Krzysztof Witczak

25 aspects of remote work to be aware of as a manager

August 27, 2023

The last couple of years with COVID-19 has been a challenge for many organizations. Some of them, initially hesitant, ended up surprised that a full-remote mode was not only possible for them, but led to higher efficiency and worker satisfaction, making it not a temporary solution but a new way of working.

However, at the same time, for many others, it was a difficult leap, occupied with increased employee turnover, decreased employee happiness and motivation. Recent study published a couple of weeks ago claims that remote workers may have up to 18% decreased productivity when compared to those in the office (mainly due to slower pace of learning). How come we may have such a different outcome? As usual, the devil is in the details.

My experiences with remote work

I started working in a light hybrid mode around 2017, taking 1-2 days a week of remote work. My employer didn’t bother as long as the job was done on time and in high quality, and nobody complained from my team or customer side. Back then it was considered to be a company benefit (amongst many others) and not a core element of the company culture. For that reason, we didn’t hire people outside of our office location, which quickly displayed difficulties for us to stay competitive in the software house market.

Back then as a tech lead of a single team, I had a limited view and understanding of the risks such change could introduce, so I quickly and happily influenced my superiors to make our first 100% remote hire out of a pure need to accelerate recruitment. The new employee ended up being around 350 KM away from the office, but onboarding went smoothly, we didn’t have many problems with communication and generally, everyone was quite happy about the outcome.

I realized later that it was possible because, as a team in a software house, we’ve been working as a separate company cell contacting with distant customers (located in Seattle and Hong Kong, and us in Poland - three different time zones with not much overlap). From their perspective, we’ve been already a remote team to them, which enforced everyone’s specific async communication habits. This is why it worked for our small team, however, that was not the case for the entire company.

In 2021 I joined GAT, where the entire engineering team has been fully remote for years, and it consisted of multiple product-engineering teams that needed to be aligned. I quickly noticed that making a company remote-first requires conscious efforts from everyone to make it work. At a certain scale, it’s not enough just to call it out as a company benefit and hope for the best.

Is this effort justified?

Easy to spot pros (😍) & cons (😈) of remote work

Let’s see the most common reasons for people to love or hate remote work.

1. 😍 Less time & money spent on commute

It’s a great thing not to waste time sitting in traffic, even if you’re listening to podcasts - this may easily translate into 1-2 hours of saved time each day and saved money as well.

2. 😈 Difficulties in unplugging, setting work-life balance

For many people, this commute time is also a recharge buffer before going back home, time to re-think tangling workpieces and slowly turn into a “home” mindset. People working at home often cannot “flip the switch” so quickly after going away from the desk. Sometimes a bit of recharge time before entering home duties helps, but in some cases, people struggle to “shut off” their work muscle and tend to overwork themselves.

3. 😍 Ability to stay closer to family

Sounds similar to the previous point but I mean something different than just being earlier at home. If you’re working remotely, it may be possible for you to change location during the weekend to visit your distant parents on the other side of the country, work from their home for a week, and go back next weekend. If you are a parent, it will be way easier for you to split responsibilities with your spouse, pick up kids, take care of them if they get sick and so on.

4. 😍 Possibility to experience workation

I wrote about my half of a year in Greece in another post. Without remote work, it wouldn’t be possible.

5. 😍/😈 Ability to hire talent from more locations

At the smallest, it means looking for talent outside of your city, which already increases chances of finding people by at least one order of magnitude, maybe more. At the biggest it may mean entering different countries and regions, and as a result:

  • You’ll benefit from a more diverse team and you’ll cap on getting the best specialists from a much bigger pool of people;
  • You may need to switch your company communication and documentation to a common language;
  • You may need to figure out the employee rights & benefits correlated with their area of living;
  • In the past you could benefit from hiring better talent for a smaller price by taking into account their local costs of living, but these days it’s no longer so obvious;

6. 😍 Ability to sustain talent

People change locations, they have different events and situations in their lives. What if your best engineer tells you one day that they need to move to another city, on the other side of the country? You may open an office just for them, but will it be always justified? Without good preparation for remote work, this employee may quickly become an outcast who will churn.

7. 😍 Async comms

In short, async communication happens “out of phase” (it may be an exchange of messages at a different time, location, channel or even in a different form ~ paraphrased Mr Stanier). If you are speaking with someone on a chat, it may make sense to send a reply in a Slack thread many hours or sometimes even days after the original message was sent, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to reply a couple of months later. That means there is a certain range of time when you can contribute to conversation.

8. 😍 Leaving a trail and permanent artefacts

James Stanier wrote a fantastic series of blog posts about remote working, where he covers the aspect of spectrum of synchronousness, permanence and humanity.

