Remote does not have to mean distant: 8 ways to make sure your remote organization is a success
Fifteen years ago, I decided to quit my corporate job and try my luck at being self-employed doing consulting work for hotels out of my new home base in Mexico. I found a like-minded business partner, who lived in Pennsylvania, and together we embarked on creating a 100% remote hotel consulting company. Today we have over 40 team members located across the world and we provide temporary staffing services to hundreds of hotel companies all over the US.
Consistent year-over-year growth required us to add team members, which in turn allowed us to optimize our model by securing talent where it was located not where we were.
Here are 8 of the lessons we’ve learned, and I’d highly recommend implementing them if you haven’t yet:
Take your time selecting people. Working from home is not for everyone. It requires organizational skills, motivation, and self-discipline. Have at least 2-3 people in your team also interview the candidates to make sure they fit in a culture with very limited in-person social interaction: do they connect easily with others during an informal chat? Ideally, hire people with remote experience, or at least identify if they have discipline in other areas of their lives which would predispose them to work remotely. Include a test that will allow you to see beyond what you can learn during an interview – we use Predictive Index.
Set them up for success. If this is the first time they are working remotely, provide training on how to best set up a home office or a dedicated workspace and how to best create blocks of uninterrupted work time. Make them think of things that are obvious to you, but might not be to them: lighting, noise levels, work tools, etc. Help working parents set work times when kids are in school or after they have gone to bed.
Clearly define the scope of work, goals, and expectations.
Having a clear description of what the role entails and what success looks like is key in helping remote workers understand what is expected of them and how productivity will be gauged. Every role, including talent acquisition, has a goal that helps team members and leaders understand and stay focused on expectations.
Onboarding sets the tone. It is very important to have a well-thought-out onboarding and training plan for new team members. In our group, after they have been set up on our systems, they are welcomed by our Culture Ambassador who gives them an introduction to the company, the culture, and the team – for the following 2 weeks, while they are training on their role and responsibilities, they are also meeting the rest of the team members over “coffee chats”: 15-minute video calls where they get to know their colleagues better and vice versa. By the time the 2nd or 3rd week of training is completed, they have met all of the leadership and most of the team. This helps lay the foundation for creating a sense of team even if we don’t work together in the same office.
Communicate Communicate Communicate. Effective communication is essential in a remote operation. It’s also important to schedule a time to discuss things that would otherwise be brought up over a coffee or a shared lunch. Each department should be meeting weekly to discuss progress and raise any challenges. On top of this, if the size of your company allows for it, get your entire team on a monthly video call. Have a content-rich agenda, encourage participation from each discipline, and find reasons for the different interdependent departments to meet on video and collaborate on projects. At SSP, we have actually made video calls the communication standard, so any internal calls are conducted “face-to-face”. We implemented this practice over COVID as a way to connect more, and we found it to be very impactful in building relationships. E-mailing can be fast and easy, but it can also be highly impersonal and unproductive, especially when the message gets lost in the “perceived” tone. At SSP we believe that if an e-mail trail is on its 3rd message, it’s best to schedule a video call to resolve the matter.
Accountability. Weekly one-on-ones between leader and team members are very important for remote teams, especially in the beginning. As a leader, it’s a great opportunity to help your teams set strategies that will allow them to reach their goals and stay on track while feeling supported. Meeting each of your team members weekly is also a great way to keep them focused and engaged, addressing any concerns in a timely fashion before they escalate. With time, you will not need to meet with everyone every week, but make sure you do at least twice a month. Have an agenda to give these meetings a framework and take time to connect with your teams on a human level, to have an idea of how they’re doing and what is going on in their lives.
Time tracking software. Implementing a time-tracking application allows the team and leadership to focus on priorities and productivity – it is a good way to identify when a team member is maxed out, allowing you to add resources or redistribute some of the work. It also lets you know where time is being spent so it’s a great tool to help redirect focus during any performance or time management challenges. Many 20- or 30-minute blocks of work time point to many interruptions, so knowing this will allow you to address the cause of the issue rather than any superficial symptoms.
- Create a culture that complements remote work. Remember that flexibility is likely one of the main reasons why your team members chose to work remotely. It may be due to a lifestyle preference, family, or getting a degree, so as a company, you should focus on the quality of work and productivity rather than making sure they are working a full schedule or specific hours (as long as they are working within regular business hours). This is where the weekly 1:1s and the focus on communication are key.
Having a team that is 100% remote is not easy. However, it is possible and it is also possible for it to be successful. One of the essential elements of success is the connection between team members on a professional as well as a personal level: this requires a time investment into building relationships but can be extremely rewarding as it creates a solid foundation on which to build the rest of the structure.