1 - Assess Your Full-Remote Compatibility 2 - Set Rules, Define Boundaries 3 - Foster Regular Human Interaction 4 - Establish Rituals 5 - Champion Asynchronous Work 6 - Document Everything. All the Time. 7 - Cultivate a Culture of Ownership 8 - Define Clear Objectives 9 - Trust from Day One 10 -Recruit Full-Remote-Compatible Talent
"How can you be sure your employees are actually working if they never come to the office?" 🤔 Since we launched Magma as a full-remote company, this question pops up a lot. It's natural to have concerns about how full-remote operates and its effectiveness compared to in-person work, especially when you're accustomed to working with your team in an office.
We've been working in distributed teams for over 3 years. It hasn't all been smooth sailing. Our policy has been crafted through experimentation after experimentation to find a model that suits us.
I'll share the questions you need to ask and the rules to follow if you're considering implementing your own distributed organization. Of course, these are based on my experience and tailored to our company, team, culture, and habits. If you want to use this, I recommend adapting it.
What is Full-Remote?
Let's start by defining what we mean by full-remote. It's a company without a physical office, where employees can work from wherever they choose. At Magma, we have employees scattered across France and even abroad.
Popularized by the Covid-19 crisis, many companies have reevaluated their operations to offer more flexibility to their teams. However, this approach doesn't fit all professions or industries. You can't transform your bakery into a full-remote company.
We Won't Discuss Hybrid Work ❌
Hybrid companies have one or more offices. They allow some employees to work from wherever they want but also maintain physical spaces. From my perspective, blending two environments (remote and in-person) within the same company is challenging. They involve significantly different collaboration styles.
We Won't Focus Exclusively on "Home Office" ❌
Home office means working from your home, whether for a day or the entire week. Remote work involves working from wherever you are, not just your home. While some people do full-remote through home office days, it's not mandatory. This is a critical clarification, as it's a major misconception: "It's not for me; I couldn't work from home every day..."
💬 Disclaimer :
Please be aware, while the home office is starting to get regulated from a labor law perspective, there's still a lot of legal ambiguity. Here, I'm sharing my organization and points of caution (legal, tax, insurance), but I'm neither a lawyer nor a tax expert, let alone a labor law specialist.
1) Ask yourself: Are you Full-Remote compatible? 🙅♂️
Rule #1: Full-remote isn't suitable for all companies or employees. If you're considering implementing a fully remote policy for your employees, first think about whether this way of working aligns with both you and your employees.
While it might sound appealing on paper, it presents a significant challenge to your individual work style as well as your company as a whole. Productivity, project tracking, collaboration, and the work environment will all need to be reassessed, and sometimes, even relearned.
Remember that not everyone desires remote work. For a significant number of individuals, the workplace serves as a social hub, where people are happy to come and share human interactions with colleagues.
If Possible, Start on Your Company's First Day 🐣
At Magma, going full-remote was initially an opportunity to create the company. In the early days of our journey, we were located in two different countries. We naturally established rules, one by one.
In retrospect, this period was crucial in shaping our remote culture, attracting talents who share this approach, these values, and are ready to evolve them with us.
My advice: if you're in the process of starting your business, make this decision now, as the transition will be tougher once you already have a rhythm, an organization, and a team.
If Not, Ensure Everyone Is Aligned with Full-Remote 🙏
If your company is already in motion and you wish to switch to full-remote, the task will be much more challenging.
Often, employees are enticed by this new way of working, closer to home, with fewer constraints. But believe me: not everyone has the ability or desire to do it. New tools, a new way of collaborating, managing, and being managed: it's a small revolution to undertake both individually and collectively.
If you're considering this shift, ensure that your team members:
genuinely want to work in this manner; listen to them as much as possible
possess the necessary skills for this work style
are aligned with the rules, as full-remote doesn't mean "I do whatever I want."
2) Set Rules, Define Boundaries 🚫
Rule #2: Full-remote is primarily about structure and rules. There's no remote policy without clear rules. Just like office etiquette, you'll need a framework within which your teams can work and thrive.
It's the founders' job to define the scope: what you want, what you don't. When working remotely, you don't have visibility over anything or anyone; this framework will allow you to provide autonomy to everyone (see rule #7 on ownership).
Where do you want your employees to be located? It might seem counterintuitive, but it's a fundamental point. A company with employees scattered across France or one with team members in Tokyo, Sydney, and Paris won't have the same constraints.
Can your employees travel as they wish throughout the year, or do they need to be tied to a specific country? This raises questions about time zones, employment contracts, taxation, salaries, and administrative complexities, which will differ significantly.
