What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
Communication is everything. If you aren’t able to collaborate and connect, you won’t be able to move forward. Companies considering remote work should encourage healthy work habits, not expect their team to get more done just because they aren’t in an office. Being remote means flexibility for personal appointments, which is great, but it can also lead to forgetting to take your personal time.
Helping everyone on the team stay mentally healthy is one of the biggest challenges as well, since isolation and loneliness are a lot more likely when you don’t have to leave the house. The best advice I can offer is to encourage people to take time off if they need it—burnout isn’t good for anyone—and make clear separations between work and personal life. Working from home can have blurred boundaries, so setting clear “work times” is important.
Just because a distributed organizational structure has worked well for us, it may not be the right decision for everyone. Always begin with the end in mind. Starting with your strategy, ask yourself what you want your product and organization to achieve. If remote work ultimately lines up with your vision and goals, then it might be worth investigating further.
The other advice I would give is that not everyone is cut out for remote work. Hiring the right people is crucial for a high-performing remote team.
First, we’ve learned that a company that works 100 percent remotely is probably easier to navigate than a company that works partially remotely. We don’t have to create different guidelines for communication for remote and local folks: everyone is always remote.
Second, you need someone in the company who cares about people and process to implement a company operating system like Rockefeller Habits, which is supported by Gazelles or Traction by EOS.
Third, you need great collaboration. People have to want to work together to do hard things and invest daily in building the relationships that allow collaboration to happen. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of AirTreks’ core value is “make meaningful relationships.”
Some companies view a remote workforce as a means of reducing operating cost. We view it as an investment in finding the very best talent so we can deliver the superior service our customers expect. We continue to invest in better tools and unique ways to engage our very committed team of home-based employees. For example, every single employee has a webcam, and we encourage them to connect face-to-face for team meetings, feedback sessions, reward & recognition and other events. Similarly, we have invested in the right technology, data infrastructure, equipment and reporting to put our employees in a position to be successful.
If you’re not sure how you’ll maintain accountability for your remote teams, consider this: How do you keep your teams accountable now? If you think it’s by seeing the tops of their heads sticking up out of their cubicles, you may need to reconsider more than your policy on remote work. In the end, you have to be able to measure the results—the output—of what you and your employees do, and not just the input in the form of hours spent in a certain chair.
I would say if it makes sense for your business model then you should consider the benefits it offers to your employees and your business. You want to be sure it’s a good fit for your employees too. Working remote is not for everyone. They must work well independently, have a high level of self motivation, and a strong work ethic to enjoy a non-traditional work environment by working at home.
There are some things that Appirio has done to maintain a sense of community within our remote workforce. Since most employees don’t go into an office every day, or at all, we have worked to find other ways for everyone to stay connected. Our advice to other companies would be:
- Encourage video calls. This promotes face-to-face interaction between team members even if it isn’t in person.
- Encourage local meetups. Appirio provides a stipend to organize events or outings to any employees that work fully remote. For example, groups of Appirians in different cities could use this money to get together for a baseball game, a play, or a happy hour.
- Provide the necessary tools. At Appirio, our company operates 100 percent in the cloud. This makes it easier for our employees who work remote to stay connected from any location.
Follow best practices and be disciplined. When you’re home, it’s easy to be distracted or goof off, and that’s when remote work can fail to provide a net gain. But if you’re disciplined and accountable, and have set up an appropriate home office space, you will definitely see results.
Know why you want to go remote, and make sure there are defined rules and a general structure in place. In our experience, the nebulous nature of remote working is enough of an unknown in and of itself, so the best path forward for a growing team is to ensure everyone’s on the same page. Being clear about communication and expectations is priority number one.
Try it! You’ll need to trust that employees who work remotely will be able to get their work done. But just like employees that work in a shared office, if you can’t trust them then you have the wrong employees.
Set up good systems for communicating with your team. There are tons of options for chat like, Slack, Skype and HipChat. Project management tools are incredibly helpful as well, especially when people are not all working during the same office hours. We use BaseCamp and Pivotal Tracker for that. Of course we use Batchbook to store and share all the important information about our customers!
Trust. It will take large amounts of trust as you won’t be able to “see” the work of the team. And hiring those who are self-motivated and trustworthy with the work is crucial for its success.
Technology. You’ll use more than you think and you’ll need to be tech savvy, as well as those on your team.
One of the very first things a leader should do when starting a business is to clearly define their core values and identity. And that doesn’t mean just throwing together a generic mission statement and asking your employees to memorize it. For a culture to be compelling, it needs to be both unique and recognizable.
If you’re considering it, just try it out! The worst that can happen is that you find out it doesn’t work for your team, in which case, you can end the trial and go back to status quo. If you decide to go for it, make sure that you set expectations about how it’ll work and how team members should stay in touch and keep on top of their work. Ensure you have technology that works well for you, so that you can continue to manage effectively, even when your team isn’t all under one roof.
Ensure your culture and management support it. It’s one thing to allow remote work, but it’s another to fully support it.
