Why remote work sucks and how you solve it

Remote work is broken, but some of the best remote work tools and remote work software can help you fix your organization.

Going hybrid or remote is a big decision.

People often ask Bradford Church and me why decided to pivot Village to focus on build the best tools to make remote work 10x more productive. 

The answer is simple. Hybrid and remote work can be extremely unproductive. Sure the flexibility can be nice, and a few more hours of heads down time here and there means it’s sometimes easier to feel more productive during remote work 

But companies are not individuals, they are teams. And teams are far less productive working remotely.

As a totally with fully remote employees, we kept running into the same problem each day: how do we make our own remote work more effective and productive? How can we develop systems for remote collaboration. We just couldn't find the remote work tools, remote work software, or even the best tools generally to make work... actually work... for us and our remote colleagues.

So we decided to build the best remote work tools ourselves.

In this blog, I’m going to walk you through exactly what’s broken, some of the best remote work tools and remote work software, and how you can deploy exactly the right remote working tools to fix your organization.

So what exactly breaks in remote work and hybrid? It’s got something to do with cults.

You often hear high performing companies – Uber, OpenAI, Apple – referred to as cults. Why? These companies make talented people irrationally motivated to hit insane goals.

Remote work kills the cult for 3 reasons:

1. Remote team members have trouble with vulnerability

This might sound fluffy but bear with me. At the heart of any great relationship is trust. Trusting someone means you have faster and more direct communication. Trusting someone means you aren’t afraid to take risks and that means sometimes you’ll fail, but other times you’ll blow the lights out. And there is no better way to build trust than by being vulnerable: sharing something personal about yourself. Letting someone see you at your worst. Experiencing hard times together. When you aren’t ‘in the trenches’ with someone in person, building that vulnerability and trust is WAY harder. That makes high performance in remote working environments way harder too.

2: Remote teams' information flow and speed goes way down.

Be like a sports team

Think of the highest performing sports teams. They are so well drilled it seems like they communicate almost instinctively with just the slightest gesture or eye movement. They are perfectly attuned to the information that their teammates are giving them. Now think of an office environment. All those work hours together. All that team collaboration. Think of all the little signals we pick up  everyday just by being in the same room as someone. Updates, chatter, quick jams on strategy. This is all information we are using to not just better understand our teammates, but better do our jobs. Clear and direct communication – and information flow – is critical to rapid decision making and execution.

The loss of ambient information flow

Being a remote workforce swaps out ambient information and rapid communication for a seemingly never ending flow of informational updates. Asynchronous updates in project management tools or task management tools like Asana or Trello. Lots of time trying to do remote collaboration in communication tools like Slack (which can be a great tool when used properly). Transactional time spent in a video conferencing tool like Zoom. These can all independently be great collaboration tools, but when you put it all together, remote employees and virtual employees report that as much as 50% of their time during remote work is now spent on admin and ‘busy work.’ This dramatically slows down org velocity and productivity, even with the best remote work tools.

3: Work productivity: death by lack of ownership.

The final nail in the remote workforce coffin is the erosion of ownership. The first instinct that managers or leaders have in remote environments is to wonder what everyone is doing. If I can’t see my remote teams working, are they actually working? Or are they just hiding? In some cases they are – we’ve all heard the stories about the engineers who are working multiple jobs, in some cases using remote desktop software to run multiple work instances at once - but in the majority of cases, good people want to do good work, even in remote work environments. Ownership and initiative don’t suffer because people are hiding, they suffer because to create true ownership, you need to get your team bonding as a group and owning something together that is greater than the sum of their parts. That is how the greatest teams achieve victory, and that is what is so hard for remote workers. 

But remote has a lot of benefits. So what should my team do?

The world has changed. The answer isn’t always as simple as ‘let’s get everyone back to the office.’ 

There are undoubtedly some benefits to work work or hybrid. Our team was able to hire some incredible people who work remotely. Many of our employees enjoy the flexibility, and are able to go heads down when they need it. Many don’t want to be bundled back to the office and away from their kids, family and a new sense of work life balance.

Shock horror: the existing tools don’t work so well.

That was the challenge that we faced as a team at Village when trying to be the best remote working team We didn't feel like we had the right tools, certainly not the right remote work tools. We couldn't find the right collaboration tool, and relying on video conferencing tools and Slack wasn't cutting it. Our first instinct was to go see what solutions existed to making our team feel more productive and connected.

They were not good.

The problem is that all the tooling built for performance, productivity, and team management was built for a totally different world and not the new normal. The best remote working tools need to look different to match the remote workers and virtual teams they're built for.

Project management tools require great habits - that's hard.

Project management tools work...

The baseline move to keep projects on track seems to be to revert to a project management tool like Asana, Monday, Trello, and other project management software to make remote work more productive and give managers and leaders a sense of what everyone is doing. They usually have a free plan and good integrations with g suite, file storage systems, and sometimes with video conferencing apps and video conferencing software. These can be especially great for small businesses. These remote working tools can also work really well for teams managing a lot of virtual meetings across multiple time zones. When everyone is in a different time zone, there can sometimes be a need to be 'always on' and this new norm can erode work life balance.

