Jason Fried – How to Successfully Lead a Remote Team (Webinar Summary & Recording)

On 12 August, we were honored to host a webinar with Jason Fried, the co-founder and CEO of Basecamp. During the webinar, Fried dived deeper into the topic of remote working with Raymond Hofmann, a management and organization designer.

The two discussed issues such as benefits and pitfalls of remote working, productivity, and collaboration in a remote setting, and also shared views about working culture when working remotely.

Here we will give you a short summary of Fried’s ideas. If you missed the session, worry not, the full recording is available on our Youtube channel.

What are the benefits of remote working?

Fried started by pointing out, that there are numerous benefits in remote working both for the employee and the employer. For the employee, a remote setting often gives more time and freedom to do their work without distractions. It also provides employees more flexibility at work, but also more flexibility in where they live as they are not tied down to a specific location. “I think that optionality, flexibility, and freedom almost always lead to a better outcome in general”, Fried argued.

From the employer’s point of view, one of the biggest benefits is that you get to hire the best people from anywhere. According to Fried, when you’re not tied to a specific location, you are broadening the pool of potential employees and you’re also not competing for the same few people locally. For the employer, another great advantage of remote work is the increase in productivity. If the systems and the culture are in place, in remote settings companies can be more productive and more resilient.

Fried admits, that certainly, there are also advantages in working at the office, but it’s also something that people are used to. Both remote work and local work have advantages and disadvantages. “It’s a matter of understanding the advantages of each, and not dismissing one over the other”, Fried said.

He actually suggested that for many companies a hybrid model might work best. This is actually what they have done at Basecamp for years already: people might work 1-2 days at the office, but primarily everyone works from home. “If you can work from anywhere, the company is simply stronger.”

What traps to avoid when your company is increasing remote work?

Fried mentioned that one of the biggest mistakes many companies make is that in the remote setting they have too many meetings. This is a problem in the office life as well, but it is even more so in the remote setting. Meetings with a large group of people in a remote setting are challenging and having many remote meetings a day can be very exhausting. So first, cut down some meetings when working remotely, Fried advised.

Another pitfall in many companies is that they try to simulate office life with remote work. “Remote working is actually a very different way of working – it’s not just a different place, it’s a different way”, Fried emphasized. Remote work should be more about asynchronous work, and less about real-time. “While real-time sounds efficient, it’s actually highly inefficient, because it pulls everyone out of their work at the exact same time.”

Another problem that many organizations face is that the leaders feel they are losing control over their employees when working remotely. According to Fried, this shouldn’t be a problem, unless we are talking about manual or physical work that can’t be done remotely. In everything else, the only way to evaluate people’s work is to look at the work itself – and that can be done remotely. “Almost all work is better judged by looking at the work, not looking at the person. So to me, this is a deficiency of the manager, not a deficiency of the employee.”

How to be productive yet collaborative when working remotely?

Fried highlighted that even though remote work is partly a technological matter, it’s primarily a cultural issue. In other words, productivity and collaboration can be achieved with great technological tools, but your organizational culture has to allow those too.

“If your organizational working culture is based on bothering people, then you’re going to bother people remotely too. But if your organizational culture is based on autonomy and uninterrupted time, then it doesn’t matter if you’re local or remote, you’re still going to respect each other’s time”, Fried explained.

But how do you get to that point with your culture? Fried had two practical suggestions on how to achieve a productive yet collaborative remote setting.

First, he proposed eliminating one meeting a week. You can start by slowly decreasing the number of meetings, and in the end, you might even want to remove them entirely. Fried suggested that you can replace most meetings with written briefs. If you, for example, have a weekly meeting where people present their weekly plan, you can ask people to write it up and skip the meeting.

Secondly, Fried highlighted that you need to eliminate the expectations of immediate response. He suggested that we shouldn’t wait for people to immediately get back to us – we should have other things to do in the meantime. Fried acknowledged that creating that type of culture is going to take time, but it’s also the key to creating the uninterrupted space and time for your people to be productive.

How to maintain a good working culture in a remote setting?

Fried mentioned that he has a bit of a different view on culture than probably most leaders. “To me, culture is simply the by-product of consistent behaviour. It’s not what you set out to do or be, it’s what you actually are.” So that also means that culture is not location-based – it consists of behavioural human aspects.

According to Fried, it depends on the company how successfully and how fast they can transition to a remote setting. If your organization is familiar with and already using tools that are remote-friendly, then the transition is going to be easier. However, if your people are not familiar with the technological tools needed in remote working, you’re going to have to take time for the technological learning curve.

No matter what your situation is, there’s one thing every company should focus on in order to successfully work remotely: understanding. For some people, the transition might be easier, whereas for others it can take time. Therefore, leaders need to take into account the individual needs and challenges in the organization.

Understanding atmosphere and culture is especially crucial now when the transition to remote work was not made by choice but out of necessity. “This is not remote work – this is pandemic work. Remote work is far more pleasant than pandemic work”, Fried pointed out.

He explained that for working parents it has been tough because they probably haven’t had the time, space nor privacy to work as their kids have been at home. For single people, on the other hand, the isolation might have been mentally very draining. “Most of us are under extraordinary pressure, in places we weren’t ready to work, in ways we weren’t ready to work with other extra pressures we can’t control. Just understand that. I think that’ll go a long way to building a more resilient organization.”

We organize monthly webinars on all things business. If you want to be in the loop of our upcoming sessions, you can sign up for all of our webinars at once.


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