7 Keys to Scaling a Remote Workforce
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
So, say you’ve started a business in a remote location, and the business is doing well; but if you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re not content to rest on your laurels: You’re interested in growing your company further, and one of your tactics is using a remote workforce.
Now, that may call for scaling; and scaling a remote workforce involves addressing specific needs that are different from those faced by growing on-site companies. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t scale, but it does mean you should be sensitive to your remote employees in the process. Here's how to do that:
The moment you realize your business is not only thriving but also ready to expand is a thrilling one. Understandably, you'll want to respond by growing rapidly. Yet, while expansion is a logical decision, if you’re regularly turning away desirable clients or raking in revenue, expanding too quickly isn't going to translate to automatic success.
Just take the example of KIND Healthy Snacks. When he spoke to USA Today, CEO Daniel Lubetzky, the paper observed, admitted to making “a lot of mistakes during his earlier entrepreneurial years, such as putting too much emphasis on expansion and taking on big orders that were difficult to fulfill.”
It wasn’t until the company slowed down and invested time into perfecting a crafted snack bar that the business found success, the newspaper report. And that's a good lesson to learn because, for remote business owners, the temptation to expand as quickly as possible is especially tempting.
Those remote business owners should slow down, because expansion will require hiring new talent, restructuring to deal with a larger workforce and client base and addressing new challenges, such as the need for heavy-duty technology infrastructure. Some bumps along the road during expansion are inevitable, so rushing through several dramatic changes at once is unwise.
You'll just have even less time than you would have to experiment with new arrangements and find what works best.
Don’t ignore physical spaces.
When you scale a remote company, you have to hire new people, and chances are they won’t be in the same city as you. They might not even be from the same continent. That means physical workspaces like offices are irrelevant, right?
Wrong. In my experience, the reality is more complicated. For example, our company is starting to participate in shared incubator hubs, which are owned collectively by multiple companies -- usually, companies that share interests, values and areas of expertise. Renting space in a shared incubator can be a lot cheaper than renting an office. With a hub, you have space for employees to come together for annual meetings or retreats; you can also host visiting employees and boost workplace rapport; and you can interact with clients in-person.
So a co-working space or incubator can be a great way to maintain the advantages of a remote workforce while simultaneously tapping into resources that help non-remote companies stay cohesive as they grow. If our first hub thrives, we plan on expanding into more shared space, so that we can provide in-person interaction across the globe.
Hire high-quality talent.
When you’re starting a business, every penny counts. It’s important to hold on to that mindset when you’ve established yourself and when you begin expanding, too. Often, entrepreneurs are tempted to cut corners when it comes to hiring top-tier talent, because salary and benefit packages can easily be the most expensive part of operating.
However, if there’s one place where you shouldn’t be cutting corners, it’s expanding your remote workforce. After all, a bad hire will cost you in the long run: Not only do you have to spend money to on-board and train new employees, but the constant monitoring and elevated risk of errors with less-than-qualified employees can be exhausting. These issues could even jeopardize your company’s good name.
Then, as your business grows, you’ll have less and less personal bandwidth to monitor every employee’s performance or find replacements when someone leaves. That means it’s essential to get hiring decisions right the first time, and with each hire to find a good fit that will contribute to the company without your having to breathe (remotely) down his or her neck.
Another thing: Finding quality hires will require that you offer fair, attractive compensation.
Invest in quality technology.
Running your business remotely is easier than ever, thanks to collaborative services such as Google Docs and Slack. Most of these tools are free or very affordable to start using; For example, Dropbox offers unlimited cloud storage for professional teams for about $20 a month, and Slack offers services such as multi-person online screen-sharing when users upgrade from the free version.
As your company grows, don’t be afraid to invest in technology and digital services. Communicating expectations and sharing work products online is even more crucial in a remote workplace than an in-office one, and your tools need to be up to the task.
Build a positive workplace culture.
Social interaction, even outside of strictly work-related tasks, occurs naturally in non-remote workplaces. That social interaction goes a long way in shaping a workplace’s culture; and culture, far from being an afterthought to financial stats and client lists, is crucial to helping workforces succeed.
Positive workplace cultures can create more collaboration-oriented, engaged and productive employees. In fact, according to research by the Gallup Organization, as reported by the Huffington Post: “Disengaged workers [surveyed] had 37 percent higher absenteeism, 49 percent more accidents and 60 percent more errors and defects.
"In organizations with low employee engagement scores," the website reported, "they experienced 18 percent lower productivity, 16 percent lower profitability, 37 percent lower job growth and 65 percent lower share price over time.”
Of course, creating a positive workplace culture even in non-remote businesses can be a challenge, but it’s especially tricky for remote companies, where workers can’t even say hello in the elevator. Collaboration tools such as Slack are as useful for building company culture as they are for accomplishing actual work.
Encouraging a non-work Slack channel is a great idea. With Slack you can encourage light-hearted conversation and hold regular video meetings among your team members, so employees form closer bonds through facial and voice social cues.
Such online meetings in my own business also encourage respect and cooperation, helping to build a productive remote culture.
Consider attention to onboarding essential.
Onboarding new employees is a vital step for all companies, but the stakes are particularly high for expanding remote companies. In addition to formal onboarding procedures and documents, many non-remote companies onboard new hires by assigning them to shadow experienced employees and by relying on co-workers to help these new people navigate less formal elements of workplace culture.
As a remote manager, you have far less access to this informal, learn-as-you-go element of traditional on-boarding. That’s why it’s essential that your formal onboarding process be as robust as possible. Clear explanations of procedures and work expectations are a must. Also, it may often be helpful to assign an experienced employee as an informal mentor to every new employee.
Being a bit of a control freak can serve you well when you’re first starting your remote business. You can make sure the work your team sends out meets your standards and that administrative procedures, client interactions and other protocols are done just-so. But the larger your company grows, the harder it will be to retain absolute control over everything, and trying to do that will only lead to burnout and frustration for all.
Delegation requires thinking seriously about how you want your company to look in the future. Will it have different departments? How will the department heads manage their teams, communicate with one other and stay accountable to you? Setting up a delegation system that works is easier said than done, but it’s still essential to successful growth.
Establishing your remote business is no small feat, and it’s important to make sure that growth strengthens rather than weakens it.