Recently, a friend pointed me to yet another long online conversation debating whether remote work is good or bad.  Who was right?  Both sides actually.  However, they were arguing over outcomes and experience. They missed examining the initial conditions.  Looking at the initial conditions will determine if your experience with remote work becomes challenging or fulfilling.

I ask the following questions to look at the initial conditions of a particular remote work experience:

  • Do I have a choice to work remote?
  • Do I have specific goals for working remote?
  • Do I have a shared responsibility working with my team online?
  • Do I have control over my remote work schedule?
  • Do I have control over my remote work environment?
  • Do I have psychological safety to discuss how I feel at work?

Let me share how I have answered these questions and how it is helped me coach teams and organizations remotely for several years now.  Then I’ll suggest how you might use these questions.

Do I have a choice to work remote?

As I mentioned in a prior blog post, choice is one of the biggest reasons for success or failure of remote work.  If you do not have a choice and you are suddenly asked by an employer to work remotely when you have been in an office for years, this can be disorienting at the least.

Yet, if you choose to work this way, you are choosing this style of work just as if you are choosing a team or company that is highly collaborative or more focused on individual contribution.  It is a choice.

For me, when I started coaching remote teams, I did not have a choice and I felt the work was difficult and sometimes impossible.  But I cared about the people I worked with and wanted to find ways for them to work effectively and (if possibly) even happily.  I slowly started to seek out more remote coaching assignments as I built up new skills and experience.  Eventually, I became known as a “remote-friendly coach” that could help these teams.

Do I have specific goals for working remote or collocated?

When you take on any new work, you typically have several different goals in mind.  You want to be well-compensated, of course, but that may not motivate you when the work gets difficult.  

Perhaps you are interested in the work itself?  You know the work is challenging but you feel your experience gives you an advantage to overcome the challenges.

Perhaps you are interested in the people?  You may know some of the people by reputation and you think it would be exciting to work with them and learn from them.  Maybe an old friend or colleague works at the new job and you would welcome the opportunity to work with them again.  With remote jobs you may end up working with some very interesting colleagues as well as old friends and no one has to move.

You may have some personal goals for considering remote work.  Will this remote work reduce your daily commute?  Will this remote work allow more time with friends, family and other people important in your life?

I had several of these goals in mind when accepting a position as a coach for a completely dispersed organization.  As a prior consultant, I was frequently flying all over North America (and sometimes Europe) and only seeing my family briefly on the weekends.  With all three of my kids in grade school, I missed many important events.  I had a goal to be closer to them.

At the time of accepting this position, I also saw a unique challenge that fit my skills.  I had worked with remote agile teams for several years at that time.  This job would allow me to coach multiple software teams and an entire organization where almost everyone worked from home.  That opportunity excited me.  

Do I have a shared responsibility working with my team online?

I’ve always appreciated Christopher Avery’s definition of a team: A team is a group of individuals responding successfully to the opportunity presented by a shared responsibility.

It’s not just a shared goal, but a shared commitment or intention that everyone on the team holds to reach the goal together.

In my case, the new remote work had a senior executive and several senior staff members that had worked in agile organizations before.  We all had a desire to make this remote work work for us.

Do I have control over my schedule?

Can I control when I can focus on work that requires deep focus and concentration and when my team needs collaboration?

Are there at least four hours of overlap in my workday (each day) with other members of my team.  Would we be able to collaborate as needed each day to move our work closer to our goal? 

My schedule was completely up to me to work with teams and management.  However, as organizations scale, I could get pulled in many directions.  To ease the schedule pressure on me, we were prepared to hire more coaches.

Do I have control over my remote environment?

Not only control over a home office, but does each member of the team have control over the remote environment in which the team works?  Can we choose some of our own tools.  Does everyone have equal access and skill with the online tools for collaboration and work?

Do I have psychological safety to discuss how I feel at work and make changes?

Do you have the psychological safety to share with coworkers how I feel about the work? If not with the whole team, can I speak to some members of the team?   

Does the team use retrospectives, a light-weigh kaizen approach, or some other techniques to check in on the work and each other?  Can we agree to make changes?

When the team cannot make the changes themselves, can we easily speak to management?  Can management quickly make changes if it makes business sense?  Do they make this feasibility clear to the team?

Thankfully, I could say yes to all of this and management was quick to assist.  However, scaling brings another dimension to these questions.

How can you use these questions?

Any time you are evaluating a remote position you are currently in or may be considering taking on, you might ask yourself these questions.  

If your organization has transitioned to more remote work, how did they prepare you?  Again, these questions may help in determining the amount of preparation and consideration for the people impacted by the change.

What other initial conditions might you consider to take on or not take on remote work?  Let me know.