6 Hacks for First-Time Entrepreneurs Seeking to Successfully Manage Remote Teams
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As with any great opportunity, there are unique challenges associated with outsourcing business tasks to remote teams. In many cases, distance, time zones, language barriers and cultural differences must all be overcome in order to successfully work with remote contractors.
Here are six "hacks" I've learned while managing remote teams that have made it significantly easier to overcome those kinds of obstacles. By following these tips, any first-time entrepreneur should be able to save a great deal of money by outsourcing tasks while maintaining an excellent standard of work:
1. Keep an international clock nearby at all times.
Even in the U.S., time zones can create scheduling conflicts for businesses trying to work with contractors or clients in different parts of the country. These problems are magnified dramatically when working with individuals on the other side of the globe.
Try to be accommodating when arranging calls and meetings. Keep a clock handy that's set to the same time zone as your remote team. Even better, consider scheduling all meetings on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
2. Use an escrow-based payment method.
The thing with hiring remote talent is that it involves trusting someone you've never met with important tasks. More often than not, my trust in these cases has been rewarded with great work at a very affordable price, but that doesn't mean I've never been burned.
Fortunately, I've found ways to minimize my risk. When I hire remote talent now, I almost always do it through a platform with an escrow payment system. Upwork is probably the best-known of these, but there are many others.
Once I confirm the team I want to work with, the payment we agreed on is immediately taken out of my account and held in escrow until the deliverables are approved.
That way the remote contractors don't get paid until the work is done successfully, and in the event anything goes seriously wrong, I can immediately get my money back.
Related: 7 Keys to Scaling a Remote Workforce
3. Invest in a simple, reliable project management software.
When you're working with a team that isn't physically in your office, organized project management becomes even more important than usual -- and significantly more difficult. You can't just swing by their desk to ask what stage of the project they're at and what support or information they need to continue.
If you aren't already using project management software in your office, now is the time to start. The good news is that, if you have a small team, services like Trello and Basecamp are free.
Services like this can keep you organized and save countless headaches.
They will also allow all parties involved more autonomy -- you won't have to micromanage because there will already be a clear reporting system in place.
4. Create (and use) an ongoing project chat.
You may not be able to stop by your remote contractors' desks to ask how things are going, but that doesn't mean you won't have spur-of-the-moment questions and requests to make. From my experience, in addition to email, it's very helpful to have an ongoing group chat with all invested parties.
It doesn't matter what platform you use. I like Skype, but I've also had good results with Slack and Facebook Messenger. The idea here is to have a live conversation going more or less 24/7 so you can get quick answers when you need them.
This will also save you the headache of trying to conduct all correspondence via email, with dozens of conversations clogging your inbox, or the hassle of trying to remember everybody who needs to be cc'd on every message.
5. Schedule regular follow-ups with team members.
Especially when working with overseas talent, it's best to take a hands-on management approach for the first several months. Cultural and language differences can make it difficult for freelancers to understand your expectations without clear, frequent follow-ups, so it's a good policy to hold these often.
"When there is a problem with the work, I am often the one to blame, as my instructions may not have been clear enough," says Jeremy Belcher, who worked with many freelancers while building a music aggregation company. "It is very important that the requirements and expectations are laid out in the beginning, and that nothing is left to assumption."
At the beginning of a contract, I like to have check-in meetings at least twice each week. That way if the remote workers are confused or make an incorrect assumption, I can step in and provide guidance before it becomes a major problem.
6. If possible, consider meeting in real life.
Finally, hiring a remote team doesn't have to mean working with people you're never going to meet. The world is actually a pretty small place. If you're going to be working with a group for a long time, or if they're helping on a very significant project, I like to meet them in person.
Obviously, this might not make sense for a short-term project, but a single in-person meeting can do more to lay the foundation for a productive business relationship than a hundred conference calls or emails.
Whenever possible, buy a plane ticket and pay your remote team a visit.
If you're starting your first company and are wondering how to successfully outsource some of your business tasks, these six tips can help you avoid a lot of potential trouble and set you on the path to success.