For example, at Magma, we've decided that:
Employees should stay within +2/-6 hours of Paris time zone; we don't want our employees working nights where they are.
Tax residency must be maintained: for instance, a French citizen needs to be physically in France for more than 6 months a year.
Define working hours. I'm not a fan of organizations without set hours. We often think it's more flexible, that fixed hours are too rigid. In reality, it often means we're never disconnected. In full-remote, the boundary between personal and professional is more complex to manage. In an office, it's simple: when I leave, I disconnect. But what do we do when there's no office?
Whether you're working in the same time zone or not, I advise you to establish a timeframe. At Magma, we all work in the same time zone (even those in different ones), and we connect at 9 AM and disconnect at 6 PM.
Framing travel is also important. When people join a full-remote company, it's crucial to explain whether they'll need to travel and how it's organized. Do you meet in person from time to time? Not at all? Are there team or company-wide gatherings?
For many, this might not matter, but in reality, setting these rules from the beginning is essential. For example:
- The digital nomad profile: an employee joining you to travel all year might not want to undertake company travel to meet colleagues every month or quarter. - The profile not interested (or unable) to travel: an employee wants to be full-remote to avoid interactions with colleagues or avoid traveling for professional reasons. - At Magma, we ask everyone to travel if necessary. For our quarterly "retreats," but also for any major events. Several candidates didn't continue the recruitment process because for them, full-remote meant not traveling.
Adapt Rules Every 6 Months (if necessary)
These rules need to be firm. You need to get everyone on board from their first day to avoid misalignment. However, they can't be set in stone. Just like with an office-based company, rules need to evolve based on changes within the company. The way things function with two founders isn't the same as with 10 team members, let alone 50.At Magma, every 6 months, we review the rules to see if they're still relevant to our challenges and needs. Try to involve your team members as much as possible in evolving and maintaining these rules. This will make them more engaged;
3) Encourage Your Teams to Connect with People Daily 🫂
Rule #3: Recreate a socializing environment for your employees. Let's not kid ourselves: no matter how many online activities or rituals you create, nothing replaces genuine human interaction. In the realm of full-remote work, trying to replicate that office camaraderie from a distance is simply impossible.
As a leader, it's crucial to ensure that everyone can establish a social environment that suits them, wherever they are, based on their personal constraints.
For some, it might involve renting a desk in a coworking space to have that work environment with people around. The coffee break ritual for chatting, sharing, and meeting new faces.
For others, it could mean working out at a gym, being part of a club, or engaging in an association.
Or even dedicating time to connect with friends nearby.
There are numerous solutions to this challenge, but never forget that one of the primary reasons for detachment in full-remote setups is solitude. It will depend on individuals' profiles and personalities, but if you want a tightly-knit and committed team in the long run, achieving this balance is crucial.
Speaking from my own experience, having worked remotely for 6 years, I've always maintained a desk in a coworking space to work alongside others. This might seem paradoxical to many, but yes, I go to the office every day even though our team isn't there. It's important for my work-life balance, as well as my mental well-being.
At Magma, each individual has a remote budget, enabling everyone to work in the best-suited environment. I encourage everyone to have a workspace in a setting with fellow coworkers, because I understand how vital it is for me.
4) Establish Rituals ⏰
Rule #4: To engage your team, create rituals.
Many complain about the lack of employee engagement in a full-remote setup. For me, the secret lies in the rituals that punctuate your daily routine. These are appointments that give everyone clear deadlines and moments with their team or the entire group. At Magma, we've designed these rituals based on timing.
As an example, here's how we organize ourselves to collaborate and spend time together:
Daily Meeting: Every morning at 9:05, we take 5 minutes for a video check-in to say hello and share our daily objectives. This time lets us gauge everyone's mood and "vibe." It's our team's virtual "coffee break" moment.
Slack Weekend Moment: Every Monday morning in Slack, a bot prompts us to share about our weekends with the whole team. A simple message that lets us bring a bit of our personal life to our colleagues.
All Hands: Every Tuesday morning, we set aside 30 minutes to present each team's goals for the week. Linked to our roadmap and OKRs, this gives everyone visibility into what's happening this week. It's also a time to share significant updates between teams.
Coffee Time: Every Wednesday afternoon, we take 30 minutes to chat about anything and everything. No fixed topic—could be current events, a movie, a game... A time to talk about everything except work-related matters.
Weekly Team Presentation: Every Thursday morning, on alternate weeks, teams present their progress. - Tech/Product Team: Highlights the upcoming sprint set for production the following week. - Sales Team: Shares sales figures and ongoing deals.
