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Your Roadmap to Building an Incredible Remote-First Workplace with Ali Greene and Tam Sanderson

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Find the episode on your podcast player of choice.

Words cannot describe how excited I was to talk with today’s guests. Less than 20 minutes after finding and starting their book on Audible, I knew I needed to track them down and see if they’d come on the show. Luckily, they agreed and we recently sat down to discuss what really makes a remote culture work!

Ali Greene and Tam Sanderson are longtime remote work veterans who literally wrote the book on building sustainable, engaging remote-first organizations. Their book - Remote Works: Managing for Freedom, Flexibility, and Focus - is packed with practical, actionable steps for designing a remote environment that enables trust, autonomy, and accountability.

Together, we dove into a variety of incredible topics, including:

  • The difference between remote work culture and what many people experienced while working remotely during the pandemic.

  • The three mindset shifts you MUST make in order for remote work to be a sustainable practice within your organization.

  • What Standard Operating Behaviors are and why Ali shares them in response to anyone who says “You can’t build culture remotely - it just doesn’t work!”

  • What are rituals and artifacts, and how you can identify and design them intentionally for remote work environments?

  • How to remotely recreate the “magic” that occurs when a team is physically together for a brainstorm.

  • What Gen Z doesn’t realize about remote work and how they can find great mentorship and community when working remotely.

  • The remote best practices that hybrid organizations need to adopt in order to achieve true inclusivity.

Mentioned Resources and Links

  • Remote Works by Ali Greene and Tam Sanderson (Bookstore | Amazon)

  • Bowling Alone by Robert Putnum (Bookstore | Amazon)

  • Mural: A digital whiteboard for remote team collaboration.

  • Figma: A digital tool for managing collaborative, remote design processes.

Connect with Ali Greene AND Tam Sanderson

More from Want To Work There

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Tam Sanderson says, "If the way that you're judging whether someone is doing good work is based on seeing their face and if you like them, then that actually goes into a lot of other issues, including unconscious bias."
Ali Greene says that "for remote work to work well, you need to become a designer. Every detail needs to be thought out."

Building a Remote-First Company: Unlocking the Power of Intention, Trust, and Autonomy

Remote work has become a defining feature of the modern workplace, especially since the pandemic. For some, it's a novel skill, while others have long embraced the benefits of remote work.

In this interview, Tamara Sanderson, co-author of the book "Remote Works," and Ali Greene, share their insights on building a remote-first company. They explore the inspiration behind their book, the key factors that make remote work sustainable, and how to nurture a thriving remote culture.

The Impetus Behind "Remote Works"

Tamara's journey into remote work began with early experiences that revealed its potential as a valuable skill. Her time at Automatic, a remote company, further solidified her love for remote work and the autonomy it offers.

The pandemic acted as a catalyst, underscoring the need for a comprehensive guide to remote work and inspiring the creation of their book "Remote Works."

Remote Culture: Defying Misconceptions

  • Culture can thrive in remote companies, though it may look different from traditional office-based cultures.

  • Remote culture centers around Standard Operating Behaviors, communicated behavioral norms, and shared rituals. Documenting processes and expectations sets this foundation at a central level.

  • Artifacts, such as templates, blogs, or virtual meeting rituals, contribute to shaping the culture.

3 Key Factors for a Sustainable Remote Work Model

1. Lead with Intentionality

  • Design work-life balance, workplace interactions, and engagement deliberately.

  • Avoid leaving things up to chance; plan projects, milestones, and communication carefully.

Hybrid Work Model and Intentionality

Ah, the debate around the hybrid work model. Ali Greene expressed her preference for fully remote work, emphasizing the benefits of a globally distributed team. However, she acknowledged that some companies might intentionally choose the hybrid approach to cater to specific employee preferences and company goals. The key is to have a clear and thoughtful strategy in place, understanding why and how office space will be utilized to complement the remote work model.

Design Thinking and Ideation in Remote Teams

Tamara highlighted the significance of design thinking for remote teams. Starting with a wide array of ideas, team members are encouraged to brainstorm freely without constraint. Collaborative platforms like Mural or Figma facilitate sharing ideas effectively. After a period of reflection, the team reconvenes to synthesize and group the ideas, creating a solid foundation for moving forward.

2. Build Trust

  • Trust your team to deliver results; define clear goals and expectations.

  • Focus on outcomes rather than monitoring employees' every move.

Gen Z's Perspective on Remote Work

Surprisingly, only 4% of Gen Zers express interest in fully remote work, due to negative pandemic-related experiences. However, the experts urged them to explore the wider possibilities of remote work beyond the pandemic context. Encouraging Gen Zers to ask themselves deeper questions about their desires and career goals, and an intentionally designed remote culture can help them embrace it without feeling the career FOMO.

Embracing Experimentation

Both experts emphasized the value of experimentation in remote work setups. Teams need to be open to trying new approaches, especially when "it's always been done that way". By challenging the status quo with small-scale experiments and prototypes, remote teams can learn and evolve without the pressure of immediate perfection.

3. Empower Autonomy

  • Respect employees' autonomy and allow them to decide when and how they work best.

  • Create frameworks and boundaries to guide their decisions, enabling self-directed productivity.

  • Detailed guides with remote-specific instructions, like a remote hiring guide, set expectations and provides the FAQ for managers to be able to make good decisions without constant supervision.

Embracing Personal Spaces for Creative Inspiration

Ali Greene emphasized the power of personal spaces as a source of creativity. Remote employees can harness their own environments, such as art studios, libraries, or homes filled with books, to fuel their creativity. Encouraging team members to find inspiration within their surroundings can lead to a more diverse and innovative creative process.

Just let people have ideas. -Tamara Sanderson

4. Recreating the Magic of In-Person Creativity

  • In-person time remains valuable; consider arranging offsites or meetups occasionally.

  • For remote creative collaboration, embrace digital tools and creativity to maintain a high-energy atmosphere.

  • Remote work, as demonstrated by the authors while writing their book, can foster creativity and playfulness.

Virtual Field Trips

Tamara suggested an innovative way to foster creativity by encouraging remote teams to go on virtual field trips before collaborating on projects. Visit visually inspiring places in your own cities, photographing your unique surroundings with colors, textures, and patterns. Share them during team meetings, leading to enriched and distinctive outcomes.

Building a successful remote-first company requires intention, trust, and autonomy. Lead with purpose, design your remote culture, and embrace the power of digital tools to enable creativity and collaboration. Remote work offers immense potential, and with an open-minded approach, you can unlock its benefits to create a thriving and connected workforce.

Remember, it's not just about replicating the office environment remotely, but about embracing the uniqueness of remote work and fostering a culture that thrives in a digital space. Empower your team to flourish, and you'll see the magic of remote work unfold before your eyes. Embrace the journey, explore possibilities, and build a remote-first company that inspires and excels in the modern work landscape.

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