If “face time” and in-person attendance plays a role in how successful one is at your company, it may not be a great option to give employees. However, if you can cultivate a culture to enable remote work and a management team to support it, then give it a try.
If you do go down this path, ensure there are clear expectations in place and everyone is aligned. Also keep in mind that remote work is not for everyone. You will need to review your hiring process to align with it and you may have a few employees leave in the process who may not be an ideal fit.
When you consider a remote or distributed structure I think it helps if you start by defining “why” you are doing it and what you expect from it. This will help to make sure everyone understands what is happening and where you are going as a company. Talk to other companies that made the switch and what they’ve learned.
We’d give the same advice we received when we were considering going full-time remote: either have everyone in an office or have everyone fully remote. The reason for this is so that you don’t create an environment where some employees feel left out or where communication happens in person and not online so that remote employees aren’t a part of the conversation.
Anyone can work from home but it is vitally important that the right people are hired to work in such an environment. Many people value being with colleagues and an office atmosphere. While working from home can sound immediately appealing to most, it is important to put emphasis on the challenges of working within a globally dispersed team and the need for a particular mindset to be successful.
Hiring is key for a remote workforce. In addition to all the skills required for specific job positions, there are other things that can identify potential employees as being able to be successful in a remote environment. Examples: previous experience working remotely, owning their own business, being able to demonstrate mature decision making, good communicator, etc. Remote work isn’t a fit for everyone, so it is important to hire employees who will not only succeed remotely but also enjoy it.
Start by working on your company culture and having a good look at your founding or executive team’s values. It’s harder to build a remote work company if you don’t have buy-in from management. Ask yourselves what you want to prioritize and how you want to go about prioritizing it. If you want to “move fast and break things” and get a lot out of all-night hackathons like Facebook’s culture, remote work might not suit.
Invest the time and research into the benefits of remote work and don’t go about instituting remote work haphazardly. Develop a company culture that syncs with remote work. A successfully run remote organization can draw the best team members possible, regardless of where they’re located.
Make sure you evaluate anyone you hire to be proven self-starters. The trick with remote work is it requires individuals with a solid concept for self-discipline and who have proven trustworthiness. Otherwise, you have to spend extra time overseeing your employees and the work they’re doing, which can be time consuming and very negatively reinforcing.
Remote work isn’t right for every company, but we think it could work for more companies than many people think. Online tools and in-person meetings every few months make it possible to maintain and build a strong team without needing a physical office – and the drudgery of commuting to it daily!
Stop considering and take the leap! We started out as a remote team and we didn’t look back. We think the numbers speak for themselves: employees who work from home are more productive and happier than their office-bound counterparts. From the company’s fiscal standpoint, it also saves a lot of money–an estimated $11,000 annually for every remote employee, according to one study. And employees save both time and money by avoiding the commute. There’s probably never been a win-win quite like remote work.
Commit to it fully. For instance, our CEO gives monthly company updates from his office while the employees in HQ are in the conference room next door. This ensures he treats all employees around the world the same. Have you ever been on a conference call where you can barely hear what is going on and people are drawing pictures on a board that you can’t see? That is what we try to avoid.
Additionally, make sure you have executive sponsorship (HR, Legal, Finance) across the board so the whole company is supportive.
First, do your due diligence. Explore if—and to what degree—your organization can support flexible work arrangements. Talk with other companies to gather best practices and lessons learned. Create remote program strategies and policies that will work for your company. Educate leadership/management on work flexibility. Partner with IT/facilities/HR. Build a robust back office that offers training, toolkits, and FAQs. Design regular health checks and progress dashboards to measure the state of the program. Communicate and collaborate with your workforce to develop a program that allows mutual benefits and positive results.
For emerging companies, adopt remote from day 1. It’s far easier if everyone is on the same page and have the same freedoms – hiring is the main challenge you’ll have finding self-driven people who don’t need micromanagement and are truly excited to support your business one way or the other.
Existing businesses may find the remote transition a bit challenging – hiring just a few remote members could cause certain conflicts – lack of equal communication distribution due to a lot of office chat near the water cooler, or an “elitist” perception by the local team towards the additional perks for the new remote hires.
Additionally, personality-wise the majority of the people don’t possess entrepreneurial or managerial skills and have a hard time working at home or without other team members around them, being constantly distracted by the TV, or a friend nearby, or family members and such.
We do occasionally consult small businesses or local organizations on adopting remote work and one of the successful ways is introducing a gradual (lean) remote transition for existing employees – such as a day or two a week for starters, requesting the same amount of performance when they work from home. Additionally, new separate teams or branches could start fully remotely. Either way, transition should be gradual and applied carefully for existing teams.
Being remote-first isn’t the same as remote friendly or ability to work from home. I don’t consider companies who have a handful of remote team members working remotely to be a “remote company.” If you are going to go remote, you either go you fully remote or you don’t. The grey area is highly problematic.
The most important advice I would give is to hire people based on your company’s values. Maintaining a culture in a remote setting is very difficult, and I would say it is nearly impossible if the whole team isn’t rowing in the same direction in terms of values, priorities and mission.
