Lean Labs has workers in many different countries. Want to talk about time zone arbitrage? We've got you covered!
As reported by The New York Times, remote work has risen 79 percent between 2005 and 2012.
Factor in the self-employed, and those who work from home at least one day a week, and an estimated 30% of Americans now work remotely.
Tips for Successful Remote Teams
If you're a company wanting to add remote workers to your team, you probably have some questions:
Can we really meet our business objectives with remote workers?
Won't important pieces of information fall through the cracks?
How can we ensure our remote workers are productive?
What makes us qualified to advise on remote work? At Lean Labs, we intentionally created our agency team to be 100% distributed.
Well, for two reasons:
First, to expand our talent pool beyond a single geographical location.
We've got some of the best graphic designers and coders, who happen to live in Europe. Our founder and president lives in Costa Rica. Our head of operations recently moved from Costa Rica back to Kansas. And our head of inbound marketing lives in Seattle.
Pick a time zone; we've probably got someone in Slack.
Second, it lowers overhead and expenses.
Some of our competitors have nice offices, and the overhead that goes with them.
We operate, well, leaner. We're not the most expensive agency, and we're not the cheapest. But our prices would have to reflect the added expenses of having a centralized office if we didn't adopt this model.
To be honest, we weren't really sure how it would work out at first! But after some experimentation, we can confidently say we communicate every bit as effectively as we would in an office setting; maybe even more so.
In this article, we'll review our best tips for both setting up a remote work team and working remotely:
7 Tips for Remote Work Team Success
1. Hire Self-Starters
Besides having the necessary skills to get the job done, the most important quality to look for when hiring is initiative.
Will this person pro-actively go after what needs to be done?
Will they require copious amounts of hand-holding?
Can they "connect the dots" on their own?
The reality is some people work better when they are told exactly what to do. But remote team members must be able to manage themselves.
That means prioritizing, organizing and completing assignments according to agreed-upon deadlines with minimal supervision.
2. Become a Communications Ninja
Do not confuse "independence" with "inaccessibility."
At Lean Labs, we rely on a variety of virtual communication methods to stay in touch.
Our Web design and content marketing services involve several layers of cross-communication between developers, designers, writers and project managers. Our primary method of communication is Slack (an enterprise messaging app accessible through desktop and phone).
With Slack, we create ongoing "communication threads" for each client account, internal department and special initiative. It's just as effective as collaborating in an office, with the additional benefit of a historical thread.
We've also become skilled at Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and just about every other communications tool on the internet.
Remote Communication Tools: Slack, Campfire, Google Hangouts, UberConference, HighFive (video conferencing), Skype
3. Use Project Management Tools Religiously
As previously mentioned, every project your business completes likely has several hands on deck. As such, it's imperative to create easy-to-follow organizational project sequences everyone can follow.
By and large, the biggest challenge for remote workers is time management.
With no one yelling, "work on this now; save that for later," remote workers have much more freedom to potentially stretch out projects. It's key to keep your remote team in the loop.
Clearly document all projects on deck and how they relate to one another. By showing team members what is coming down the pipeline, they will better manage their time and produce higher quality work.
Project Management Tools: LiquidPlanner, GatherContent, Basecamp, Trello, Google Calendars, DropBox
4. Define Metrics for Success
As with any business, it's important to define clear metrics for success.
How will someone know if they are completing work to satisfaction?
How will they know what needs to be done and by when?
With some of the project management tools mentioned above, you can create assignments to be "checked off" as completed. With remote work, it's even more important to break large projects down into smaller steps.
We use Liquid Planner as our project management system. Each and every deliverable is broken down into small categories (folders) and then to smaller individual tasks. Depending on the pre-determined effort to complete the folder, points are assigned. Then, work effort is measured by how many points each team member delivered.
While that's a very simplified explanation of our process, it works. If you're setting the right expectations of effort, and mapping that to a metric, it's easy to label success at "X points" per employee.
For employees that deliver a higher ratio of points (folders) to effort (hours), we apply handsome bonuses. This means workers are paid a nice salary on full-time hours, while also being paid to be as productive as possible inside of those hours.
The system isn't perfect, and we're still working on it. But it solves the efficiency drop-off problem a lot of remote teams battle with. If you're not delivering enough points, the boss man cometh-a-knockin'.
5. Hold Team Meetings
Just because team members are working remotely doesn't mean they should feel isolated. By holding regular team meetings (we use Google Hangouts), you can provide workers with a level of camaraderie similar to an office setting.
Not only are such interactions important for morale, but they also enhance communication and foster loyalty. The frequency of your meetings will depend on the nature of your business, but we recommend meeting at least once a week.
Remote Pro Tip: Keep discussions brief (i.e. don't reiterate what has already been said in an email) AND allow a few minutes at the beginning or end of meetings for light socialization.
6. Invest In Reliable Technology
The internet is down in Seattle, and in the middle of an important launch, I'm not even able to get online.
It's happened! But, it's not the end of the world with even a tiny bit of contingency planning.
This is one reason a lot of people dislike the "work from home" model. But, it's actually an argument for remote work. If the internet goes down at an office, your entire workforce is now on blackout. When it goes down at a team member's location (even if they are a vital team member), everyone stays connected.
The important thing is to have a backup plan in place just in case it happens at the wrong time.
Remote workers may also want to invest in technology backups (i.e. extra power chargers; a cheap, secondary computer; and hot-spot services that ensure Internet access).
Kevin, our founder, actually pays for two sources of internet on different lines. This means if one goes down, the other is probably still online.
In my instance, though, I live in Seattle. If my internet goes down, I can either jump onto a city-wide hotspot, or catch an Uber to one of my favorite coffee shops. While the city-wide hotspot can be dodgy, most coffee shop wifi in the city is very fast.
Some companies may even pitch in to insure their employees work equipment, like laptops, routers, and smartphones.
Discuss potential technological snafus with all new team members.
7. Encourage Location Experimentation
Finally, remote work doesn't have to mean always work from home. While numerous studies show employees get more done at home — due to factors like a quieter atmosphere, autonomy, and privacy — many of today’s remote workers prefer to get out of the house for work.
Between 2012 and 2015, the number of coffee shops in the states increased from 37,000 to 55,000. With fast enough internet, remote workers are bound to flock to any coffee shop with tables, chairs, and a semi-quiet atmosphere.
According to the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, the number of co-working spaces in America rose from one establishment (yes, you read that correctly) in 2005 to 781 just eight years later!
A co-working space is an ideal option for team members who feel more disciplined in regular office settings. Membership fees vary from city to city, but are usually quite affordable.
The Bottom Line: Regularly check in with team members to see how they're feeling in their work set-ups. A simple change in environment can make a huge difference in productivity and morale.
Create Your Remote Work Team
It's not that traditional offices are bad; they just aren't necessary anymore. You can foster a productive, collaborative and successful work culture remotely. The trick is to be even more organized than office dwellers and take advantage of modern technological tools.
Got any questions related to remote work?
Ask us in the comments below.
Ryan's experience ranges from higher education to SMBs and tech startups. When not doing digital marketing, he's sure to be enjoying some kind of nerdy pastime.