In this new world of work, I have been thinking through how the largest companies of our time have been able to maintain high throughput, development velocity, and consistent product innovation. Simply put — how are companies like Amazon, Stripe, and Tesla able to keep the trains running on time without everyone in the same physical space?
Companies that are able to maintain high throughput without the corporate requirement of a physical office are ones that have built out work processes that resemble how a fully remote company works by default. This does not give remote teams an edge, but it does mean that well working remote teams are pre-built for scale because they have the same work processes of the big boys by default. Allow me to illustrate.
Independence by default
Team members that work remotely, out of their home, coffee shop, or shared desk space, and are known high throughput contributors and leaders, have been given a level of freedom and latitude from their employer. They don't wait for others to give them a green light, stay in their lane at all costs, or build only what they are told to build. They are independent thinkers and push forward ideas for the organization. Large companies that breed a culture of "collaborative independence" in their workforce support teams with colleagues that can work collaboratively and remotely to survive - no one is coming to check in on them at their homes to assign and update projects. As such remote teams have independence by default.
Planning by default
If a team does not have a map of where they are driving then they are likely to all drive in different directions. Deep, thoughtful, short, and long-range planning is critical to high throughput teams because they minimize wasted time and force organizations to focus on executing against a defined road map. If everyone is in the same office organizations can paper over this, but remote teams would be flying blind without strict, well-organized planning. Remote teams use planning as the basis for their collective work and as a way to understand how their work intersects with others. As such remote teams build planning into the organization by default.
Documentation by default
When everyone is around the same table documentation is verbal or on a whiteboard. While documentation can change, this only works for the single table of people. Large scale companies know this does not scale so they build a culture of documentation - where system architectures, through processes, road maps, and knowledge is thoroughly documented. They do this so the organization has its own internal reference & encyclopedia on itself. For a remote team, documentation is the only way to interact - there is no whiteboard or sidebar conversation to be had in the office. Maintaining internal documentation is the base line for remote team members to interact with each other. And it makes for higher throughput. As such, remote teams have a culture of documentation by default.
Decision Making by default
Nimble, fast moving companies can make choices quickly. Slow organizations have unclear approval processes, endless meetings about choices that need to be made and have multiple people that need to sign off on a project for it to start. High throughput companies have clear decision making channels and remote teams depend on these channels from the outset to get work done. When working remotely it is critical to know what needs approval to move forward, what the process is, and for the organization to complete the approval fast. Otherwise team members are just chatting with each-other unproductively. For this reason remote teams build out quick and clear decision making by default.
Transparency by default
Many organizations live on secrets. Knowledge of a project is a prize; transparency into what another team is working on is discouraged because it is thought of as a distraction. But high throughput companies do it differently - weekly all-company meetings where anyone can ask the CEO any question; transparency into another team's work and how you can participate; the ability for each team member to see the larger picture and not just the component they are working on. Remote teams can only operate with transparency. If each remote team member feels locked in their home they quickly become disillusioned. For this reason, remote teams build out a culture of transparency by default.
Camaraderie by default
Work is more than just work for high throughput organizations. Team members feel as though they are part of a larger mission. This breeds bonds with other team members and builds a culture of fun while working hard. At a remote company you are connected to the organization through the relationships you build with your other team members. It's these relationships that take you out of your home or coffee shop and into a virtual space with the rest of your remote team. For this reason, teams that are remote have built-in camaraderie by default.