Hire carefully! Some people may be excellent candidates for an open position, but not necessarily the best candidates for a remote work environment. Pay close attention to their speed and style of communication – are they reliable, accessible, and effective at articulating themselves? Do they seem frustrated by the unique demands of remote collaboration? (A good way to answer these questions is to assign a test project as part of the hiring process, so you can get a sense of what working with them might be like.)
Be sure you’re willing to put in the time and effort to hire people who are a fit for the remote culture. Are they independent, self-starting, entrepreneurial, and disciplined? Are they good at, and do they enjoy, using technology to stay engaged with their teammates? Are they driven to provide exceptional client service that gets unsolicited compliments like “Great work, Fire Engine RED team – rock stars!” and “We are thrilled with our summer campaign – it exceeded our expectations!”
Because of the nature of our business, we often work with small businesses who are making their first remote hire. We emphasize the importance of a company culture based on trust and good communication. We encourage them to assess the management skills of the team member who will be managing the remote worker. Micro-managers, managers with poor communications skills, and those with control issues are going to have a hard time adjusting . . . and so will the person they are managing! Likewise, use the hiring process to assess key competencies of the remote worker. How good are they with technology? How responsive are they? How well can they communicate in writing? Do they have experience working remotely? The more you know about work style up front, the more successful the hire.
Do it. Be mindful and intentional with your policies. Determine which roles are conducive to remote working. Establish clear operating norms and train your managers to lead a remote workforce. Remain agile; you’ll need to routinely evaluate your programs to see how they are working–or not working, as the case may be. One of the things we do at FlexJobs is bi-annual check-ins. Twice a year, we schedule time with everyone on our team to talk about how things are feeling for them. We ask what they need to do their job better and give them an opportunity to ask any questions they might have. It gives everyone an opportunity to take a step back from the day to day and really think about how things are going.
You might wonder if this flexibility results in less productivity from our workforce. We’ve actually found this to be the opposite in many cases; when you are able to work from anywhere, you find it harder to unplug at the end of the day. We’ve had to be really intentional about emphasizing work/life balance with our employees. To drive this point home, every Formstacker who works with us for five years is allowed to take a sabbatical, which can last up to six weeks. I recently completed mine and found great value in extended vacations from work. I’ve been encouraging my team to consider taking longer vacations from their offices as well.
The most critical thing to understand when it comes to remote working is it only works if you can commit. You can’t just nominate a single person or team to be a “remote guinea pig” for a month and expect it to be a raging success. If the rest of the teams and departments don’t change their communication habits too, then your experiment is destined to fail.
If anything, non-remote people have to be even more vigilant about their communication, because it’s easy and tempting to lapse into meatspace-only discussions and decisions that never get shared back with remote colleagues. You shouldn’t try and stop people having in-person discussions by any means, because there will always be undeniable value in that, but it’s critical to be mindful about how your conversations might affect people who aren’t in the room. Working well as a distributed company can’t just be the responsibility of the people who are remote.
Remote isn’t for everyone though, so you need to decide what’s important to you, and what choice fits best with your long-term vision for the company. Ask yourself this though—If your biggest competitor was completely distributed and you weren’t, would that give them an unfair advantage?
It’s a lot easier if at least ⅔ of the team is remote. When only a few people are remote, it is easy to make them feel left out. Keep good communication with your team. Encourage them to have face-to-face video calls. Have frequent team calls, where you can share important information and everybody can talk about their day and the projects they are working on.
First, make sure you have the type of people who can actually get work done at home (and thrive in that environment). It came naturally to my partners and I early on, but we’ve had some people who just couldn’t find motivation or the ability to be productive at home. It just doesn’t work for some people. So, if you are transitioning, give it a little time and do a trial period to make sure people can be productive at home. Set hard deadlines for deliverables on days people are working from home to ensure that they can complete tasks of the needed quality while remote.
The path is not for everyone, however it is worth at minimum testing the concept internally for those who are interested. You might find that productivity boosts, and costs drop. Search for those individuals who value independence, their reputation, and fostering a global network. Those people will get the work finished whether from home or at the office (but they might not come into YOUR office!).
It’s important to ensure that your company’s business model lines up with having a remote workforce. If your company’s process or area of business thrives off of employees working in one location, having a remote workforce won’t be the best choice. Make sure it makes sense before initiating a decision.
The key to a successful remote workforce is in the hiring. You must recruit highly skilled, professional team members who have demonstrated that they can operate independently (preferably in a remote position). In addition, establish set working hours for your team members—while some people say they work best at night, the lack of continuity and communication during more traditional working hours can seriously impact the team’s productivity. Remember that a high performing business is one that operates predictably, consistently and where all work is done with the same quality standard, regardless of who is executing. So we highly suggest that all of your day to day processes are documented in detailed, fail-proof standard operating procedures (SOPs). Consistency is harder to establish in a remote environment, so these SOPs have made all the difference for our company.
