nothing needs to be changed, they think. Some employees work from home now, what's the big deal?

Such an approach overlooks the unique challenges and opportunities that remote work brings. It's not about relocating employees' physical workspaces from the office to their homes; it's about rethinking how work is done so you can build the most effective remote work culture.

In this article, we will explore 10 remote work best practices, so you can unlock the full potential of your remote teams. This is applicable to companies that are fully remote, but also to companies who have a hybrid work model, where employees only work remotely a few days a week.

1. Emphasize Asynchronous Communication

One of the great advantages of remote work is that you're no longer restricted to the talent pool that lives within a reasonable distance from your office. You can fish from a global pool of talent. But this requires a new way of communicating, because some of your employees will live in different time zones. They may not be online when you're online.

That's one of the reasons why you need asynchronous communication. You should never expect someone to reply to your message right away. Even if they are online, don't expect it. They may be deeply focused, not wanting to be disturbed. Give people one working day to get back to you. Build a culture where immediate responses are not expected.

This may seem like a loss, but it's not. The back-and-forth is slower, but that encourages people to communicate more thoroughly. Gone are the "hey" messages waiting for a reply. People will convey as much information as possible upfront, and the response will be equally thorough too. This often solves problems faster than it would with synchronous communication.

2. Write Structured Documentation

Because spontaneous conversations are less frequent in a remote work environment, the importance of comprehensive, easily accessible documentation cannot be overstated. Well-maintained docs will streamline processes, help with onboarding, and reduce the need for meetings.

Additionally, it puts information and knowledge that lives in your employees' mind onto the page. There's no need to remember what you decided during a meeting two months ago when there are clear meeting notes with decisions and assigned tasks. The more your company adopts a writing culture, the easier it will be to build an effective remote work culture.

3. Rethink Meetings

Meetings have a tremendously high cost that is too often overlooked. Not only does a meeting take up a large chunk of time during which employees can't work, but the hour or so before the meeting is often lost because there's little use working on big problems or tasks that will take longer than an hour, especially if you need to enter a flow state to solve such problems (as software engineers often have to do).

The trick is to progress to a meeting. First see if you can solve the topic at hand asynchronously in chat. If the meeting is supposed to be a presentation, perhaps consider recording a Loom video about it that everyone can watch when it works best for them. Gather questions in a chat thread and answer those questions asynchronously.

The point is, instead of making a meeting the go-to option, you should always first ask the question: "Is this worth a meeting?" There's a time and a place for a meeting, and a good meeting can be tremendously productive, but more topics than you'd think can be resolved without one.

4. Provide Training for Remote Work Software

For those who have worked in an office their whole career, switching to remote work can be a challenge. Suddenly you need a webcam? As a company, provide support and training for your remote employees, so that they know what equipment to get and how to use software like Slack, Zoom, Google Meet, Google Sheets, and whatever else you use to facilitate remote work.

This is in your best interests because it's also an opportunity to reinforce digital security practices. All your remote workers should use a VPN when they're on non-secure networks. They should also a password manager and multi-factor authentication for any and all work accounts. Such messages can be reinforced during remote work training.

5. Check In with Your Remote Workers

The recurring theme with remote work is that things don't happen quite as naturally in a remote environment as they do in an office. That's why you need to bake otherwise organic processes into something more formal. Regular feedback and check-ins are two such examples. Both are important if you want to maintain a sense of connection with your remote team.

X-Team checks in with its entire community every two weeks. In a survey, we ask how their project is going, how they're feeling, and if there is anything we can do to help. The survey takes less than a minute to fill out, but it allows us to know (across many hundreds of employees) who's fine and who has struggles that they want to share.  

6. Promote Work-Life Balance

Office work has a defined start and end time. You enter the office and begin work. You leave the office and stop work. The boundaries are not so clear when working remotely. It's incredibly easy for remote work to seep into your free time. Before you know it, you'll feel as if you're always on, constantly working.

That's a recipe for burnout. As a company, it's important to emphasize a healthy work-life balance. Encourage regular breaks and respect off-hours. This is why a culture of asynchronous communication matters too. You can message someone at their 9PM as long as they don't feel obliged to reply immediately.

7. Allow for Flexible Work Hours

One of the great benefits of remote work is that it gives employees more freedom over their schedule. This flexibility makes them more satisfied with their job and, in return, more productive. But flexible work requires a mindset shift where the emphasis is less on hours worked and more on output produced. It's the results that matter, not the time you spent on it.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Many jobs aren't exactly clear on what their expected results are. But that doesn't mean you should rely entirely on hours worked. It's a process. Try to figure out what you expect from each employee. Write it down, clarify it. The clearer, the better, for both the company and its employees.

8. Provide Mental Health Support

Okay, you've done your check-in and noticed that a few employees are struggling. Now what? X-Team has a team called the Wizards who are dedicated to keeping our community happy. They love untangling problems so our software engineers can always be at their most productive. This can be something as simple as listening to an X-Teamer or sending them a gift to cheer them up.

What this looks like for you will depend on your company culture. What matters is that you provide some form of mental health support. These can be mental health days, access to counseling, or forums for open discussions on mental health. It's not because someone works remotely that they can't have bad days. Provide support when it matters.

9. Engage Your Team

There's a reason X-Team organizes large in-person events like the X-Summit and the X-Outposts: There's no better way to turn colleagues into friends. These events are not about work. They're about strengthening our community, because there's still no replacing in-person events to make someone feel they're part of something bigger.

Especially when you have a hybrid work model, incorporate your remote team into your teambuilding events. Don't make them feel left out. Fly them over, organize virtual team-building activities, design virtual watercooler moments, et cetera. Be creative and make the events fun. Steal some of our ideas, if you like. We've been doing it since 2005.

10. Be Transparent

Transparent and clear communication is crucially important in a remote work environment, because you can't learn through osmosis remotely. For example, when there's no org chart, how will you know who's who when you work remotely? You won't. When someone's let go, how will you know when they're gone if it's not explicitly communicated? You won't.

Transparent communication makes your remote workers feel informed and valued. It makes them feel that they're part of your company, which is especially important if you have both office workers and remote workers. So keep channels of communication open and regularly update your team on company news and decisions.

We hope you've learned something from these 10 remote work best practices. Success lies not in replicating office routines at home, but in embracing the unique aspects of remote environments. Focus on effective communication, flexible work arrangements, support for employee well-being, and you'll be on the right path to an effective remote work culture.

Are you looking for a team of experienced remote software engineers who can hit the ground running? Look no further. Send X-Team a message today.