Weekly Debrief: Every Friday at 5 PM, we debrief the past week. It's also a time to celebrate accomplishments.
Monthly Report: Every month, we compile a report summarizing the events of the month.
1:1 Meeting: Each month, one of the founders spends an individual 30-minute session with every employee to discuss mood, successes, obstacles, and improvements. It's an important time to check-in and talk when things aren't going so well.
Remote Team Moment: Once every quarter, someone organizes a virtual team event. We block 1 to 1.5 hours for online games, inspiring talks, or even a yoga session. It can be a bit challenging at times, but it creates some fun memories together.
Retreat: Every quarter, we dedicate a week to come together. It's like a seminar—a chance to spend time and work with colleagues! The location changes each quarter, letting us reunite, meet new faces, and focus on key topics for the upcoming months.
OKR Meeting: At Magma, we've structured our objectives using the OKR framework (see below). Every quarter, during the retreat, we take time to review the previous quarter and assess how we've met our set objectives. It's also the time to introduce the next ones!
1:2 Meeting: Similar to the 1:1, every quarter, during the in-person retreat, we sit down with each employee for a joint conversation about their deeper individual topics. Both founders are present at this meeting.
5) Prioritize Asynchronous Work 😴
Rule #5: Minimize the number of meetings and prioritize asynchronous work and communication. From my perspective, this is the rule that changes everything. It restores productivity, accelerates progress, and grants each individual considerable freedom in personal organization.
In the office, it's easy to grab a colleague for a quick 5-minute discussion or tap them on the shoulder for an immediate answer. Those dynamics shift in a remote setting.
In a distributed environment, everyone organizes their work time individually. While teams have recurring meetings, the gaps between these scheduled times are essential for actual production. Asynchronous work transforms the equation by reducing meetings and interruptions, enabling progress without reliance on immediate responses.
Guidelines and Methods for Asynchronous Work
Assume your colleague is unavailable. Document your request in detail.
Always operate under the assumption that the person you're reaching out to isn't available and won't be for a few hours. While we'd all love immediate answers and rapid feedback, interrupting someone's work can be disruptive.
Exercise patience and document your request meticulously. No longer frame your questions as simple back-and-forth exchanges. Provide as much detail as possible: screenshots, videos, information, etc. Anticipate the questions your colleague might have.
This approach empowers them to be as autonomous as possible when they respond (or work on your request) and avoids holding you up.
Employ simple tools to record your inquiries.
The argument against asynchronous work often revolves around "it's easier to talk in person than to write everything down; it takes too much time." This excuse no longer holds. Numerous tools now enable recording (audio, video, screencasts).
At Magma, we structure notes using Notion or Linear (for tech-related topics), and we heavily utilize Loom for video and screencast recordings. This lets us document colleague requests with great precision within minutes.
Slack is also at the core of asynchronous communication. The audio recording function facilitates exchanges across different timeframes (similar to voice notes on WhatsApp).
We also have a habit of recording and storing all our important meetings directly via Google Meet. This grants unavailable or new team members autonomous access to all meeting information.
Agenda: The Organizational Core and Meetings as a Last Resort.
The key to effective team organization is a shared and up-to-date agenda. To offer visibility to everyone, transparency is crucial, and timing is pivotal. Always set deadlines when reaching out to someone. Utilize their agenda to align your request with their availability. This streamlines outcomes.
As a last resort, meetings can certainly be scheduled. However, we've established a few rules. For instance: specifying the duration, outlining any necessary prep work or documents beforehand, and clarifying the expected outcome.
6) Document Everything. All the Time ✍️
Rule #6: The foundation of full-remote is meticulous documentation. And the organization of this documentation should ensure long-term accessibility.
In-person dynamics foster the ease of sharing information and interacting with colleagues whenever a question arises. In a remote setup, this fluidity diminishes.
Documentation is paramount to ensure everyone is integrated, flourishing, and operational. It should become the central information hub to address all the questions someone might have: about organization, projects, and more.
Document as if you're going to lose your memory in 24 hours.
Stepping into a remote project without documentation is a recipe for failure. As the project lead, it's your responsibility to ensure that documentation is present and comprehensive. It should contain all the necessary information for its operation. This is crucial for others, but also for you. It will allow you to dive back into your documents or projects months later without forgetting anything.
Start as early as possible and be concise.
Begin documenting as early as possible within your company. The longer you wait, the more challenging the task becomes. A simple rule for knowing what to document: when you're asked a question and the answer isn't already in your documentation, then it needs to be added. Another important point is to favor short and direct answers that will help people find the information easily.
Empower the teams.
