As technology becomes more entwined in business, one of the biggest benefits comes in the form of remote workers. When you can open up your search for new hires from locally to worldwide, you’re doing a great thing for your business. You’re getting the best workers available anywhere, providing new and better opportunities for your employees, and operating in a more sustainable option—lessening your carbon footprint and using less electricity and paper products.
These days, a multitude of tech programs and convenient equipment make it easy for a business to incorporate remote workers into its staff—even if you have employees on the other side of the globe, they’re still only a few clicks away.
There are always a few challenges to overcome, notably breaking free of the mindset that managing a remote team is too difficult, or that deadlines will be missed if micromanaging isn’t applied. But more and more businesses are discovering that working in a distributed team is a phenomenal solution that works across the board. Let’s examine how a few companies are managing their remote teams, and go over some best practices for your company once you’ve made the switch.
Getting the Very Best
Even a decade ago, it would have been considered difficult to employ remote workers in a business. It has since become not only an attractive option, but a vital move to ensure that a company is getting the very best employees, as well as getting the best out of their employees. A lot of wonderful and beneficial things can happen when you remove employees from the obligation to show up at a physical location and stay for eight hours, and you might just find that a lot of common fears about managing a remote team may be unfounded.
In their eBook titled “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work”, app connection company Zapier describes the gradual expansion of their business, including managing a team of over 20 remote workers across the globe. Although they concede that remote working isn’t for everyone (or every business), they note that they follow specific guidelines that help them find the best remote workers, including hiring doers and people you can trust (so that you know for sure they’re working their hardest, and you can count on them to finish assignments on time), hiring people with solid writing capabilities (since most of the communication will be done over email and instant messaging), and finding people who work best outside of a highly social environment.
“It’ll be important to try to create some social aspects with a remote team,” the eBook says. “But the truth of the matter is that remote workplaces are usually less social than co-located ones. People on remote teams need to be ok with that. And the best remote workers will thrive in this type of environment.” When it comes to many of the most successful industries—tech, media, journalism, shipping and supply chain, and so on—working remotely without the interruptions of a regular office actually makes it easier to focus on the tasks at hand.
Getting More Done
Another successful example of a company establishing a remote workplace is Basecamp, formerly known as 37signals, which provides project management tools and programs. The company consists of 39 people, and 28 of those people work remotely. In a video detailing how they’re able to make this work—and be successful to boot—partner David Heinemeier Hansson commented that, “A lot of people just get a lot more done when they’re not sitting in a loud office—when they can work on their own time, on their own schedule, and just collaborate in moderation.”
Whether it’s working out of a cowork space (one of Basecamp’s programmers actually founded one) or around a busy schedule at home, the company keeps its employees connected and collaborating no matter where they’re located.
Freelance and remote work can also combat the “disengagement dilemma”, a common reality that employees are overworked, underpaid, and unsatisfied, leading to disengagement with their work and lower productivity. Instead of relying on employees who are also fighting traffic and the grind of working 9-5, diversifying your workforce to include freelance and remote workers can help to reduce this disengagement. In fact, studies have shown the freelance workers are one of the most engaged segments in the workforce today.
If you’re looking to manage a remote team, you’re already one step closer to adopting a business practice that could very well become the norm in the near future. You might just find a renewed sense of creativity and passion instilled in your employees if you give them the option to work remotely, and not have to succumb to the typical 9-to-5 office grind.
Stretches of Uninterrupted Time
In an excerpt on Inc.com from their book Remote: Office Not Required, Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried argued that the office is actually the worst place to get work day, that “it’s incredibly hard to get meaningful work done when your workday has been shredded into work moments” and that the best work needs stretches of uninterrupted time.
“The ability to be alone with your thoughts is, in fact, one of the key advantages of working remotely,” Fried wrote. “When you work on your own, far away from the buzzing swarm at headquarters, you can settle into your own productive zone. You can actually get work done—the same work that you couldn’t get done at work!”
Yet here’s where a lot of companies struggle: They feel that if they don’t have the ability to keep an eye on their employees, those employees will slack off. Instead, the key is to have faith and trust in the remote workers you hire, and to keep a constant line of communication open.
The book excerpt suggests that managers instill a sense of self-assessment: “One way to help set a healthy boundary is to encourage employees to think in terms of ‘a good day’s work.’ Look at your progress at the end of the day and ask yourself: ‘Have I done a good day’s work?’”
This can help create a sense of accountability, as well as allowing a remote employee to examine what they need to do to improve their productivity—without a boss looming over their shoulder.
As mentioned, staying in communication with a remote team is also key, both for helping to exchange ideas and to provide a sense of being social. Using tools to facilitate communication is key, whether it’s a freelance management system, or simply email. Zapier noted that they schedule a “Weekly Hangout” for everyone to connect, share thought processes, and just catch up. This is a best practice that should be implemented by any business managing a remote team—it’s a chance for your staff to put human faces to the names that keep popping up in their inboxes. Choose a time that works best for everyone in their respective time zones, and set up a meeting through Skype or Google Hangouts.
Lastly, Zapier suggested creating a company culture that prides itself on being accountable, and explained that their employees are required to post updates on Friday to let everyone know what they worked on and completed throughout the week. Not only does this “keep everyone in the loop,” it also gives remote workers a sense of accountability—and accomplishment.
Making the move to managing a remote team of workers is one that more businesses ought to consider—yet it’s understandable how some would be wary, especially since some freelance management systems and networks don’t fully vet their freelancers. However, it’s worth putting aside the traditional fears of a lack of productivity and accountability, and instead begin to consider the fact that many of the best employees work at their highest creativity outside of the office—or even halfway around the world.
Mynul founded Field Nation in 2008 in Minneapolis, MN. He has a programming and data analyst background, as well as a honed “growth hacking” business focus that drives Field Nation strategy and motivates him to grow the Field Nation team. In 2013 Field Nation was placed at #43 on the INC. 500 list of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. They made the top 500 again in 2014.
Today, Mynul is focused on aggressive company growth and opportunistically expanding around the world through regional partnerships and local incubators.