Remote working (or "telecommuting" if you're closer to my age) isn't just for tech startups.
According to the Census Bureau, the average remote worker a 49-year-old college graduate who earns around $58,000 a year and works for a company with more than 100 employees.
But that doesn't mean every company truly embraces a distributed workforce and allows flexible work from home policies--especially for employees who live close to the office.
And that's a real problem according to Wade Foster, the CEO of Zapier, a tool that lets you easily connect apps and automate repetitive tasks. (And one of my eight powerful social media tools for savvy businesses.)
"By only half-embracing remote culture in the workplace," Wade says, "you end up limiting the benefits you get from being a fully distributed team: from having the ability to hire the smartest people no matter where they live to having teammates working at all hours of the day to solve customers problems and meet customer needs whenever they might occur."
Of course embracing a fully distributed work team means changing how you manage your employees. In The Ultimate Guide to Remote Working (you can download a copy here for free) Wade describes the three most important principles for creating a successful remote company: people, process and pickaxes.
The most important ingredient of a remote company is its people. Not everyone can work remotely and not everyone can manage a remote team. It's important to assemble a team that can thrive in a remote environment.
Here's how to build a team that will thrive:
Hire doers. Doers get stuff done even if they're in Timbuktu. You'll still have to provide direction and guidance regarding priorities... but even if you don't, doers make something happen.
Hire people you can trust. Remote work stops working when you can't trust the person on the other end of the line. If you constantly worry about what someone is doing you're wasting mental energy. Trust is key.
3. Trust the people you hire. The flip side of trust is that you must show you trust the people you hire. Learn to manage by expectations and deliverables rather than "butts in seats."
4. Hire people who can write well. In normal offices a lot of information is shared in person. In remote workforces almost everything is shared via written communication. That makes writing skills extremely valuable.
5. Hire people with a local support group. While you should try to create a social atmosphere, remote workplaces are by definition less social than traditional workplaces. People on remote teams need to be okay with that--and more importantly, able to thrive in that type of environment.
Most startups don't like to think about process because it feels rigid and corporate. But just the right amount of process gives people the freedom, structure, and direction for getting things done... without having to ask a ton of questions.
Here are a few examples of important processes for making things tick in a remote team:
Monthly one-on-ones to make sure everyone is making progress towards goals. I set up a recurring monthly event with each team member to chat about four things: one thing you're excited about, one thing you're worried about, one thing I can do to help you do your job better, and one thing you can do to improve at your job.
You'd be surprised by how quickly fixing a few issues a month adds up.
Weekly hangouts with the entire team. Every Thursday morning we get together for "lightning talks," demos, etc. Each week someone on the team demos a new feature or gives a quick snapshot of a project or initiative.
Scheduled hangouts are a great way to get the entire team together and keep everyone up to speed.
Culture of accountability. One question I'm often asked is, "How do you know if people are doing work?" One easy way is through weekly updates. Every Friday each person on the team posts an update regarding what they shipped that week and what they're working on for the following week.
That makes it easy for everyone to stay in the loop and ensures we're all accountable to each other for doing our part.
Weekly random pair buddies so teammates get to know their remote teammates. Each employee is paired at random with another employee for a short 10-minute pair call to chat about work, life, or whatever random things seems interesting. Sometimes cool new product features come out of these discussions; other times it's just a fun conversation.
Either way it helps everyone better know their teammates.
Pickaxes (more commonly known as tools) is the third "P" that make a successful remote team.
Pickaxes are the modern cloud-based tools that allow remote teams to thrive. Without these tools it would be much more challenging to make remote work, well, work. A remote team likely needs at least one provider for each of the categories below:
- A payroll service like TriNet, Justworks, or SurePayroll that can handle payroll in all 50 states.
- A group chat app like Slack or HipChat, so everyone can talk to each other.
- A video conferencing tool like Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting, so you can have synchronous communication.
- A tool for documentation like Hackpad or Google Docs.
- A tool for project management like Trello, Asana, or Basecamp to keep track of progress on important initiatives.