Do it! There have never been more resources and tools to make remote work less challenging and more effective. My two biggest pieces of advice would be:
- Look for employees with experience working remote or running their business. A great developer (to use one example) isn’t necessarily a great remote developer. Remote working is a skill like any other, and you need to hire for it.
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Schedule team calls and one-on-ones very regularly, and not just about work. Help the team get to know each other just like they would around a real water cooler.
Do it, but if you do, make sure you commit to it. You don’t need to go 100% remote, but you need to be prepared to make a major commitment to this new way of working. The financial costs of remote work are minimal, but in terms of time and effort, it can be very demanding. Many companies see the benefits of remote work and think they might give it a try, but then when they hit those initial struggles that come with transitioning to remote work (laggy internet connections, scheduling complications, communication struggles) they write off remote work as ‘not for us’ and go back to their old ways.
I think that if you do try remote work, you have to be absolutely determined to give it a fair shot, because many of the biggest challenges come in the first few weeks and months of trying it out, especially if one of the people involved is going to be 100% remote. Expect challenges, and be prepared to work through them. If you do, you’ll reap the benefits after 6 months or so and you’ll have no regrets about making the commitment. Your team will thank you!
Don’t obsess over a beautiful kitchen with an espresso machine or a Zen garden in your office. What is your office for? Clearly define those principles and find your space so you can do meaningful work. It’s about functionality, not appearances. It’s about having a good-enough table to share a meal with your team, not a table where you play foosball.
Hire people who embody your values and are passionate about the mission of the company. While culture-fit is a profoundly motivating hiring decision, remember that hiring “people like you” extends far beyond physical appearances and interests and backgrounds. Hire people who thrive on autonomy, take ownership of their work, and over-communicate with their team. Hire overachievers.
Welcome new hires wholeheartedly. Onboard them with grace and warmth. Communicate your values, the language you use, what you stand for, and how this new hire is going to play an important role in the company—the projects they’ll own, the work that they’ll do. Introduce them to everyone on the team. Provide the necessary tools for them to do a great job. You may have to do some hand-holding in the beginning, and that’s fine—you want this person to feel like they belong, like they’re at a place where, finally, they can do fulfilling work. Go out to dinner and share stories. And then get to work.
Go for it. It’s super unlikely you’ll be disappointed. It makes everything easier. But, be sure to get together in real space here and there for fun and team building. As the team grows it can get a little harder to keep track of people so make sure you’ve got strong and available team leaders to take care of everyone doing the daily work.
Jump in, but don’t lose your lifeline.
You need to start somewhere, and many of the skills that remote workers need to succeed can only be developed and cultivated with experience. Disciplined working habits, an understanding of your own most productive hours, whether you work better with ambient noise or not, etc.
If you want to try it, go ahead and do it. Take some freelance jobs and see if you can hold your own. Make sure you have enough savings, and don’t do it because you think it’ll be a big vacation. Responsibilities exist whether you are at the beach or in an office.
Utilize the resources available to you. At ICUC, we are built on Google Apps. From meetings through Google Hangouts to conversation on Google Chat, we always feel connected and engaged with our employees.
Also, don’t be afraid to roll out the remote workplace gradually. I would recommend beginning with departments, or offering 1 day each week as a ‘remote’ day to start, so employees can adjust to the transition.
Make it a conscious decision that everyone buys into. Connect with others who’ve made it work and learn from them — but also run your own small experiments to iterate on how your company works.
When hiring, look for motivated people who are eager to learn and want to get things done. To us, that is more important than certain credentials or skills.
Working remotely can be isolating, especially for new hires that are used to traditional office settings. Companies should encourage employees to participate in local activities, relevant meetups, co-working groups, and the like, to foster those face-to-face relationships.
Also, it is even more important in remote environments to make sure new employees get as much attention during the onboarding period as possible. Having a mentor that handles a similar position, for example, as a go-to for questions is a great start. And making sure that employee expectations are very clear – like hours to work, how quick emails or chat messages should be replied to, who to notify when not working, etc.
If you are thinking of adopting a remote workforce I would advise you to first do your research – see if a remote work environment would be something that your clients would value, and explore how other organizations are doing it (companies like Uber and Facebook are excellent examples). It is also important to include your clients in the process. Do not wait until you have already made the decision to tell your clients about it; discussing the changes with them before you make a decision will not only help to get your clients on board with the idea, but it will also make your clients feel listened to and valued. Further, keep in mind that working from home isn’t for everyone. Make sure to find the right people for the job – individuals that are self-motivated, engaged, and have a commitment to customer service are usually a great fit. I would also advise anybody thinking to go remote to make the transition part of your story. Clarity is extremely important – letting your current (and future) clients know why you decided to make the change will negate any speculation or unclarity. Lastly, I would advise you to make sure you execute the new model effectively. Make sure to measure your results, stay on top of your work and your clients’ needs, and most importantly, enjoy the new working model!
