The traditional 9-to-5 office is slowly but surely heading towards extinction. In fact, there’s nothing ‘traditional’ about the workplace of the digital age – no more cubicles, strict working hours, or rigid hierarchy. You don’t even have to be in the office to be able to do your job, which is why most digital natives increasingly opt to work remotely. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2020, 50 per cent of the workforce will be working remotely.
This benefits companies, too, as they get access to a wider pool of talent and can lower their overhead. Because they don’t have to travel to and from work anymore, employees have more time and less stress. And even though this type of working arrangement offers significant benefits for both parties, it also comes with its own set of challenges.
For instance, how do you motivate workers living on a different continent? How can you communicate with employees who go to bed when you drink your morning coffee? How can you make them meet the rest of the team and embrace the company’s values? Although these issues might seem daunting at first, managing remote workers isn’t necessarily as complicated as it seems. Effective hiring, frequent communication, and clear rules can prevent a lot of problems and ensure your startup thrives, with the help of your remote employees’ creativity.
Keep these things in mind when managing a remote team
The first step in creating and managing a great remote team is making sure you hire people who are well suited for their future roles. And once your remote team is in place, clear procedures will ensure it functions well. You’ll need to organise the data the team uses, track who works on what and for how long, and decide on communication channels for a variety of tasks and situations. Testing different procedures and tools is often the best way to figure out what works best for your team.
And regardless of the skillset your remote employees already have, you can further improve your teams by investing in their education, whether by paying for online courses, buying books, or in some other way. And, if the budget allows, you could consider organising annual events where your employees can meet in person. You could even let your team pick the location, which would further strengthen the team’s communication and collaboration skills.
So, managing a remote team can be a challenge, but by following these guidelines, you might be able to avoid some common mistakes. For example, some managers treat their remote employees as faceless entities whose only mission is to complete the assigned work. They don’t allow for much flexibility in the work schedule or freedom in discussions. Add to this limited communication and using the wrong technologies in the remote work environment, and you could be facing project delays and other unpleasant situations.
Fully remote companies debunk myths and provide tips
Many people think that remote teams aren’t very productive. But Sarah Kuehnle, the VP of product at the online artwork community platform Dribbble, strongly disagrees, and says that, “In reality, the opposite is usually true. Having the freedom to block out distraction, in a place that’s most comfortable for the individual, and have focused time for work, leads to greater productivity.” And contrary to the myth that remote teams can’t form a great company culture, a Gallup poll shows that remote workers feel that their opinion matters and that they understand the company’s mission and culture. Then there’s the myth that teams scattered across continents and time zones can’t possibly collaborate well, which is refuted by CEOs like Greg Caplan, from the travel company Remote Year. He insists that “virtual meetings are often more efficient and productive than in-person meetings,” and that things get done faster.
And to encourage people to socialise and talk about things other than work, Remote Year managers came up with ‘virtual water coolers’ – dedicated Slack channels in which employees discuss books and music, or the latest tips on how to stay healthy. Jan Schulz-Hofen, the CEO of Planio, a web-based project management company, explains that companies must create an environment of trust by giving factual feedback. “When receiving feedback, it’s … important to listen on a factual level. Don’t take it personal, because it’s not meant to be.” Another way to make remote work more efficient is by letting people know “that it’s OK to not be on your A-game every single day”, Schulz-Hofen believes. This approach makes employees more relaxed – we’re only human, after all.
Technology makes remote work much easier
Frequent communication is also essential for creating a team that works. Weekly video meetings are a great way for team members to get to know each other, and for managers to bond with their team, enable the creation of a strong company culture, and increase employee motivation and loyalty. A variety of digital communication tools, file-sharing apps, and project management software are useful for developing a friendly and efficient work environment.
Effective communication tools are critical, and remote teams increasingly rely on apps like Slack. File-sharing apps like Dropbox are crucial as well, and to make projects run smoothly, you can use project management apps such as Asana, or more advanced apps like Basecamp. Zoom or Skype are a great choice for video conferencing, while When I Work makes employee time-tracking easy as pie. There are many other free and affordable apps that enable remote teams to work more efficiently and stay organised.
Startups can benefit from remote teams
Remote work offers multiple benefits for both companies and employees. Managers get access to a greater pool of talent and can greatly reduce overhead, while workers have more freedom, a better work-life balance, and are generally less stressed and more productive. Managing remote teams can be a challenge, but by following proven tactics, startups can benefit from the growing popularity of flexible working arrangements and can rely on their well-organised remote teams to compete with much bigger companies.