• Cosmic Centaurs

The Remote Work Manifesto

Inspired by the ‘Agile Manifesto’ published in 2001, the team at Cosmic Centaurs, developed ‘The Remote Work Manifesto’ capturing the values, direction, and vision for effective flexible, remote or virtual team work. These teams are considered “remote”, if just one member is working remotely. The absence of a single individual in a co-located setting, even part of their time, is enough for teams to reconsider the way that they work and collaborate.


The Flexible work manifesto is an unordered list of what should take precedence if a choice must be made in a flexible work scenario. To quote the Agile Manifesto “while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”



The Remote Work Manifesto

by Cosmic Centaurs

Here's the 'TLDR' version of the Manifesto


Asynchronous Communication over Synchronous Communication

If given the choice between real-time, instantaneous conversations or interactions, and delayed, asynchronous interactions, remote or virtual teams should always assume that others are not available in real-time, and allow asynchronous communication to take precedence.


Documenting Everything over Verbal Explanations

Remote teams should always make information, knowledge, and decisions as explicit as possible. Writing, filing, and easily finding documentation are essential skills of a remote or virtual team.


Explicit Feedback & Iteration over Implicit Nudges & Evolution

Remote or virtual teams don’t have the luxury of adjusting team behavior and norms through small, implicit social cues. The ability to give and take explicit feedback is essential to having high functioning remote or virtual teams.


Team Routines & Rituals over Individual Schedules

Team time is precious, and the routines and rituals created should be held sacred (pun intended). Planning around these is more important than adhering to your personal schedule. If a conflict in your schedule means you have to choose between individual work time and team time, the choice should be easily made.


Structured Meetings over Unorganized Discussions

Virtual or remote teams will become less productive if they are attending meetings that are not well structured. Virtual meetings should always be planned with explicit agendas, clear desired outcomes, and known processes for decision-making.


Collaboration & Teamwork over Individual Contributions

If teamwork is selected as the appropriate mechanism for creating value, then team events or deliverables should always take precedence over any other time block.



Asynchronous Communication over Synchronous Communication

If given the choice between real-time, instantaneous conversations or interactions, and delayed, asynchronous interactions, remote or virtual teams should always assume that others are not available in real-time, and allow asynchronous communication to take precedence.


When we are co-located, communication takes on a very natural route, and most of our communication at the office is synchronous, meaning it occurs in real-time. In this setting, we sometimes constantly communicate to the point where we don’t find enough time in the day to get our actual work done. Conversely, flexible work settings create an opportunity for focused, uninterrupted work but real-time communication can disrupt this and is based on the assumption that everyone is online at the same time.


The first change in mindset needed for effective communication in a distributed setting is to begin with the assumption that no one is available in real-time. Just because someone is “online” does not mean that we can simply engage in a conversation with them.


Ideally, in flexible work settings, discussions, debates, or brainstorming sessions would be held asynchronously. Contributions can be captured on collaborative documents, company wikis, a slack channel (as long as it’s clear there is no expectation for immediate response) or even a good old email.


While we have tools for pretty much everything, collaboration problems rarely arise from the tools themselves. Rather, they are more likely to arise from the processes that we apply when using those tools. As a result, organizations will have to rethink their internal communication guidelines and ensure their employees understand how to use the tools at their disposal.


One way to do this is to start by making a list of the available tools and communication channels. Next, categorize these by how asynchronous and collaborative they are and decide when each channel is appropriate. We’ve developed a worksheet to help teams and companies create clear guidelines for when to use each tool. Click here to download it and give it a try.


Documenting Everything over Verbal Explanations

Remote teams should always make information, knowledge, and decisions as explicit as possible. Writing, filing, and easily finding documentation are essential skills of a remote or virtual team.


This is a natural extension of the first mindset change. In an office, you would verbally explain things but in flexible work settings, information transfer is best when work, templates, and deliverables are thoroughly documented.


If you are explaining something in person, it’s easy for the other person to interrupt, ask questions, and seek clarification. If asynchronous communication is the norm, it becomes essential to document all relevant information in a single place, allowing for team members to return to that information, without the need for direct interaction.


At Cosmic Centaurs, we always have someone taking notes, or updating our Trello based on the conversation we are having on a Zoom call. Team members can freely access these files as and when needed, whether they need to refer to a decision made during a meeting, or to find a piece of information that was shared.


Alternatively, you can use tools like Fireflies that automatically record and transcribe conversations. If you are recording a conversation, make sure everyone in the meeting is aware should they want to keep some of their thoughts off the record.


Explicit Feedback & Iteration over Implicit Nudges & Evolution

Remote or virtual teams don’t have the luxury of adjusting team behavior and norms through small, implicit social cues. The ability to give and take explicit feedback is essential to having high functioning remote or virtual teams.


Arguably we would give this advice to any team, regardless of whether they are co-located or distributed. However, for teams to perform at a faster pace, the ability to provide feedback and learn from past mistakes in a psychologically safe environment is key. Google’s landmark research on this topic is a reference in this space. They are supported by the work of many others, including Harvard’s organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson who first introduced the concept of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”


In simple terms, this means that all team members believe that:

  • Mistakes will not be held against them

  • They can bring up difficult problems and issues (rather than be expected to solve them all on their own)

  • The team celebrates diversity and divergent thinking rather than favoring group think. Each person’s unique talents are valued.