Trust your team and communicate well. The worst thing you can do to a remote employee is micromanage them. As their boss, it’s your responsibility to provide them with the tools and resources, trust them to accomplish the work. Don’t keep tabs on them every moment of the day. As for communication – remote work can often seem like a lonely island. Make a point to communicate often (if you think you’re over communicating – you’re doing it right) – know when to hop on Skype vs. email vs. gchat and create a culture of honesty and openness.
We succeed at making remote work by being deliberate about our communication process. We have work-related communication tools, like Slack and Google Hangouts, as well as non-work related community building. Our team members are encouraged to be a part of our online community through participation in groups, chats, and in leading their own. We incentivize individuals to create and support their own channels, and encourage people to discuss what they’re passionate about. It’s a thoughtful process that emphasizes inclusion and community.
Success as a virtual organization or company that allows remote work really is about supporting each employee’s career, no matter what stage they are in. Not every person is suited to a remote environment. Many younger or less experienced employees really need (and deserve) to have in-person mentorship. Everyone, no matter how experienced, has to feel supported and tethered to the overall vision of the company – to feel every day like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
Creating a culture of good communication, mutual respect and appreciation is the most important thing to be aware of. You need formalized processes and clear expectations, but you also need a culture that supports the kind of communication you want. Many people assume remote work is asynchronous, but most of the time people need each other on a spur-of-the-moment basis, so communication needs to be immediate. It can also be easier to get interrupted when working from home or in co-working spaces, so it’s important to keep an eye on more than the methods or tools of communication. You need to actively steward the tempo, cadence and quality of that communication.
It can be a huge help to appoint someone in your company to serve as an ambassador for virtual work by ensuring that managers are well trained and that employees have multiple venues for communication with each other and with management. This is more of an internal cheerleader function than an HR function. Choose someone who is a strong leader but is a natural communicator – authentic, human, well-liked. In tiered organizations, training mid-level managers about communication strategies in the virtual environment is key.
Ensure that developing a strong remote culture is at the heart of everything you do and lead by example. Always be encouraging and open when it comes to communication and never stop pushing to make improvements to your remote workflow. Most of all, for fully remote teams, it’s so important to have a really well-thought-out hiring process, and ensure that you are hiring the smartest, self-motivated employees who are a good cultural fit.
If you’re thinking about remote work, consider all your options. Coworking centers are super trendy, but may not be the best fit for every company. There are plenty of other flexible, remote work options to accommodate every size and type of team. Your company might benefit the most from renting extra desks from private businesses and other startups in your industry.
I think that it really can work quite well and is easier than you might think. The main thing is to set expectations for great communication. We use so many ways to keep in touch and share ideas/work together. We utilize instant messaging programs a lot for quick chats and questions. We email constantly and used shared documents. We talk on the phone and we also use conferencing services. All these things together serve to keep us in tune and in touch.
It will make you get really intentional about a lot of things that are great to be intentional about, including communication. The hybrid model (or phase) can be painful for many companies though, where some are remote and some are collocated. When you have a collocated team with a few remote workers you often have a collocated team with a few alienated workers. There are a lot of advantages to embracing a fully distributed model.
The best piece of advice that I can give you is to examine everything that you know about a traditional working set up. What rules you’re used to abiding by don’t necessarily stand for remote working.
For example, a team does not need to spend 8 hours online at the same time nor should they have no overlap at all. You should set a daily period of time where everyone is required to be online so they don’t spend extra time chasing down people waiting for a response.
And make sure that your workflow and document structures are all set up and that everyone abides by the rules. If you don’t have some form of organisation with your files, tools and programs, you will find that things start to get lost and messy very quickly.
Keep the company culture top of mind when recruiting your team. Communication and accountability are key. For teams to work efficiently without face-to-face time, you have to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right roles. You want people that are motivated to contribute, happy to be part of the team, and invested in the success of the company as a whole. Not everyone is built to succeed in this environment.
Be mindful of the importance of distinguishing between remote-first and remote friendly. If you go down the remote path you really want to build remote into your culture. Make sure there is transparency and visibility across the entire team. Avoid having a split culture between people in an office and people that are remote.
Remote work naturally leads to results oriented working practices and management. This is good for everyone. Make sure your communications are good and improve your communication practices every chance you get. Also find a time to get together in person at least once a year. The occasional in person connection is a good addition to the online connection.
Go for it! Do audio calls instead of draining video calls. Do daily all-hands meetings of no more than 15 minutes. Make your schedule conform to 30-minute limits. Encourage everyone to learn a screen capture video program, like Loom, so that they can communicate thoughts about the business using on-screen references. Ask team members to make slide or video presentations of their business projects so that others can really learn the justifications and thought process behind the projects.
The day you have your first remote employee is the day all of the employees working with that employee need to start thinking and acting like a remote employee. You will need to start documenting conversations, writing things down, setting up conference calls, and the like. You also might want to consider a project management tool such as Basecamp or similar to keep all members of your team aligned on expectations and goals.
