When Juliana Chan decided to take her company fully remote in August, some managers reached out and said, “You are very brave to be going remote,” she recalled.
“They are not wrong,” the founder and CEO of Wildtype Media, a STEM-focused media communications firm, told CNBC Make It.
That’s because remote work “comes with its own set of challenges” for companies, despite its popularity among employees.
Nonetheless, it was Chan’s “instincts” that told her it was time to embrace “the future of work.”
“Our office lease was coming to an end in August 2023, and I felt it was underutilized after reviewing the usage of the office over the past three years,” the 40-year-old Singaporean shared.
“Furthermore, I have never had one person ever complain about our remote-work policy … during performance reviews [employees] always share with me how grateful they are not to have to fight traffic jams and commute daily.”
Currently, Chan manages a 20-member team — based in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and India — with 30 to 40 regular freelancers around the world.
When she wrote a post on LinkedIn about taking her company remote, Chan said she received an influx of messages from job applicants asking for possible roles.
Millions of workers desire to work anywhere and any time, but when it comes to hiring a good remote worker — Chan said she has become “much more sophisticated” with the process.
“A potentially strong remote worker could be a very different pick from a strong in-person worker,” she explained.
“The types of in-person behaviors that are traditionally key to success in an office setting may not matter anymore in a remote setting, so I cannot assume past success (in-person) will translate to future success (remote).”
According to Chan, these two traits make a “prototypically strong remote worker”:
While it seems rather self-explanatory that a remote worker should be able to communicate well virtually using apps like Slack, email or Zoom, Chan said that from her experience, not everyone fares well in that department.
“They may simply ‘disappear’ [and act] like they were never part of the company in the first place,” she added.
“They may not participate in virtual water-cooler conversations, put in the effort to create 1:1 conversations … or invest their energy and time into creating strong professional relationships with their virtual teammates.”
Chan stressed that a good virtual communicator should be able to “ask for help and self-report problems” too.
“While most people would like to work flexibly, not everyone is suited for it. All of us have different personality types and levels of professional experience, and our needs at different stages of our career are also remarkably different,” she added.
For remote work to be effective, employees also need to be fully accountable for their work performance, Chan said.
“This is a gamechanger: if everyone agrees to be fully accountable … It is possible to create high-performance teams that have never even once met their remote colleagues in real life, while operating nearly autonomously.”
A remote worker who is not accountable would be unreachable for hours or even all day, “miss their deadlines but not communicate a change in plans to their supervisor,” Chan added.
“While this is also a problem in an office setting, the problem is compounded in a remote setting as nobody (not even the supervisor) has any visibility on the matter.”
While “team players” and good communicators are highly valued in remote work, “loud laborers” may find their efforts fruitless, said Chan.
“‘Peacocks’ who used to be able to get away by showing up the loudest [through] presenteeism and show-boating are no longer valuable in a remote setting.”
Even though her company is now fully remote, Chan said she remains a “huge supporter” of face-to-face meetings and believes companies need to make an intentional effort to keep employees engaged.
“Human beings crave physical contact and interaction — everything we lost in the Covid-19 pandemic,” she added.
To prevent isolation of employees, Chan said she organizes company-sponsored lunches and flies overseas employees into Singapore, or travels to meet them.
She has also taken the savings from not having an office and used it on overseas retreats for the last two years, she added.
“In fact, I look forward to meeting them more now than I would if I saw them daily,” Chan quipped.
The most important way to safeguard against disengagement however, is having a shared purpose and mission.
“When your team works across four countries like mine does, you need to work even harder as their leader,” she added.