Most of our async communication may leave a trail - a recording, chat message, email, diagram (artefacts). It allows absent people to recall the communication that has happened and benefit from it. If we are recording a status update meeting for someone absent, this recording may be useful for a week or two. That means its usefulness, or permanence is limited in time. I welcome you to read James’ articles in detail to fully embrace this idea - because there are small traps inside this topic too.

9. 😍 Ability to work in your preferred hours

We all know night owls and early birds. In theory, remote work focused on async communication can lead to people adjusting their personal lives and calendars to be the most productive at their work. Will they do it? That’s a different story, but remote work with flexible hours allows for this to happen. Important note: If your organization spawns multiple timezones, it may be necessary for you to establish some core hours. It shouldn’t be too big of a time chunk, but big enough to allow for synchronization in case of an incident, alert or non-typical situation.

10. 😍 Fewer interruptions

We all hate those situations in the office when you have an important job to be done and it’s difficult for your colleague to understand that. You can mute interruptions easily while working remotely, thus increasing chances for staying in the flow.

11. 😈 Less interactions, less motivation

However, at the same time, working remotely you won’t accidentally speak with someone in the kitchen or eat lunch with your buddies, casually speaking about general stuff and life, knowing each other a bit better day by day. Having fewer interactions for a long time often leads to loneliness at work, decreased motivation and lack of connection with your buddies. It may lead to lower productivity, burnout or switching a job.

How to combat this?

  • Make explicit time for Slack, meetings focused on team well-being instead of work - imagine making a slot for kitchen conversations. Unfortunately, it often feels awkward, especially in the beginning.
  • Make chats for random outside-of-work conversations where people can share private matters if they want.
  • Organize face-to-face parties from time to time.
  • As James Stanier perfectly summarizes in his blog post - “There’s a balance to being efficient and also feeling part of a community of other humans.” - Your job is to find it.

12. 😈 You may need more collaboration tools

If you are not using high-collaboration tools which are great for async comms like Miro, Figma, and Slack - it will be difficult for you to be productive, especially when mentoring and onboarding new people in the team who need to learn remote ways of working and may be afraid to speak up (which is easier in the office). It’s specifically difficult if you’re adjusted to physical whiteboards, agile boards, war rooms etc.

13. 😈 Longer decision loops

Async communication means fewer meetings, fewer interruptions, and higher focus and flow but at the same time coming to a decision if many people are involved (and all of them work in async fashion) may mean the decisions are taking much longer to settle. Additionally, applying disagree & commit is more difficult.

14. 😈 Conflicts tend to resolve longer

When your buddy in the office once again rejects your MR for this little thing that she is so passionate about, your blood starts to boil. You both had those conversations so many times before, and it’s still an unsettled topic. A bit angry, you go to the kitchen, only to find her there, just about to click the coffee button. Awkward silence.

After ten seconds one of you breaks the tension a little and makes a funny comment over the MR. You both defend your opinions, Coffee is already getting colder, but the matter is resolved. Relieved, you both continue to your desks.

In purely remote work such things sometimes happen, but it usually takes way longer. Often instead of quickly resolving the problem in a sync way, an “async ball of eternity” happens - unproductive waterfall of comments and opinions being exchanged for days… unless you, as a manager notice, of course.

15. 😍 You tend to remove unnecessary meetings

If you challenge the need for sync meetings, the ones that remain are usually indeed necessary. In the proper remote work setting everyone values each other’s time and they try to use those meetings more efficiently, joining prepared. As a result you usually end up having fewer meetings and people are more prepared for them.

16. 😍/😈 Overcommunication requires a right mindset

In async remote work, it may be necessary to use more than a single channel of communication for the same message or to write a message on a large, public channel of communication, which for many people may be optional.

At best it allows interested people to find what they need - you are not cutting them off. At worst, it creates a lot of noise and people who are afraid of FOMO may be consuming too much unnecessary information, causing their cognitive load to blow up.

17. 😍/😈 Smaller costs of offices, higher costs of parties & logistics

You can certainly save some costs on lack of (or smaller) offices and pay people more, but keep in mind that you may need to ship computers (or other stuff that you offer) even to distant countries. This is more often than not correlated with unpleasant surprises… and also remember, that having an office party from time to time is easy when everyone is close. Meeting with a team of people from multiple different countries requires not only superior planning but also plane tickets, hotels… Additionally, if you invested a lot into your offices to make them fantastic, this is a big con for you.

18. 😈 Zoom fatigue

Being very tired after long or multiple video calls in a week is not just Zoom, it’s all video conference platforms problem. What’s also important is that communicating good news over Zoom doesn’t feel as rewarding as in person, while communicating bad ones feels even worse than in reality

19. 😈 It’s harder to identify people’s emotions

Camera on or off? When you, as a manager, communicate something to your people, a good practice is to observe the reception of the message on people’s faces. Look for reactions - signs of questions bubbling, doubts, fear, anything you should address. If you cannot see people, how can you do that correctly? Also: you cannot see people’s faces and reactions properly if they sit together in a conference room sharing a single camera. If you’ve been making a long speech to 100+ people on Zoom you also know how difficult it is to spawn a joke to a screen, waiting for people’s reactions, only to hear your breath. It’s difficult to create a two-sided connection in such a way.

