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Why We Can All Benefit From Remote Work—Including the Planet!

At Blinkist, remote work is part of our culture. We know that doing great work is about more than showing up to the office.
by Milica Radojevic | Dec 20 2019

As I write this sitting at my desk in our spacious Blinkist office overlooking the canal, everything is rather peaceful except for occasional sounds of typing and muffled traffic outside the building. The workstations around here are rarely at full capacity. Walking around, you’d hardly guess that Blinkist is a team of almost 150 people. Nonetheless, meetings take place, projects are kicked off, problems get solved, book-in-blinks are added to our library—and the Blinkist app is looking better than ever. Even if you’re not physically in the office, you can feel people’s presence through the great results of their work.

In just a year, Blinkist has grown from 80 to 150 team members. Our physical office is located in Neukölln, a Berlin neighborhood that’s exploded in popularity in recent years. Across 2,000m2 and three bright, airy floors, our modern open office boasts a dozen meeting rooms, a canalside terrace, a large all-hands area, a few cosy kitchens, and a company canteen that serves fresh, plant-based food every day. Even with all this space and convenience at our fingertips, we can take our work out of Blinkist HQ and devise our own schedules to fit our preferences and whatever’s going on in our lives.

You Know How You Work Best

At Blinkist, we believe that each individual knows best when and where they can do their most effective work. Personally, this occasional change of context has become one of my favorite routines for any work that requires creativity, innovation, or just a little bit of distance from everyday tasks. When I do work from the office, though, I find it’s a lot more enjoyable because it never seems too crowded or noisy.

Trust Drives Results

When I first got introduced to Blinkist and learned more about the remote work practices they have in place, I couldn’t help but feel a bit skeptical about it. How can you make sure that the work gets done? How do you give enough guidance for people to achieve good results? As I started to get used to this environment that, at first, seemed a little too good to be true, I learned that trust is one of the main building blocks upon which Blinkist’s extremely supportive and inviting culture is built. From hands-off leadership, a flat hierarchy, and distributed authority, to complete ownership of domains, everything depended on having trust in each other’s expertise and the intent to push the company forward.

Trust leads to empowerment, which then creates accountability. When people are allowed to make decisions and drive change without being micromanaged and are provided with enough resources to do so, the sense of accountability follows naturally, and that’s what propels excellent performance, regardless of the team’s whereabouts. As Zapier’s remote work guide suggests, trust is key for building healthy and productive relationships with remote employees — something Blinkist had in abundance, and was making a conscious effort to reinforce and nurture.

Having more flexibility and time, avoiding traffic jams and commute-related expenses are some of the obvious and oft-discussed benefits that remote work brings to employees. But what are some of the more implicit advantages that it can have beyond the well-being of individuals?

Communication Gets Clearer

In teams with remote members, alignment becomes the prerequisite of effective collaboration. Defining your team objectives, milestones, and measures of success becomes essential for keeping everyone on the same page, as opportunities for alignment and course-correction are less frequent than when everyone is sitting next to each other. So we make an effort to get those right early on, and ultimately, the whole team can benefit from that increased clarity.

Subsequently, communication overhead is likely to decrease. Attention is a precious resource nowadays, particularly hard to command via written communication. Although the fastest method, emails and texts have become quite easy to ignore. On the other hand, face-to-face communication carries a lot of valuable information that the written word lacks, i.e. gestures, facial expressions, body movements, tone of voice, and other stimuli that help attract and retain the attention of the person receiving the message. Therefore, in writing, it is essential that the message is explicit, engaging, and relevant for the recipient. Despite the barriers of written communication, working remotely can actually help the team communicate more effectively with each other by paying more attention to the tone and structure of their communication, and developing the helpful skill of bottom-lining—i.e. brevity and clarity in communication.

Documentation Empowers Every Domain

Furthermore, remotes need to be able to find information easily and in a timely fashion, which usually requires that the processes and policies are streamlined, well-documented and easily-accessible. This goes hand-in-hand with our value of self-empowerment—we want to enable people to lead autonomously within their domains by providing the necessary resources and support. For this reason, a lot of our processes are based on a self-service mentality. We take time and effort to store information carefully, and instruct each other on where to find it, which, in turn, helps everyone learn and grow and creates room for meaningful work with more strategic impact. This, of course, requires a lot of thinking (and constant rethinking) of information architecture, documentation, and automation.

Remote Work Improves Our Carbon Footprint

Last, but certainly not least, remote work could have a tremendous impact on reducing pollution. Transportation, which includes commuting to and from work, is considered one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. To put things into perspective, we looked at how much Blinkist has helped reduce the carbon footprint by enabling our employees to work remotely. With 5 fully-remote employees, and an average of 10% of people working from home everyday, we estimated a saving of nearly 1.9 metric tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions over the course of a year. With the recent climate events as an uncomfortable reminder of our negligence (which might come to haunt us sooner rather than later), it could be worth considering any means for decreasing the devastating effect our population is having on the planet. Remote work seems to be one of the viable options that could ultimately result in a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Building skills and structures for effective remote work practices sure takes time and energy, but we believe that it’s a worthwhile investment that could pay off in the long run. Besides the obvious benefits it has on the well-being of employees and the attractiveness of our employer brand, this practice has a far-reaching effect on, not just the workplace and the company culture, but also the wider environment. At Blinkist we are committed to providing our employees with enough flexibility to support their diverse needs and lifestyles, as much as we are committed to making Blinkist a more ecologically-sustainable workplace. Although we enjoy spending time together during various team events and company getaways, we don’t mind being physically spread out while we work if that’s what helps us reach our full potential, achieve the best results, and minimize our own environmental footprint.

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