  • The team celebrates risk-taking and accepts failure as an intrinsic part of taking risks.

  • Solidarity is an essential part of the team’s values and no one would deliberately act to harm the other.

  • The team learns from their past mistakes and adjusts their way of working to avoid them in the future, rather than finger-point.


A great way to bring about psychological safety in a team is to define a team charter that clarifies these sets of values. Reinforcing these values in team rituals like retrospective meetings is important. To learn more about how to run retrospectives and why they are important, click here.


Team Routines & Rituals over Individual Schedules

Team time is precious, and the routines and rituals created should be held sacred (pun intended). Planning around these is more important than adhering to your personal schedule. If a conflict in your schedule means you have to choose between individual work time and team time, the choice should be easily made.


Rituals come in all shapes and sizes and can help teams reinforce their values, manage performance, onboard new team members, and solve for many other team needs.


Since the beginning of community/tribe forming, groups of people created a common explanation of how the world operates and supported it through mindsets and rituals that bring individuals together and help them develop confluence. With the onset of “social distancing”, it is more pressing than ever before that organizations of all sizes bring clarity to its mission, processes, and values.


We have developed a ritual bank for managers and team members to easily find rituals to help bring them together around a common purpose. You can browse it by clicking here. If you would like to develop your own unique rituals you can also use this great template from the folks at Liberationist.


Structured Meetings over Unorganized Discussions

Virtual or remote teams will become less productive if they are attending meetings that are not well structured. Virtual meetings should always be planned with explicit agendas, clear desired outcomes, and known processes for decision-making.


One of the most over-utilized rituals is the always controversial meeting. Meeting fatigue is real, and zoom fatigue is even more real. Every minute spent in a meeting is a minute not spent getting work done. A person who is 5 minutes late to a meeting with 9 others has just wasted 50 minutes of collective work.


That’s why it’s so important that meetings be seen by everyone as essential and productive. This study showed that “better meetings were associated with higher team productivity. Moreover, constructive meeting interaction processes were related to organizational success 2.5 years after the meeting took place.” It’s easy to guess what the outcome of bad meetings can be.


There is also research to show that structured meetings and interactions have better outcomes for virtual teams. In this 2007 study, the adoption of formal procedures and structured processes significantly increased the effectiveness of virtual teams.


So, long story short; here is a (not so) quick list of advice on how to get the best out of virtual team meetings:

  • Ask yourself if you need a meeting at all

  • Keep it limited, ideally less than 8-10 individuals, with only the relevant people

  • Get creative with the format. Sometimes all you need is 10 minutes. Don’t default to hour-long meetings.

  • Choose the right video conferencing tool (don’t even get us started on Microsoft Teams and Google Meet)

  • Send a meeting agenda and any required pre-reading ahead of time

  • Don’t wait until the day of the event to confirm your attendance

  • If you were invited to a meeting, show up on time

  • Start the meeting with a personal check-in. You can ask simple questions like “how is everyone doing today?”, “what did you have for lunch?”, “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?”

  • Stay on track. Go through the meeting agenda as planned. Try to limit scope creep, and stay on time.

  • Manage diversity. Introverts usually get annoyed with long meetings. Different cultures deal with silence differently. Accept that people will sometimes get distracted..

  • Wrap up the meeting with a recap. Restate the objective. Clarify action points or key decisions. Repeat the list of tasks and accountable people.

  • Don’t forget to express appreciation!

  • Document important information or decisions that come up.


Collaboration & Teamwork over Individual Contributions

If teamwork is selected as the appropriate mechanism for creating value, then team events or deliverables should always take precedence over any other time block.


It is widely documented that well-oiled teams can produce far greater value than the sum of their parts, in fact, there seems to be little correlation between individual IQs and Team IQs. In addition, teams that are diverse perform better than those that lack diversity. And teams that have more women, perform even better “by building meaningful relationships and creating successful work processes”. The most prominent research on this topic was made by Prof. Woolley. But we digress.


That’s not to say that teamwork is the only kind of productive work. Sometimes it’s better to work alone, or in a group. We assume most readers of this manifesto are part of teams and want to engage better with their teammates.


If that is true, then making the team feel like you’re committed to that collaboration is important. This is particularly true for leaders who will find themselves skipping the occasional daily standup, or leaving halfway through a planning meeting. You don’t have to be with your team at all times, but when the team comes together, everyone should be there.


Team deliverables should be prioritized over personal deliverables unless of course, those personal tasks could cause a delay to the collective outcome of teamwork.


What’s Next?

To effectively abide by the manifesto, the entire team must agree on the way in which each dimension is implemented. For this, we recommend setting up a workshop or inviting us to host one for you. In this session, break down the way forward, guidelines, and expectations for each dimension of the Manifesto and wrap up the meeting by creating and committing to a team charter, signifying your shared commitment to realizing the Cosmic Centaurs Remote Work Manifesto.



Need Help with Remote Work?

Do you need help improving your remote teams' efficiency and engagement?

Remote Work Tips

Check out our remote works tips and tricks

Insights

We have developed resources & insights to support individuals, teams and companies in understanding, analysing and improving their remote work processes. 

Ritual Bank

Rituals are any activities or habits your team employs to foster culture, collaboration and connectivity. Click through to see our favourite rituals developed by Cosmic Centaurs and our community.  

Subscribe to Our Newsletter
  • Facebook

©2020 by Cosmic Centaurs.