5 Lessons I've Learned From Building Our Remote Startup Team
Many business owners have heard that if they want to hire the most competent and talented employees, they need to relocate to New York City or San Francisco. That simply isn’t true. There is tremendous untapped talent all over the world -- you just need to know where, and how, to look.
I’ve always gravitated toward location-independent business models that allow me the freedom to move and travel to new places (including Asia, where I started my first company). My current company has four full-time employees and ten part-time contractors, all of whom work remotely. Our team is based both internationally and stateside, and members live in Chile, Vermont, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Chicago, Portland and other places.
In my experience, the following benefits of building a remote team far outweigh the challenges:
By hiring remote workers, we get access to experts located all over the world, at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time employee from an expensive city like New York or San Francisco.
Also, we try to find “moonlighters” who are looking for part-time work, but have a full-time job as an expert in their field. As a result, we benefit from the knowledge transfer and training the employee is receiving at his or her full-time job.
Since most of our team is part-time, members don’t rely on us for their primary income. If we are busy, we can request more hours, or if we don't need a specific service, we can scale down the workload and decrease costs.
3. Lower cost structure
My company is a bootstrapped startup that has had to make due with limited resources. I attribute our survival and success in part to the fact that we built a remote workforce.
By hiring contractors, you too can lower your payroll taxes, insurance costs and general overhead costs, like office space.
4. Employee satisfaction
Our team members are able to work whenever and wherever they want. This allows them to take more vacations, travel and work when and from wherever they feel most productive.
I’m a big believer that location-independent businesses are the future of work and that most companies can benefit from building a remote workforce. However, I’d be lying if I said that this approach doesn’t come with its own unique challenges. That being said, through trial and error, I’ve developed solutions for some of the most common pain points associated with remote workforces:
5. Solutions for common paint points
Embracing a remote philosophy -- Building a remote workforce means giving up control, to an extent. Many business owners rely on their presence in the office -- and their ability to drop in on employees’ offices or cubicles unannounced -- as a motivating factor to keep employees on task. Obviously, that isn’t possible when your team is spread throughout the country or world.
The single easiest way to give up control is to hire the right talent. Seek out employees who are motivated by doing great work, not by appeasing a hovering boss. Finding this type of employee takes longer, but it’s worth it.
Once you hire talented, self-sufficient and self-motivated workers, it is essential that you give them autonomy and motivate them to do their best work. Resist the urge to micromanage and remove bottlenecks that slow down or complicate their ability to get their work done. Provide employees with only the information they need to fulfill their responsibilities, and create clearly defined systems and processes so there’s no confusion about which employees interface with one other, and when.
For example, our content publishing process has clearly defined steps and responsibilities outlined for our writers, designers and content manager. This system allows us to publish more and better content faster without running into unnecessary roadblocks.
Fostering Communication -- One of the biggest challenges we still face as a remote team is making sure everyone understands our high-level goals, mission and vision of the company. It’s easy for employees to lose sight of their purpose when they’re working from home and not surrounded by a supportive team.
As CEO, my job is to remind my employees of the common goal we’re working toward, and why it’s important. Not only do I need to manage day-to-day activities, I also have to preach our vision and mission, so my team doesn’t get discouraged or lose sight of what we’re all working together to accomplish.
Creating accountability -- Accountability can also be an issue for remote teams: As I mentioned, staying motivated can be difficult when there’s no boss or manager physically checking in on you. In the past, I have struggled with getting teams to adopt project management systems that allow them to update me on their progress and stay accountable. Adopting a project management system is something you must commit to as a team, especially in a remote culture.
Putting together a good tool set:
Good tools are essential for remote startup work. My own recommended list includes:
- Slack, for sending quick messages and managing all company communication in one place
- Basecamp, for tracking projects and assigning to-dos
- Gmail, for its various handy email features
- Google Stack, especially its Docs, Calendar and Hangouts features for easy sharing and collaboration on assets and content
- Skype, for video calls
- Working On, to share what each team member is working on in real time
- 15Five, for weekly communication on team member progress as well as a boost for morale, challenges and more
- Weekly Meetings, for bringing team members together to talk, even though we’re scattered around the world
Hiring and managing a team of remote workers can be challenging, but at this point, I can’t imagine running my business any other way. With the number of technological innovations and tools out there that enable geographically disparate teams to communicate with and update each other quickly and easily, there’s no reason why most businesses can’t make this model work.