Since you typically won’t be meeting with employees for casual face-to-face meetings like lunches, you need to find some unconventional ways to build informal rapport with employees and coworkers to maintain good morale within the remote organization. Check in with each employee periodically to make sure that they have an opportunity to openly vent any frustrations or concerns they might be holding back.
From CTO Andrew Montalenti:
“Fully distributed teams are only going to get better — and more common — over time. Our tools are simply getting great at this stuff.
For example, Google Hangouts offers group video conferencing for large teams for free. We use Google Hangouts at Parse.ly to hold full team meetings. So, face time is now distributed, too, and multi-computer collaboration is getting easier even in synchronous modes.
I also think some technology will enable collaboration methods that were simply deemed impractical in the age before distributed teams.
So, technology — and, in particular, audio/video technology — will help distributed teams along in the next 10 years. We’re moving away from one-on-one conversation as the primary way to collaborate and toward many-to-many.
I also think that the world has not fully internalized the degree to which technology systems impact collaboration approaches. For example, I don’t think Github is ‘simply’ a code hosting system. It is actually a social experiment that fundamentally changed the way software engineers — in open source projects and in their own company projects — collaborate with one another. Many other experiments like this are happening right now with the new breed of project management, code management, and team collaboration tools. I’m quite excited about the future.
Fully distributed teams are now not only viable, but in many ways superior to co-located teams, especially for software engineering work. I suspect that will continue.”
The best advice would be to ensure that you have a plan prior to establishing a remote workforce. Whether it is one or two people or an entire company, having a plan in place as to how exactly work will be performed and the expectations of employees working remotely is key to success. The other piece of advice would be to have confidence that jobs and tasks will get done.
Plan ahead. Get the right communication tools in place. Also consider that working from home might not be right for everyone. For that reason I’ve found a good practice for distributed teams is to bring potential new hires on in a project capacity for 5-10 hours a week over a trial period to make sure it’s a good fit for the team and the employee. Without exception, employees who go through a trial period really appreciate the opportunity to get to know the company and their future teammates before going “all in.” The trial is more for the employee than the company. You will certainly miss out on great candidates who are just not willing to do that, but it mostly eliminates the possibility of a bad fit.
Create a culture where folks track all of their time. I believe that it keeps people focused on delivering value and also helps you see when folks are close to burnout (working too much).
We developed a real-time application that let’s everyone see what everyone else is working on (all time entries require a ticket number) and this helps with passive connectedness and lets people see when they can or shouldn’t interrupt someone. It also helps PMs see if someone is working on what they expect without the need to follow up with the team.
Also, follow the advice from the website Manager Tools. Listen to their “trinity” podcasts about feedback, coaching and one-on-ones. If you do these basic management practices consistently and wholeheartedly, 95% of the problems your company is facing right now will evaporate. It’s especially important for distributed teams because you don’t get as much of an opportunity for passive relationship building.
Commit to remote work, then figure out solutions to keep making it work. Avoid the knee-jerk reaction of just rolling it back.
Trust your team will operate responsibly. They shouldn’t feel like they are being tracked and monitored. Be conscious of your policies early and gravitate on the stricter side to avoid abuse. You can always be more lax vs. your policies in practice.
Try to incorporate other nuance elements of “work” into remote work like casual and watercooler-like conversations.
Keep a keen eye out for certain WFM (Works for Me) traits that give a professional a leg up if they chose to select a remote lifestyle. Telecommuting experience, extensive travel background, and autonomy are just a few of the competencies and skills that we’ve found breed success for a remote worker. The right kinds of top talent can flourish when they’re permitted to work with fewer restrictions. Additionally, it’s important to establish communication tools across the organization that will allow employees to interact with each other in different ways.
First off, when reading online about remote work, one must consider the abundance of positive information about remote work. Consider the drawbacks as well. There are equally as many. Not all positions are great for remote work. If you do want to progress, the biggest question will be if you’ll do a mix of a headquarter and remote, or 100% remote. I believe that it can create some cultural challenges if you do a mix—not that it’s not possible.
I would do a trial with a subset of your employees. Having the right tools are key. Tools should enable the process, not hinder it. It’s hard to have a remote meeting when connections drop. For us, a combination of Slack, Trello, Google Apps for Work, and Zoom does the trick. We’re constantly trying new tools and integrating them when it makes sense.
Start small and scale. Keep clear goals and communicate them well. Good remote workers should pick them up and work accordingly. Self-management is a key discipline for good telecommuting, so build on that. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Focus on results, not working hours, but do highlight the importance of being responsive and available. Good communication and self-management, are key factors in the success of a remote working team.
Establish expectations early in the hiring process and implement controls to ensure you are hiring qualified candidates. Furthermore, make sure you have an organized and easy-to-use communication system. It is important to create a sense of community and to support your remote workers, responding to any questions and concerns they may have.
When introducing any change as significant as distributing operations, we recommend defining discrete steps and rolling out any change in iterative phases that adapt based on feedback and real-life experience.
In my first distributed company, we started out co-located in an office with whiteboards on every wall, desks that rolled around and could be reconfigured in a large, open space, a pool table and foosball table, large conference room, rest areas, and a lobby area.
