Remote Work Anti-Patterns 🚫

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

As an engineer, I was fascinated when I was first introduced to design patterns but I was even more intrigued when I read about anti-patterns. Put simply, design patterns are good practices to solve common problems while anti-patterns are the exact opposite and undesirable.

For example, it is good practice to break classes and functions into smaller units with clearly-defined and singular responsibility. As opposed to this is the anti-pattern where a single class has lots of dependencies, responsibilities and grows beyond all logic to become the class that does everything - God Class.

Anti-patterns provide a healthy dose of self-criticism and help detect unproductive behaviour or processes. This got me thinking about a similar approach for remote work - finding patterns that are counter-productive.

1. Remote is your standard work-life on video

The biggest mistake would be to assume that working remotely is going to be the same as in-office except for the cameras. It is important to understand that it requires conscious efforts on rethinking communication & documentation, building trust & social interaction among other things when building a distributed team.

2. The shift to remote is a 0 to 1 switch

Buffer came up with ‘The Remote Working Scale’ which categorises the way a company could approach remote working. So, the shift to remote is ideally not a 0 to 1 switch and has many intermediate levels that could be implemented.

The important point, however, is to build a truly remote-first culture rather than just being remote-friendly even at the intermediate levels. We have detailed the difference between being remote-first and remote-friendly in our guide.

There can’t be a better example to demonstrate this anti-pattern than the current sudden remoteness situation due to COVID-19. Individuals and companies have been able to ‘work from home’, but are still finding their way to operate efficiently as a remote team. Companies like Facebook, TCS, etc. who have announced their plans of going remote are also doing so only gradually.

3. Hybrid Meetings

When one person is remote for a meeting, everyone else should be too. I can recollect countless comedy of errors in my early days when our team used to take the catchup call from a conference room and dial-in our manager. Most times, all our managers could hear was a room full of noise, echo and side conversations.

4. Every interaction is a formal meeting

When you are in-office, communication doesn’t just happen in the form of scheduled meetings. Most of it in fact tends to be impromptu and informal - water cooler chats, spontaneous decision to grab food or a chance meeting in the hallway. These aspects are super critical to forming a supportive team.

This isn’t happening in a remote setting unless you are intentional about it. If all the communication in your remote team happens only in the form of pre-arranged meetings, there’s no chance of team bonding and getting to know each other.

Something as simple as having a text chat group or dedicated Slack channels can help break this anti-pattern.

5. Out of sight, out of mind

In a remote setting, it’s easy to assume everything’s ok when you don’t see or meet your coworkers. However, mental health challenges accompanying remote work are for real and we should openly acknowledge them.

It could be as simple as someone feeling low on a particular day or having problems with depression, anxiety or stress. It is important to support your co-workers in such situations and your company’s culture should reflect concrete steps that support mental wellbeing. We have documented some great examples in this post.

6. Wrong notion of time

When you are in-office, you usually adhere to a common 9-to-6 schedule or the likewise. In a remote setting, even if you are in the same timezone, enforcing such a schedule is almost impossible and highly inefficient. A more practical approach is to align on overlapping time blocks throughout the day for which all of your teammates are available.

Another common fallacy is that remote meetings usually take longer than in-office meetings. If this is indeed happening in your team, the solution isn’t to extend the recommended hours for remote meetings but to find and fix the underlying inefficiency.

7. Big Brother

This tweet explains the extent of craziness. The person’s boss installed spyware on their computers to track “productivity” via keystrokes and mouse movement. If the productivity falls below 80%, they get penalized.

Of course you may never opt for such extreme measure but any kind of micro-management usually is a recipe for failure in a remote setting. You should trust that your employees do good work and instead focus on being output-driven.

8. I don’t have a plan B

Almost every situation in a remote context should have a fallback.

What do you do when your Wifi suddenly stops working in the midst of a meeting? Have a backup hotspot connection ready.

What if Zoom fails during your regular standup? Have an alternative in the form of a phone conference or hangouts.

It’s important to test and have the backup options ready beforehand. You shouldn’t be thinking of the backup when things fall apart.

9. Assuming everyone’s prepared for the meeting

I remember the time when I had to present to my partner at BCG over conference. I used to share the powerpoint well in advance and every single time, she hadn’t read through it. This is of course not specific to a remote setting but the problem gets compounded due to added complications in a virtual world (video conferencing system, audio issues, internet bandwidth etc.).

It’s often a good practice to allow all participants to go through the agenda or the deck in the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting. Simple yet effective.

10. Lack of Netiquettes

It’s a no-brainer but things like not interrupting, muting yourself when not speaking, ensuring a quiet environment for a meeting are often taken for granted. Matt Mullenweg, Co-founder of WordPress & Automattic, has an interesting opinion on muting though - he says it is very unnatural for anyone to speak to a muted room. So, as much as possible, one should ensure a quiet surrounding for calls and mute only for breaks (e.g. drinking water).

P.S: Originally published here.

Here's what our users had to say:

  • Mark Walter said "This is a nice read Hrishikesh! Particularly like the point of having a Plan B, always. Very underestimated."

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Thanks Mark :-) Absolutely!"

  • Cathy T said "The person’s boss installed spyware on their computers to track “productivity” via keystrokes and mouse movement. If the productivity falls below 80%, they get penalized. Wow! Can’t imagine something like this happening - absolute horror! Nice read, @hrishikesh. Good takeaways too!"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "That’s right! Such instances aren’t that uncommon. Glad you liked it :-)"

  • Lindsay King said "The point about hybrid meetings is so important. They don’t work. Remote participants in hybrid meetings almost never participate, for one thing."

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Absolutely Lindsay! Even if the remote person in a hybrid meetings wants to, it is super tough to keep him/ her updated with every tiny conversation or movement happening in the physical meeting room."