20. 😈 Some people hate remote working or it’s hard to do it effectively (parents)

If someone has joined your company as an office worker, and you are shifting towards the remote setting, it may be a very unpleasant change for this person. Be aware that there are people who are office animals and they simply cannot focus at home, or they are in the process of learning it. A bit different situation may happen for people who are parents and they have no right environment at home - too much noise, lack of separate room, too many disruptions - you name it.

21. 😈 Trust, lack of visibility & being cheated by employee

Finally, one of the biggest fears of managers is that they will lose visibility & control. Without it, they won’t be able to recognize who is doing good work and who is slacking around… In most cases, this is unnecessary fear, but difficulties and ambiguity in measuring software engineering productivity make it possible for employees to be dishonest and get away with it. Websites like sell tips on how to do it, and people on Reddit or hacker news share success stories of being employed at the same time in 10 or more full-time remote jobs, doing just enough to skim and not get fired. If such practice becomes a trend, are we surprised that big players mandate RTO?

22. 😈 Live workshops are usually more efficient

Connectivity issues, mic problems, “board does not work for me” but also simply a challenge of not speaking at the same time to interrupt during the online workshop often makes it less dynamic and very slow compared to live workshops. From my experience, in-person workshops and collaboration have the potential to be more efficient, dynamic, more memorable, especially if you have good meeting etiquette.

23. 😈 It’s more difficult to get noticed

If part of your team is in the office, and some people are 100% remote, their work may not be as easily noticed. It may require conscious effort from you, as a manager, to make them visible and give them equal chances. It may sound trivial but if you are doing calibrations that involve multiple voices to get a person promoted, it may affect people’s careers.

24. 😍 Remote work unravels ambiguity and tribal knowledge problems

In the office, things are easier to “just get themselves done” because people look behind the shoulder of a colleague and ask questions. It’s productive. At the same time though, it leaves room for little issues that could be solved to everyone’s benefit. Full remote organizations try to document everything, like GitLab with their famous Handbooks. That approach creates opportunities for system improvements, and indexes of information and establishes norms and expectations.

25. 😍/😈 You need to treat everyone as remote to make it work

It’s a huge topic, once again wonderfully covered by James Stanier in another blog post. It connects with many aspects said before (mainly sync & async communication, thinking about others, building empathy and understanding) but also about smaller, non-obvious but important things:

  • How remote-first are your executives? Are they leading by example?
  • Are you investing equally in full remote groups and office groups?

So is it worth it, in the end?

Ha, it depends! There was a fantastic article shared recently on Stay SaaSy - “The Future of Remote Work”, which implies that depending on the culture that you want to establish but also company maturity/phase, size, situation, needs or the fact if you are bootstraped or not - the decision may differ. You need to take into consideration all the pros and cons listed above, as usual, remote work is not a silver bullet and it’s not just benefits. Make your decision consciously. I’ve read a saying somewhere, that in general:

  • In a small organization, having the same team of skilled professionals in a remote vs. office setting, usually the team in the office would outperform the remote team, especially if they need to do a lot of decision-making.
  • However, at the same time, by looking for talent remotely, you have a higher chance of having a better talent in a remote team, especially if you have a strong remote culture which makes this talent uninterrupted and even more productive.
  • The bigger the organization gets, the more benefits you have from the communication approach required to be remote-first. If your company has 8 people, the benefits of communication audibility or permanent artifacts are way less important for you.
  • If your company consists of people who strongly prefer office work over remote work, usually they will be far less productive in remote setting than people who prefer remote setting, forced to do office work (study), of course unless they won’t quit…!

As always things are not easy!

I think it would be difficult for me to go back fully to the office, despite my managerial responsibilities would be easier. I think hybrid mode would be optimal though.

In terms of GAT, I think we have already the majority of the best practices established, but we can still get better and polish the details. In our case it’s not just a benefit, it’s aspect of the company culture.

Effective Remote Work book

After reading fantastic articles from Mr. Stanier, my goal next is to buy another one of his books and study it to bring remote work at GAT to a higher level!


Remote work may sometimes get simplified to being just a benefit for employees, but it comes with much more than that. Organizations must take into account all the pros and cons of moving to remote work, and during COVID that was not possible - there was no time.

Plenty of large organizations leaped, being unprepared. Differences like this require cultural change and adaptation in the organization, changing the mindset and people’s expectations. It’s not simple or quick if you want to do it right and benefit from this change (instead of just going by). For some organizations it may not be worth the effort, especially if they made a lot of investment into optimizing the office-first style of work, or if they are a small startup that needs to be very fast on the decision-making aspect and they are small enough to live without communication leaving a trace.