Such a layout seemed great, but when that company had to downsize due to the .COM bust, we ended up in a much smaller space working with a lot of folks on contract who were operating remotely. That forced us to build systems to work well with our remote contractors. Then, when our lease was running out on the smaller office, we decided to rent executive suite space temporarily while we looked for the ideal new central office.
At first we met at the executive suite every day, then eventually that became weekly, then monthly, then quarterly. We found we were more effective in a distributed environment than we were with our office, and employees started moving out of the area, even out-of-state, for their own personal reasons, and they could continue to work with the organization.
If an organization was looking to get started with remote teaming, perhaps they would best start with a small number of trusted, long-time employees working from home several days a week, and working together to build systems that make their presence as effective in a distributed environment as they were in the office.
So, one step at a time.
Communication through clear direction, purposeful discussion and thorough documentation should be your top priority. Communication is about engagement, participation and having the right people who will consistently engage, participate and contribute will ensure remote working success!
Running a successful remote company really comes down to trust and accountability. You have to have the right people on your team that you can count on. If you’re thinking about going remote, make sure you have employees who really care about your mission and always keep your company’s best interests in mind (without someone looking over their shoulder all the time).
A successfully managed remote team is directly proportional to the skills of the leadership team’s ability to lead that team. As long as you lead by example, are clear about your expectations and values, and have a strong sense of trust on the team, you’re set up to succeed. Be prepared for the potholes, don’t ignore problems, and you will be off to a great start!
Believe that remote work can be more effective than in the office. On the other hand…sometimes people who start to work remotely expect to be given something to achieve and then, after a week or two, have it solved. I don’t think it can work very well in such a big company like ours. So what we do is actually try to simulate office work. Thus, we have “rooms” dedicated for each project in TeamSpeak app. When working on a specific project you might go into that “room” and talk to the other people who are “present” there. We have a very quick conversation whenever it is needed.
We also have monthly meetings in person. I find it crucial for running a remote company, because people like seeing other people, and they like to remember we’re built of flesh and blood.
One piece of advice I find myself repeating, because it’s so important, is that if your company has even one person remote then the entire team needs to change their processes as if everyone is remote.
At a simple level this really means moving all communications to being digital and making a conscious effort to being more communicative than might strictly seem necessary!
For this reason, if your company is new and has never worked in the same office this can actually be a great advantage as you can design the way you work around being location agnostic from day one.
Selecting and getting buy-in from the team to use remote collaboration tools is essential. Without Slack & Asana remote would be a lot more difficult. Make sure anyone new you onboard is comfortable with your remote collaboration stack and is properly trained on how to work with your team.
Making the transition from office to remote work can be tough. Set-up some clear processes around communication, planning and constantly iterate. Don’t give up on the idea. If it’s tough in the first couple months…your team will learn to adjust.
Also, be sure to only hire people who can work autonomously and in a work environment. Not everyone is meant to be part of a remote team, even if they’re a great employee.
You can do your job whenever and wherever you want .. as long as you get your desired results. Working remotely surely brings a lot of value to the table, both for the employee as well as the employer. It also enables employers to hire top talents by not restricting themselves to local geographic limits. The benefits it brings far overweighs the hassles. By having a better control and management, you can expect the same desired results and outcomes and can also expect much better efficiency and productivity by your employees.
Be careful to put some limits, boundaries, or at least advice around things like email and instant messaging. If these tools aren’t used correctly, then they can actually reduce some of the benefits of working remotely. The most important thing is to have at least two big chunks of your day with these tools turned off.
You have to build your company culture around trust. Objections to remote work usually revolve around “But how will I know if anyone is working?” Figure out how to measure productivity in terms of work completed and let go of evaluating employee success based on the number of hours they work or where they are physically present.
The more people who are working remotely, the less problem you’ll have with remote workers feeling like outsiders. Set up your entire company so that anyone can work remotely, and use a great tool like Slack so that everyone can have water cooler chats from wherever they are.
If you have the right people, let them figure out how to work most productively and watch productivity soar. If you don’t have the right people, get better people.
You can build relationships in person and maintain them over video calls, not vice versa. “Remote” does not mean walls – in the formation phases of remote teams make an effort to get them together often enough. Likely you’re saving enough money to put back into more travel with your cost-location arbitrage anyway.
My advice to those companies considering the remote working path is to encourage their employees to set up a workspace in their homes, some place away from the dirty dishes and laundry, to focus on their work. By having your own workplace, outside of the chaos of a family home, an employee can focus on their work, without the commute.
If someone was switching from a traditional approach to supporting more remote workers, I would make three recommendations. (1) Help people understand that remote work will not work with every job (for example, a doctor or receptionist can’t work remotely). (2) Encourage people to start with a pilot group that included at least 3 managers. The pilot group could be encouraged to work remotely at least one day a week for a specified period of time (at least 6 months). During this time the pilot group could routinely share information about what was working well, and what was challenging. (3) This information could then be used to create a more transparent process for others to follow.