Documentation is everyone's task. It's important for the entire team to feel concerned about this issue. Especially since you don't have expertise in all areas within your company. It's crucial to raise awareness about ownership (see rule #7) in order to ensure consistency in your documentation. When there's no one responsible, it's everyone's fault and no one's at the same time.
Clean up, adjust, complete, and start over!
Like code, documentation should be continuously updated. Your company will evolve, and your documentation should evolve too. It's important to revisit "old" notes to see if they're still relevant and avoid creating duplicates. At Magma, we take advantage of "retreats" or the arrival of new team members to ensure that the documentation is always up to date.
7) Foster a Culture of Ownership 🏠
Rule #7: Build a strong culture of ownership with your teammates. But beware, everyone would like to have responsibilities, and unfortunately, not everyone is up to the task.
In a remote setup, you can't be behind everyone's back:
You'll spend all your time doing that
You'll frustrate your entire team
If you want things to move forward, hire talented individuals (Rule #10), trust them (Rule #9), provide them a clear destination (Rule #8), and hand them the keys to the truck (Rule #7). If they have what it takes, they'll navigate their path without a hitch and call you upon arrival to share their journey!
At Magma, each team member has a clear ownership scope. In this note, we have documented what's crucial in our Ownership culture, here are the key points (click the link for details):
All owners, no managers
Level of expectations
Organization and delegation
8) Set Clear Goals ✅
Rule #8: To empower your teams, you need to set clear goals. There are plenty of tools and methods to define them: SMART, OKR, GROW, etc. Whatever tool you decide to use, the most important thing is to stick with it!
Setting goals is a trickier exercise than it may seem. However, it's the only way to provide vision to your teams and make them autonomous. This approach offers you a great deal of flexibility, and you'll quickly know if the person you've hired meets your expectations.
At Magma, we use the OKR framework, customized to fit our needs and size. We establish 3-5 objectives at the start of each quarter, and each team member sets their "Key Results" to achieve in order to contribute to the overall goals. These objectives are reviewed every month and guide us week after week. This keeps us on track and lets us know if we're meeting deadlines. Everyone is individually held accountable.
9) Have Trust from Day One 🔑
Rule #9: Don't wait to give your trust: have trust from day one. Probably the most complex rule. Normally, in a "normal" office setting, a colleague, an employee gradually gains the trust of the team AND the leaders.
In a remote context, this doesn't work. It's impossible to not trust, to wonder what the person is doing when they don't respond, if they're making progress on their tasks, if they'll meet deadlines. Having doubts, especially at the beginning of collaboration, will only create tensions and foster a toxic environment.
Instead of waiting for someone to earn your trust, take a deep breath and trust them by default. If you've hired this person, it's because you were sure they were fit for the mission. Rely on them, let them take ownership of their responsibilities, and remain available. The tools and methods explained above (documentation, ownership, goals) will allow you to grant this trust with your eyes closed.
However, be cautious, as I often explain on the first day at Magma, if we give our trust so easily, the main challenge is to maintain it. If an event breaks that trust, the remote setting doesn't allow it to be rebuilt as it can be in an in-person office relationship on a daily basis.
10) Hire Remote-Compatible Talents 🪐
Rule #10: Only recruit talents compatible with this organization. As explained at the beginning, full-remote work isn't for everyone and has nothing to do with working from home two days a week. If you want to build a company with this culture, you absolutely need talents who align with these practices.
Here's a checklist we use for our recruitments at Magma:
Prioritize profiles with prior remote work experience: Someone who has experience with full-remote work will be more comfortable with this setup and can bring their expertise to the team. Freelancers are also good candidates (when they want to join a team).
Exclude junior profiles or those who need heavy management: From my point of view, a junior (first job, internship, trainee, etc.) is not compatible with the previously mentioned rules.
Define the ownership scope you want to delegate: The first thing you need to do is define the scope that this person will have within your organization. The Score Card format (Who method) works quite well.
Recruit talents that are 2 times better than you in this area: To delegate and trust, it's better to find people who are much better than your current level internally.
Take time to validate that your rules align with their expectations: Your rules won't suit everyone. It's important to share them with candidates at the beginning of the recruitment process to ensure alignment.
Put them in a full-remote collaboration situation: During the recruitment process, it's important to test candidates' abilities in real conditions. To observe their behavior in asynchronous and remote settings.
Physical Onboarding 💡
At Magma, despite being full-remote, the first day of a new team member is held in person. As a founder, I take the time to travel to where the person is located to go through all our documentation and once again share our culture. This is often the first time we meet in person; it's an important moment to show the person that even with the distance, we are there for them.