19 March 2024 |

Remote work best practices

By Tracey Wallace

Remote work has some incredible benefits –– including increased employee satisfaction, happiness, and output! But there are risks that come with remote work, especially for those not used to it. 

Since we are being forced to do this (hayyy COVID-19), and aren’t sure how long it will last, below are some practices and tips from the founders and employees at companies including Basecamp, Automattic, and Zapier –– all of which have 100% remote teams. 


Basecamp’s “normal” day-to-day, from here

  • We have very few (if any) meetings during a normal week. If there are any, they have the fewest people possible involved, usually a max of 2–3 folks. And we definitely don’t have recurring meetings.
  • We don’t commute. We all work remotely. Why spend 30–60 minutes traveling to some random building in a busy area to work when we can do the same work at home? This easily saves me 10 hours a week.
  • We don’t chat all day. There’s zero expectation of keeping on top of every chat or responding to an IM immediately. In fact, if anything, we are encouraged to close everything communications-related (including Basecamp!) so that we can focus on the actual work on hand. I regularly do this for hours on end, every day.
  • We don’t all work 9 to 5. We work hours that fit our life and brains. If, for example, you’re at your sharpest at 6 am, why the hell would you wait until “normal business hours” to start working? That’s a waste of your best brain power! As long as we overlap a few hours with our team, we work when it makes sense, not by some arbitrary clock time.

Another major component of maintaining calm is to be very, very serious about not overworking and recognizing life’s priorities.

Less Meetings Are Better 

“Meetings should be like salt–a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.

Further, meetings are major distractions. They require multiple people to drop whatever it is they’re doing and instead do something else. If you’re calling a meeting, you better be sure pulling seven people away from their work for an hour is worth seven hours of lost productivity. How often can you say that a given meeting was worth it? Remember, there’s no such thing as a one-hour meeting. If you’re in a room with five people for an hour, it’s a five-hour meeting.”

  • Most people should have no more than one meeting a day. 
  • Stand-ups should be departmental 
  • One weekly full team meeting is good –– but there needs to be a clear takeaway and an arc to the meeting the same way a story has an arc. A beginning, a middle, a conclusion. 
  • Standard meetings need no longer than 15 minutes. This should be our standard for all meetings moving forward. You don’t need 30 minutes. You definitely don’t need an hour. 
  • Need to brainstorm or solve a hard problem? This leads us to our next remote rule…

Use the collaboration tools at your disposal 

Most people digest information way better when they can read it, understand it, reference it, look at other things, and think through a problem. You can’t do this in a meeting. 

The goal here is this sentiment: Write it, don’t say it. 

“Being a good writer is an essential part of being a good remote worker.” — Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of Basecamp

Google Docs

If you want to brainstorm, or if you want to solve a hard problem, or if you need more than just you to get something done, you need a Google Doc. 

  • Brainstorm template.
  • Solving hard problems template.
  • Need to get something done template. 

We can add to these. Each one needs to be clear about what the goal is, why this is important, and when we should have a group decision (if needed) made. All of this can be done in the doc, or on Slack. 

This gives people an understanding of:

  • Purpose
  • Goal
  • Need
  • Timeframe (so they can prioritize for themselves).** If they do not participate, move on. People get to decide how to spend their time to get the most work done. 


We need to clean up our Slack and use it correctly. 

  • Sales channel for sales only.
  • Marketing channel for marketing only. 
  • Operations channel for operations only. 
  • Exec channel for execs only. 
  • General internal for general internal only.

You get it. 

THEN –– we need to be specific about who is included on what information and documents. 

  • Do we need both sales and marketing input on something? We should have a channel with sales and marketing that we can use that for. 
  • Do we need only sales and marketing exec feedback on something? Why? Is it not good for everyone to help? What about the other execs? Need to be clear on who needs to be involved, why, and create the appropriate channels. 

This is where folks should be pinged on documents for feedback and collaboration. Less email. More slack. Clear communication is KEY for remote work –– and one fast way to increase transparency is by using individual-to-group communication, rather than 1-1 like email. 

When to have a meeting

There are two times when you should have a meeting:

  1. When you sense frustration or when things over slack are becoming heated. Quick call between the two parties involved. Talk it out. Figure it out. This shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes. 

REMEMBER: Most frustration is about *something else* and it’s so easy when you work remotely to forget that there is someone on the other side of the screen. Plus, context is harder to understand when written. So, pick up the phone, or do a Google Hangout, whatever. But hear someone’s voice and work through the heat. 

  1. For clarity! And then, if you have to have a lot of meetings for clarity, it’s a good time to figure out how to better write what you mean so you can reduce meetings and save time. 

Meetings are often just a way to get everyone in the same room to hear the same thing. Most often, the only person a meeting feels successful for is the person who hosted it, who likely spoke the entire time. This is ALL MEETINGS. 

Also, meetings foster a sense of “false peace,” especially check ins. It is important that people feel they can say what they really think, not just agree with a group and move on. It is also important that the right people are asked, not just anyone. Some opinions matter more for certain things than others, that’s just the end all be all of it. And that’s good. Because you can spend your time where you need to get what you need to get done, done. 

The biggest problem with remote work? Working TOO much…

A manager’s natural instinct is to worry that her workers aren’t getting enough work done. But the real threat is that they will wind up working too hard. And because the manager isn’t sitting across from her worker anymore, she can’t look in the person’s eyes and see burnout.

That’s why managers need to establish a culture of reasonable expectations. At 37signals, that means that we expect people to work no more than 40 hours a week, on average.

There are no hero awards for putting in more than that. Sure, every now and then there’s the need for a short sprint. But most of the time, the company views what it does as a marathon. It’s crucial for everyone to pace themselves.

One way to help set a healthy boundary is to encourage employees to think in terms of “a good day’s work.” Look at your progress at the end of the day and ask yourself: “Have I done a good day’s work?”

This is happening to our team a lot right now. We need to reinforce healthy work boundaries, esp. from home. Keep in mind that healthy work boundaries might not be 9-5. It could be 10-6 or 7-3. Whatever it is… teams should all work within 2 hours of each other. So, for our company, that would be 7 – 7 p.m. Choose your 8 hours in there, and go. 

The above also goes for messaging. We should not be emailing or slacking people — even ideas! — outside of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you have something you want to say, do it in those hours. Schedule it. Make a note of it. 

If you want people to collaborate, you have to ping them during the right hours and at the right times — so you have their attention, respect, and not their burn out. 

Wait, but what about culture?

Good question! Remote companies have culture, too! They usually go on retreats 2X a year that last a week. They also find ways for people to interact who usually don’t interact.

We could 100% get something like this up. At BigCommerce, when on-boarding new members, I made a list of people for them to have lunch with in their first 6 weeks. At least one each week, whoever was available. At these lunches they’d need to learn:

  1. Who the person is, and how they describe what they do (not their title…I don’t care. I can look that up.) 
  2. What they say makes their job hard
  3. What they are most proud of having done at the company so far
  4. How they think you, in your new role, can help them to do something that’d be proud of or would make their life easier. 

All I really wanted to know was #2. Because if you know #2, and can figure out a way to make that part of their job easier for them, you win them over — you are on their team. The answers to these questions would become the new hires first 3 months after onboarding priorities. It gets them in good with the team, builds trust, and gets them small, team-driven wins. 

We can do the same! What solves big problems for one of us, solves problems for all of us. We cross the finish line as a team, or we don’t cross at all.