I’d only give advice to new companies starting with a clean slate who are considering remote. For an existing company, it would be more complex and not something I’m qualified on. For a new company, I’d just say to give it a whirl. You don’t know until you’d lived it, if it’s right for you. Make sure it makes sense for your customers. And be prepared to be trusting and transparent.
We recommend going all in. Being virtual works for us because it’s embraced by a significant portion of our team – including top leadership. It’s when everyone else is face-to-face and you are the lone person calling into a meeting that it gets messy: you miss visual cues, you can’t get a word in edgewise, and there’s usually someone rustling their papers right into the phone speaker. When everyone’s virtual, you learn to build around those needs. You recognize people on calls by their voices, you can hear the small tells when people want to chime in and speak, you know to call on silent participants, and you all rely on the internal blog to keep up to date. To help build this familiarity, we invest in face-to-face meetings with new staff so managers can get to know their people really well and learn early on to recognize the cues when a specific staff member is stressed out or something is wrong.
Second, build a strong culture. As in a traditional office, culture is the glue that holds us together; we just have to be a little more intentional about it. So we define the core tenets of TNTP’s culture for new staff and reinforce them at every opportunity. For example, one of our culture elements is candor: we embrace direct and timely feedback – because in a virtual environment you can’t trust that someone can see your expression and ask if you have a concern. We offer trainings on delivering feedback, and encourage staff and managers to make time for it in weekly check-ins.
Finally, set clear goals and regularly check in on progress. We set goals at every level – for the organization, for teams, and for individual team members – so we can measure how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Our focus as an organization on outcomes gives us all a strong vision of what success looks like, but the individual flexibility to figure out how we want to get there.
Think carefully about your company infrastructure/policies and fully commit to remote-friendly practices. Don’t just dip your toes in without setting up the right infrastructure.
I frequently come across companies that are great in many regards but are trying a partially remote model and doing a very poor job of it. They’ll have conference calls where half the people have terrible connections and people are dropping in and out of the call. A remote model won’t work like that.
Our infrastructure and policies are designed around remote work, and it works well. If you don’t set these up and commit to them, you won’t gain a proper understanding of how well a remote model can function.
If you’re going to do it, go all in. Remote doesn’t work well as an option or as a partial solution. Working remotely is a challenge. You have to design all of your communication and project management systems around being remote. If remote employees are the exception, not the rule, you will likely fail.
You have to go all in. And you really have to be good about telling people what you expect from them. They need to be able to clearly understand what to do and have clear deadlines.
Not all people thrive working like this. I have had some employees who did not like it. They felt very lonely because they never saw me. You need to find the right kind of people. And make sure people do not work all the time. It is my experience that people easily work too much. Again, find the right people who can handle all this freedom.
It is my experience that people are much more productive working from home. But you have to trust your people. If you do not, it will never work out.
Structure and communication are key to having success with remote work. Having a set of tools everyone uses, and make sure everyone on the team uses the tools in the same way. For example, set some guidelines around how often to communicate in Slack, or run meetings using a Trello board. I also highly recommend having regular video chats so the team stays connected and on the same page.
You need to spend time exploring the technology to run a remote team, such as Skype, Trello, and Atlassian Jira for projects, and invest in management and team time to set expectations, make goals clear, and hold each other accountable for delivering on commitments.
The remote environment is not for everyone. If a company wants to implement a 100% remote environment, I would highly recommend speaking to an operations or HR professional first. There are many nuances to being able to do it successfully, legally and productively. There is so much more than being able to over-communicate with your team and having good technology.
Spend a lot of time setting up your HR policies, procedures and guidelines. Work with someone experienced in the field. Get the best tools available for remote working like Slack and the SaaS providers and cloud services that are best in breed. That is the only way your team will interact besides chatting, so it’s important you get those right.
Embrace it! Find others in the same industry that have remote staff and ask if they would be willing to share their experiences.
If the company is implementing a virtual team alongside an in-office team, find ways to ensure the virtual team does not feel isolated. Use video conferencing so that the remote team is brought into meetings occurring in the office. When doing a team lunch for the office staff, find creative ways of treating the remote staff as well.
If I had to pick one piece of advice, it’s to be ready for trust issues and to know that it’s OK that you have them. The key then is to face them head-on.
Immediately, you’ll be up at night constantly worried that your staff isn’t getting enough work done. You’ll immediately not trust that your company is moving forward once you can’t physically see people working for 8 hours a day. This has to be addressed ASAP, and there are many ways to do so now.
We recommend something like journaling, which is a way for your staff to post an update somewhere (perhaps email or Slack) each day that puts in a few bullet points what they moved forward for that day. Your staff has to be held accountable to one deliverable every day, even if that deliverable is merely a progress update that’s detailed enough to show the progress made. As long as you have this sort of journaling in place and you hold people accountable to doing it, you’ll see trust being built constantly throughout your company.
I talk more about this concept and more advice in this post that you’ll find helpful.