It wasn’t long ago that office life was simply a part of every day life. A person with a “real job” made the daily commute to the office, like it or not. They chatted around the water cooler, and then wasted much of the day dodging the boss and avoiding nosy colleagues.
Times have changed, and anyone with an eye on trends could have seen it coming. As the world went web-based, so did the traditional office space. A study by Global Workplace Analytics says, "Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 115 percent since 2005."
Innovative communication tools have evolved to accommodate this new work force. There are tools, apps and programs galore to reconcile time zone differences, connect people virtually and back up the promises of increased productivity.
But, remote teams face challenges, too, and it’s easy for them to fall apart without the right supports in place. If you are considering a remote startup, here is some advice on how to set up for success.
Cast a wide net.
One of the most noteworthy benefits of remote teams is that the talent pool instantly becomes global. In other words, your potential team is no longer dictated by the boundaries of your head office’s city and suburbs.
More than ever, and especially with millennials, people are embracing a nomadic lifestyle. Why not spend a year in Zanzibar? Or, why not hire a talented team member who wants to spend a year in Zanzibar? There are plenty of remote job boards to tap into.
Adjust for time zones.
Now that you’ve assembled your global team of superstars, the challenge is to coordinate.
While some say that time zones are outdated and counter-productive, we still currently live with them.
Instead of installing six clocks set to different times on your home office wall, consider tools like Every Time Zone or World Time Buddy. Easily customized, you can add cities at your will and watch a tracker in real time so you’re not expecting your colleague to answer a question at midnight.
Create a water cooler commons.
The water cooler effect has both positives (shared theories about what happened on Mr. Robot last night) and negatives (creates fertile ground for office gossip). But, overall it's a good thing, and the remote team needs a chance to bond, too.
Thankfully, there are some excellent ways to create a virtual space where everyone is included but no one needs to wear pants. The two most popular options are HipChat and Slack, with Slack edging ahead of the competition. The virtual communication tools connect team members and offer messaging sub channels, direct messages, customized calendars, task assignments and so on. You can start a channel dedicated to awesome high-five gifs or unexpected animal friendship videos. This can be instrumental in building a company culture for people to become invested in.
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One of the biggest trials is keeping your team on task and organized. Communication is key here, and using tools to create a virtual white board work well. Trello is a popular one that allows users to make boards, lists, and cards to stay organized and set priorities.
You also need a system to make it easy to share large folders and documents, like Dropbox Paper, which has added functionality for collaboration. Anthony Wan, co-founder of Gfresh, combines Slack, Trello, Dropbox Paper and Uber Conference to create a seamless, organized system.
While having clear tasks is necessary, it’s also a good idea to organize and stick to a schedule for a weekly Skype session or time when everyone can join a Google Hangout. Having this kind of clear, reliable communication means that fewer things will slip through the cracks and trust between teammates will build.
Mandate a buddy system.
Remote work can get lonely, and without person-to-person contact, productivity can slip.
One interesting way companies combat this is by having mini team check-ins. It’s like a buddy system where you have an assigned colleague/friend. But, instead of making sure they are on the bus with you, you connect to make sure they’re on track with their job.
The teams can be randomly assigned so two unrelated team members get a chance to dive deep into each other’s work and have the opportunity to explain their own work in detail. Switching up the teams every week will create interesting cross-sections and encourage relationships to blossom.
Bring it all together, now.
Yes, the point of having remote teams is to work remotely, but it’s great to link up face-to-face at least once a year.
By now, your business should be taking off because you’ve hired the best people from around the world and have implemented the most cutting edge productivity practices, so you can afford it.
Having your remote team meet up at relevant trade shows kills several birds with one stone. It allows your remote folks work together as a face-to-face team, hone their sales and marketing skills in a direct environment, and gives them valuable feedback from clients and prospects. This gives them valuable insight into how they can best use their skills, but make sure they know how to play the trade show game.
If you ask remote employees why they pursued their remote position, the answer will often be because they didn’t feel productive or happy in an office setting. As a business owner or manager, this creates an interesting opportunity to capitalize on.
Running a tight ship takes strategy, diligence and flexibility. But, you might as well take a chance. If you don't, you might get left behind.