Today we are witnessing the significant rise of the remote workplace. In fact, it has been predicted that 50 percent of all work will be remote by the year 2027. This means many leaders will need to learn how to effectively manage remote teams to stay relevant and excel in the workplace of the future.
I recently interviewed Liam Martin, co-founder and CMO of TimeDoctor.com and Staff.com and producer of the Running Remote conference, for my leadership podcast, The TalentGrow Show. We talked about some of the leadership principles for the remote workplace based on Liam’s experience and expertise. Martin shared his advice for building engaged and productive remote teams and some great tools and resources you can use for developing and implementing effective processes. Here’s an edited excerpt of that conversation. (Listen in full here.)
We’re heading toward a 50 percent remote workforce
Liam Martin: We’re seeing this phenomenon of remote work being deployed at scale, finally, in the market. Approximately 2.1 percent of remote workers in the United States worked full-time remote in 2017. This year, it looks like it’s in the high 3 percent. I project, and there are other studies that project, 50 percent remote work by 2027. Fifty percent remote work will be a complete change to how we do our work. We’re trying to analyze that to figure out how to make the transition as easy and as efficient as humanly possible.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way for remote work success
Liam Martin: We see successful, billion-dollar remote companies starting to pop up, and they all implement working remotely very differently one from the other.
For example, some believe that video calls are absolutely critical. Another just as successful company says, “No, video calls are really bad. They make people feel uncomfortable. Audio is the best way to go.” Other people say, “Asynchronous communication is absolutely the best way to go for long-term productivity in remote work,” and then other people say, “No, as synchronous as humanly possible. Everyone being able to be in contact with everyone else instantaneously is the best form of work.”
There are all these major differences. But just last year I came to the conclusion that all of them are successful. No one actually has the solid tried-and-true playbook for remote work.
Hire the right people for remote work
Liam Martin: Probably the biggest insight I’ve found recently is that a lot of people who start with remote work don’t actually end up hiring people who want to work remotely.
I recently had a candidate who was a complete misfit in terms of our company culture. Before we actually short-listed this candidate, and in the first part of the job interview, he discussed how he thought that remote work was really stupid and that he didn’t want to work remotely. He talked about how he could absolutely sell our (remote work) software to remote teams but he didn’t personally believe in the product. Of course, we eliminated him from the list as quickly as possible. I literally said, “We don’t need to go any further. This isn’t going to be the right fit.”
The thing is, he was an amazing salesperson. He probably would have sold a ton of software to customers. But it just comes down to a culture issue, which is do you want to have true believers with you? For us, we really focus on having those true believers, and communicating that in what we do and what we stand for. Our mission statement is that we want to empower people to work wherever they want, whenever they want. That feeds into all of the different products and conferences we offer.
Build and document processes sooner than you think is necessary
Liam Martin: The second biggest type of failure among remote teams is a lack of documented processes. In remote businesses, small businesses have to act like big ones very quickly, because operational processes are often undocumented inside of a small business.
If you have fewer than 100 employees, as an example, and they’re all in the same office, a lot of the ways of doing things are learned through osmosis, so to speak. But when those 100 employees are 5,000 miles away, you can’t learn that process through osmosis. Instead, you need to be able operationalize all of your different processes. Discover them, digitize them, and deploy them on some type of platform.
Operationalization can be cheap and decentralized
Liam Martin: If you want to use something free, I suggest Google Docs. If you want to use a paid product, Trainual is a fantastic product to operationalize all of your processes. Then, deploy that to your entire team and figure out exactly what is going on, how they work, and refine those processes as you move forward.
That’s something that a lot of people kind of find boring but, once you have those structures in place, scale is much easier than what you would have thought of before. A lot of “on-premise” companies (as we like to call them) or even remote companies start to slow down and don’t really know why. And it’s because they don’t have processes properly documented inside of their business. Remote businesses absolutely have to do that.
Encourage initiative and ownership through incentives
Liam Martin: We actually create a bit of an organic feedback loop on any process that needs to be improved. Anyone can change something, because there’s editing rights inside of all of our documentation. Then, the people that work on that process vote on those improvements. We give out cash prizes for people who want to improve a process. There’s a couple of eager beavers who are constantly analyzing and improving processes because they get cash bonuses for it, which is great for us.
This also enables us to make sure that teams pay attention to processes. So if someone doesn’t actually implement those procedures, we tell them, “Do you have a better way to do it? If you do, write it down, and maybe that will become the new procedure. If you don’t have a better way to do it and you’re just being lazy, this is a problem.”
Which of these ideas have you implemented or plan to try? What other suggestions can you share about getting our teams and organizations remote-ready? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.