Remote work is growing, and it's not just in the United States that digital work is taking over. Countries like Estonia are planning to introduce a new kind of visa for digital nomads this year, allowing remote workers to visit for up to one year while working for a company headquartered elsewhere.
They're opening their arms to the remote workforce that's expanded 140 percent since 2005. People often confuse working remotely with the ability to work anywhere. However, according to Flexjobs, 95 percent of remote jobs require workers to live in a fixed location.
The other 5 percent support 4.8 million remote workers who consider themselves digital nomads, working and traveling freely across the globe. About 17 million more currently work remotely and aspire to be location-independent. A growing number of companies find themselves building a location-independent workforce from the outset.
"We live our core values and share the same purpose: changing people's lives," says Trafilea CEO Santiago Zabala. "This means working for social change through our brands, but also creating a company culture that supports our handpicked team of global remote talents." Trafilea, an e-commerce group with a network of brands, has grown its remote workforce in recent years, earning recognition as one of the top 25 companies offering work-from-anywhere positions.
Here's what companies like Trafilea can teach us about supporting remote teams:
1. Invite open communication in all directions.
Trafilea intentionally set out to establish itself as a remote workplace from its founding, hoping to attract talent and create a stimulating company culture. "Working from home, or anywhere in the world, is a life-changing opportunity, and we wanted to become the best place for freelance and remote work available," says Zabala.
Part of that approach was incorporating the 10 Rockefeller Habits, something Zabala picked up from Verne Harnish's book Scaling Up. The company works from a one-page strategic plan and a Rockefeller checklist to ensure alignment. Furthermore, employees prioritize open communication to stimulate each other to grow through what Zabala calls "radical candor" and "radical truth." Above all, he says this means staffers practice feedback in all directions. Open lines of communication eliminate confusion and increase camaraderie, especially in challenging times.
2. Start with an employee you trust.
Offering remote positions when a physical presence isn't necessary is becoming imperative for companies that want to grow. "Organizations that aren't able to successfully adopt those policies and the workplace culture that can interact with [remote workers] are going to lose out on the talent wars, and they are going to get disrupted by their competitors," says Greg Caplan, CEO of RemoteYear, a company that makes travel arrangements for digital nomads.
If you already have an office and want to transition to a partially remote workforce, start with someone you know. "It's very difficult to start a new relationship with somebody and go to that level of trust," Caplan says. Start small with one existing employee to work out the kinks. "In order to do that well you really need to empower that person to give feedback and help the organization, rather than just be cut off from the culture," he explains.
3. Focus on goals accomplished, not hours clocked.
Use those open channels of communication to make sure the whole team is on the same page about company growth goals.
"Don't worry as much about what is being done," says Donald Hatter, author of 10 Things Great Sales Leaders Don't Do! "Instead, concentrate on what is being accomplished. If we are meeting our goals, then great. If not, we need to look into the situation further. It is all about accomplishment, not activity."
Tightly track weekly and quarterly goals. Rather than micromanage, trust your team is doing what needs to be done. Make sure people have access to the tools and assistance they need. Zabala notes that at Trafilea, this kind of support means budgeting for ongoing talent development, training and coaching.
4. Check in with video often -- and in person occasionally.
Most of your communication with your remote workforce will be through chats and emails, but it's also important to check in through video meetings. That includes one-on-ones, as well as group meetings where workers can discuss things that might be harder to convey through text. Allow time for chitchat; this part is also about human contact. Every now and then, organize a retreat so employees can bond in person. Your remote workforce is, after all, made up of people.
Starting a company with a remote workforce -- or transitioning to one -- will push your company into the future of work. As the workforce shifts toward location independence, smart leaders will be positioned to support a network of talent that's global and mobile. By next year, you may be video conferencing with your lead developer in Estonia. You may even decide to join her.