...But they require extremely good habits.

We've heard that this can be effective for teams, but it requires a big, sometimes huge, time investment and great hygiene to be effective overtime. We've heard two separate companies flying in their entire workforces to one location just to figure out their project management. Not all teams have the time or resources to do that. And plus, once you are tracking the right elements, the more important question is always, are we actually hitting our goals and performing. And understanding the answer to that question can be even more challenging for remote workers. And as we'll see, sadly the answer is that my remote team is not performing at their best.

HR performance management tools are fluffy at best.

How to measure performance has always been tough. With remote, it's way harder. On one hand, you’ve got fluffy HR Talent tooling – folks like CultureAmp, Lattice, 15five. They’re a great option for baseline positive reinforcement. They've got some cool key features around giving kudos that can be integrated with instant messaging and team chat apps, continuous feedback, and pulse surveys. Certainly they are a step above managing this in google docs or manually in team communication tools.

However, they’re overly qualitative and lack any real connection to what your team is doing day-to-day.  Worse still, we hear from most teams that these tools are very low frequency - teams start enthusiastically, but fail to build habits. A tool is only effective if it is used.

Remote work surveillance tooling destroys trust, and good work.

They seem to give you a picture of the data.

On the other hand, you have a bunch of thinly (or not so thinly) veiled spyware – time tracking and time management software like Insightful, ActivTrak, Toggl Track – that employers put on their employees' computers or in a chrome remote desktop to listen to group chats, video calls figure out keystrokes, take screenshots and get a picture of exactly what everyone is doing.

Surveillance tools totally undermine trust.

I probably don’t need to spend much time talking about why time tracking software (or a 'time doctor') is a terrible idea from a trust and ownership perspective to have constant surveillance of google calendar, google meet and everything in cloud storage. It's the antithesis of collaboration software. When work hours and entire remote access setup is being monitored constantly, it's no surprise that meaningful employee engagement goes down, while employees try to hack low value add busy work to give the impression of productivity across different projects. It may seem like a good idea, but it further destroys the trust that a remote working requires to be effective.

Pulling sporadic data from your 'productivity suite' to do performance is not enough.

High performing teams need real time feedback and data on how they are performing and how they can do better. Employees want way more feedback and they want it to be data-driven. The best managers will pull data ad hoc from the tools the productivity tools, or the  collaboration tool that they use to do work everyday – Asana, Jira, Hubspot, Workspace, Google Drive, Microsoft Teams, file sharing platforms, online project management, and other team chat apps – but it's sporadic at best and often lacks clear baselines or trends to deliver a quantitative sense of performance to match qualitative insights. 

Managers feel the need to be in meetings to be productive. They shouldn't be.

When you're in the office, sometimes the best management moments can happen on a quick walk with your report, or even in a 2-minute convo at their desk. However, with these little moments destroyed by remote working, some managers feel the need to be constantly video calling and screen sharing to feel productive. However, while these video calls, live document sharing, collaborating on a virtual whiteboard, and online meetings might feel great for managers, spending hours giving informational updates can be the opposite of what individual contributors need to get work done working remotely. This can be especially true for things like software development and design where hours spent at the craft can be the different between good and great. While video conferencing tools may be revolutionary when viewed from 10 years ago, they simply are not the best tools to consistently lean on for making remote teams work effectively.

How we solved this big thorny problem for our team.

Put simply, none of the existing tooling facilitates high performance and connection in remote and hybrid work environments. 

So we built the solution for ourselves to make remote work, actually work.

Sometimes the best products are built when you’re solving your own problems. That’s what we found at Village. 

We decided to build a tech solution that allowed our team to maintain the flexibility of remote work, while solving for all of the worst parts of not sitting in the same room. 

Welcome to Atlas.

We call it Atlas. It’s already boosted online collaboration 10x, and made our  more connected and productive working remotely. 

How does it work? It connects in a few clicks to all the productivity and remote work tools your team uses everyday – Asana, Jira, Hubspot, Workspace, Notion, Teams, online project management, remote team communication tools, etc – and uses an LLM and rules-based automations to synthesize and summarize this data to create highly actionable insights and levers to drive performance and productivity.

Atlas lets leaders see around corners and have a direct line of sight into performance for remote teams. It makes remote employees far more productive. It turns managers into supermanagers. 

Oh, the magical things you can do.

You can do some pretty magical things with Atlas. Get perfect visibility into what your team or an org is working on, and how that relates to broader goals. Totally eliminate the 50% busy work spent on admin. Get way more real-time coaching and feedback on how you’re doing individually, or how your team or org is doing as a whole. Absolutely transform remote team management, remote communication, and virtual collaboration.

People who have used Atlas have described it as ‘the iPhone health app for your business’ or a ‘Chief of Staff for everyone in the org’. Whatever the analogy is, our goal is to make managers and employees 10x more effective. 

Atlas has already made our team 10x more connected and productive working remotely. 

You can get Atlas too.

But why keep all that goodness to ourselves? We couldn’t be more pumped to open Atlas up to other teams and share it with the world. 

With Atlas, the 10x solution to working remotely has arrived. 

Village | Next generation productivity superpowers.

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