How do you get a “remote team“? And what does “remote” mean anyway?

Is it different timezones, geographic distribution? Must there be at least one digital nomad sitting at the beach at any given time? Is it that standups happen with Zoom? Or maybe you have to get rid of all offices to be truly remote?

All of these seem related to remote work, right? So, yes, geographic distribution is a mark of a remote team. And yes, many such teams will use Zoom or Slack.

But is that it?

What the Internet says about remote work

Let’s look at what people on the Internet say.

When asked what a remote team is, the mighty Google oracle proclaims (with the help of

A remote team refers to a group of people working together to serve a common purpose, without being co-located i.e. they are geographically dispersed.

In other words:

DONT: co-located
DO: geographically distributed agrees:

A distributed team means that your workers are not geographically near each other.

and so does Shieldgeo.

Then again, Lionel Valdellon on Quora uses a different term for that: a distributed team

people working on the same group but separated by geographical location

So, a remote team is simply people working apart?

It can be that. Working as a distributed team is what the remote mindset makes possible. But it’s more than that.

Zapier hints at this:

However, as the companies below demonstrate, you don’t need a physical office to be successful.

Finally, takes a step back and looks at remote work from afar.

Remote work is a working style that allows professionals to work outside of a traditional office environment. It is based on the concept that work does not need to be done in a specific place to be executed successfully.

Here, remote is about allowing, not requiring something. And it’s about untying work from an office.

Companies aren’t about buildings

Remote is en vogue at the moment because it seems to be about personal freedom:

You can work from anywhere—why not from the beach, sipping a mojito! (While trying to ignore the sunglare on your screen.)

It sounds great, right?

But that’s only half the story. Remote work is disruptive because it finally challenges (and changes) the popular image of what makes a company.

When industrialization hit us, and big companies rose, companies were tied to a place: a factory, a laboratory, an office. And we cemented this idea that a company is basically four walls and a desk, ah yes, and with some people sprinkled on top. The bigger the company, the bigger the walls and the fancier the desks. And we kept reinforcing this idea with pictures of fancy headquarters and quirky open office spaces. Look at our company: walls and desks!

Unfortunately, that is a lie and it always was. What changed?

Getting the tools out of buildings

To various degreees, remote work has been with us literally forever.

On-the-ground sales people and teams that knock on doors and actually sell have never been bound to offices.

Still, they had to go to those doors, to the client, to where they found work.

The tide started to turn when more and more jobs involved heads instead of hands. A lot of the work became digital, too: for an increasing amount of tasks, all you need is a screen and a graphic tablet or a keyboard. And those things are super mobile.

You no longer needed to be in a specific building because your tools were there. We untied the work from buildings.

Communication was the deal-breaker

But work isn’t all about tools. It’s a lot about people talking to people, too. A shift to knowledge work and computers wasn’t enough.

That’s where the internet came in and said “hello folks, here ya go” and showered us with new tools:

Video chat and screensharing, Dropbox and, oh, email amongst others. You no langer had to sit next to Dave or Rosalyn to have a chat about that new pipeline design. We managed to untie communication from buildings as well.

Now we didn’t need the buildings at all anymore. That’s what remote work does: It makes offices into tools, something you add if and when they make sense.

The mindset shifts.

What else do we not need?

So, if we don’t need buildings, what else might we do without?

Do we need to count vacation days, or can we do without?

Do we still need to stick to 9-5 working hours, or can we be more flexible?

Do we actually need to talk, or is asynchronous communication more effective?

Remote work is about asking questions that we thought we had answered. That we did answer, for the age of industrialization. Remote work is about finding new answers, for our time.

What’s the best thing about removing the building from the company? You have a chance to remember what really makes up a company: people.

Which brings us back to teams and remote teams.

So, what is a remote team?

A team is a bunch of people who work together to achieve something.

In a company setting, that’s a flavor of “make the company successful”.

A remote team then is a bunch of people who make that common goal happen no matter where they are.

They might be in an office, or not. They might be on the beach. All on the same beach or on different ones. At the same time, or at different times. Neither matters, anymore.

A co-located team is a team restricted to an office.

A remote team is just a team.