Even the title of this post probably causes anxiety for some people. Over the years remote teams have gained more and more recognition as a “way of the future.” There are some direct benefits to both the employer and the employee. For us, establishing a growth agency meant that we need to stay agile and flexible to service the client the best.
For many companies, a remote team can work really well. They can drastically reduce overhead, ensure a flexible schedule and can help to recruit some of the best talent possible. Remote teams are also cheaper and faster to get started and build upon while delivering an excellent product or service to your customers.
Here’s the kicker...the art, patience and work it can take to build a remote team may be daunting to those that haven't done it before. Which leads to the question: how do you effectively build a remote team for your business?
Keep in mind these few things: trust, communication, a clear company culture and technology...oh and did we mention communication? You have to work harder in these areas in order to effectively build a remote team rather than just walk down the hall.
It All Starts With Trust
This is where it all begins. You have to trust the people that you’re hiring remotely to get the projects done you’ve hired them to do. This begs the question, “how do I trust someone that I can’t see or physically be with all the time?”
Hire the right people. Evaluate ALL their skills, what are they good at? Are they a generalist or specialist? One of the main things is understand how well they work when no one is looking over their shoulder also known as integrity. Are they self motivated and able to get meet deadlines? And in our opinion, the most important of all...are they owners in life or renters? This will help you understand and foresee their intentions with your business and the clients you serve.
If you’ve hired the right person, you’ll know...because likely they will delivery a better product that you had expected.
Here are a couple of things we’ve found helpful:
- Create a culture of support, make sure that you have a “backup plan” in place, if there project lead can’t deliver on something for some reason, make sure you’ve got someone in the wings that can handle it. This helps to build team relationships and make sure the project lead has there act together so if they need help, it's possible.
- No meetings for meeting sake. There's always a reason to schedule a meeting or call, come with an agenda and punch list of actionable items once the meeting is complete.
- Transparency. This one is BIG! Always be transparent through the company and projects alike. A collective understanding of budget, business direction, client concerns and more. Openness and honesty is the best approach. (Honesty helps produce ownership)
- We’ve found success in mutual respect and trust. There’s no dictator, just a group of committed people, working toward a common goal and doing exceptional work.
How Good Is Your Communication?
This one doesn’t really change whether it’s a remote team or not. The importance of clear communication can’t be stressed enough. But more than likely, what's the first thing that will break down in a remote environment? Constant and efficient communication is key.
Structure your communication. Plan ahead, have agendas and be clear on the reason you are setting up a meeting, then stick to it. Set up a recurring call for the whole team each week (or when it makes sense) to walk through general topics and themes where top level ideas are talked about.
Organize your communication channels. Split up your communication channels into subgroups, because likely not everyone needs to know everything. See list of tools below for examples of what we use to bring the team together through communication.
Evaluation and feedback. Set up a reporting cadence that allows each person of the team to know when they will be evaluated. For us, we call it our “State of the Union” report that happens at the end of each 90-day Epic for each client. Summarizes what we did, how we performed against our goals for the client, what we learned and what we’re going to improve for next time. This helps everyone on the team know that they will be evaluated on what they contributed to the overall effort.
Oh yeah...always listen. Be open to new ideas. Try stuff. Change stuff. Listen to your team.
Building The Right Culture
Building a culture within a remote team is hard. Its difficult to measure how people are doing when you don’t see them everyday and it can be a real challenge if a problem arises.
However, you can still lead, motivate and inspire your team without being face to face. Casting vision, investing in their future career, asking how you can get them where they want to go. That's what keeps them committed to the vision, desiring excellence, and mirroring your transparency. Sure, sometimes it doesn't work out with everyone, but at the end of the day you hope that they could squeeze just enough out of their experience with your company.
Other things to think about are...Are you offering the right incentives? Sales Commission? Profit sharing? What about non-financial? Encouragement? New opportunities to lead projects or run divisions of company?
Keep your ears open. Always be listening to your team members, clients and advisors. This helps you get better at what you do and generally surfaces challenges in the company culture.
Team building exercises are still important. How do you do this one people can be spread out across multiple continents? Get creative with this one. Try to gather people together at least once per year, foster relationships between remote workers, it's important. We are all social and community fosters vision.
Many of the above items wouldn’t be possible without great software and technology that enables it.
What Tools We Use
Here are some of the tools we use on a daily basis...sometimes every hour ;)
- Google Apps for Business
- Time Zones (oh yeah, this is a big one, sometimes we’ll schedule a meeting across 4 different time zones, check out this tool to help you keep track of everyone)
Always be thinking of how to solve problems. In our case as an agency, this is a way of life working for our clients, but also think about how you can solve problems for your team, is there ways to more effectively communicate? Better ways to empower each worker? Set clearer expectations? There's always going to be unexpected issues, think about how you can modify your current routines to solve for these issues.
We believe remote teams are the way of the future and it isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s crucial that today’s businesses learn how to work with a remote team across multiple departments, projects and continents.
Are you building a remote team? Do you want to? There no better time than 2018. We’re happy to help answer any questions from our successes or failures...