The Ultimate Guide to Remote Working

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Remote working is taking over, and I don’t say that lightly.

70% of people all over the world work remotely at least one day per week, and hiring managers predicted that 38% of their full-time, permanent staff will work mainly remotely within the next 10 years.

You might be questioning whether it’s possible to avoid communication mishaps that sacrifice your customers’ experience with your brand, or whether you can get the best work from your employees if they’re out of the office.

The answer to both is yes.

In this ultimate guide to remote working, I’m sharing why the shift in work preferences is taking over - and how your business can thrive with this new setup.

Why is remote working so popular, anyway?

There are at least four powerful reasons remote work is popular (and growing in popularity).

1. Working remotely boosts staff motivation.

If you work in the same space day in, day out, you’ll probably relate to this: Working in the same four walls can be very demotivating.

Remote workers don’t suffer from that problem.

They can work wherever they want - whether that’s their bedroom, kitchen, coffee shop, or on a train while they’re backpacking through a foreign country.

That’s why 58% of workers said working away from their office would improve their motivation levels. It keeps things fresh. Remote workers have the opportunity to control where they work and avoid office environments that often suck the life from them.

2. Working remotely increases productivity.

Offices often come with distractions. And while the chatter from staff might be productive, it’s not uncommon for staff to chat about last night’s episode of The Walking Dead and get off track with their chit-chat.

Client visits and in-house meetings can play a role in low productivity levels, too. A single distraction is also shown to derail an employee’s focus for 23 minutes on average.

But remote workers? They don’t have those problems, which is why remote workers rated their productivity as a 7.7/10, (versus the average score of 6.5/10 for those working in open-plan offices).

Increased productivity equals more work that’s often higher in quality. What’s not to love?

PC: HubStaff

3. Remote working makes staff happier.

Studies show that 82% of telecommuters have lower stress levels - which makes sense, really. The average commute is almost 30 minutes each way through heavy traffic, and that’s being stuck in traffic jams is something we’d all love to avoid.

Remote workers avoid the stress of a commute and have fewer distractions throughout the day. That leads them to feeling more refreshed about their work, and able to get into a state of flow (which also helps them produce better results).

4. Remote working saves cash.

Businesses with remote workers - and especially fully remote teams - don’t need to fork out nearly as much for office space and other overhead. That means businesses are saving huge amounts of cash by employing remote workers.

Just take Aetna, for example, who saved $78 billion by ditching their office space in favor of remote working.

But even if you don’t have a workforce the size of Aetna’s, there’s still cash to be saved when making the switch.

PC: Buffer

How to Manage a Team of Remote Workers Effectively

How can you experience all these great benefits of remote working for your own business? Let me show you. There are five steps you can take to streamline communication and manage your remote team effectively (without sacrificing productivity or your customers’ experience).

1. Use a central communication software.

Remote workers can’t communicate in person, and that’s why you’ll need a central piece of software (other than email) to manage your communications.

There’s a reason why Slack is so popular!

It lets you create various channels depending on the type of work, rank, or any other category you’d like to use. It’s a great way to make sure nothing gets lost.

Communication software helps to build the company culture that some managers will fear will be lost when working remotely, especially if you’re creating non-work channels that can strengthen the bonds between your team members.

And since tools like Slack, Trello, and Basecamp are so affordable, there’s no reason to worry about communication.

I asked Matthew Spurr, who runs Quuu entirely remotely, how he manages communication for his team. He said:

“We have all the usual business focused channels you get in Slack, like #marketing, #productdevelopment, and #techqueries. But we also have things like: #teamchat (for general nattering) and #instasnaps (for the team to share their workplace for the day, what they ate, what their pet is doing, etc). These things give us all a bit more of a sense of one another and it brings us together.

It’s small things like this that can bring your remote team from all around the world into feeling like a small family of people that you know better than those you’d end up working with in an office environment.

Productivity-wise, working remotely [is way better than] having a team in an office. The conversations we have through Slack would be the equivalent of having 10 simultaneous conference meetings going on at the same time - people easily sharing files, screens, ideas, tagging other relevant people in quickly for their opinions.

Doing all this in an office is far more clunky and laborious.

You’d have to make sure the meeting room is free, take a number of people away from their computers, hook up a laptop to a big screen (...for some reason). Then everyone would waste time making small talk before the meeting started.

The list of inefficiencies goes on and on.”

2. Schedule regular video calls.

It’s tricky for your staff to put a face to their co-workers’ name if you’re only communicating via Slack, but that doesn’t mean personal relationships have to suffer.

We all want to know who we’re working with, right?

Video calling can solve this problem. Scheduling regular video meetings through Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts can help your team to bond. You can even have one-off video chats to quickly get up to speed on a project or talk through an idea.

Video conferencing isn’t like the olden days anymore. The software I’ve recommended are smooth and affordable, making it a viable option for most businesses.

And, you can make the most out of your team’s video chats by sticking to a schedule.

Whether you’re planning a catch-up on a Monday morning or having a meeting with your marketing managers every Wednesday afternoon, setting some structure to your team’s weekly schedule can create routines that remote working often lacks.

Animalz, a content marketing agency with a remote team, use video more now that they’ve made the switch. Just one way they’ve done this is to get new team members to record a short video about themselves, like this example:

Soapbox - Hi Animalz!

Notice how much more personal those types of video are, rather than a quick “hello” in a Slack channel? That’s the vibe you want to get from your remote team.

3. Make sure staff are well-equipped to work from home.

Just like office workers, employees who work remotely will need equipment to help them do their jobs. That includes a PC, a decent internet connection, and a phone line.

You could consider building these basics into your staff’s on-boarding policy and providing each remote worker with a setup package that includes everything they’ll need to work remotely.

But don’t just leave it there.

Go above and beyond to make sure your remote team is working comfortably by:

  • Giving monthly coffee shop allowances
  • Providing free gym memberships
  • Allowing a stipend (e.g. $1,000 towards a computer, $50 per month for internet, and $50 for their phone bill)

Trello, for example, offers free gym memberships for their remote team.

Want to go a step further?

Consider allowing your remote team an allowance for co-working spaces. That way, remote workers who still thrive in office environments can have some cash to support public working spaces.

(With the average monthly cost for a co-working space being $195 in America, €189 in Europe, and £168 in the UK, it’s a small price to pay for productive staff - much less than funneling everyone into one corporate office.)

I asked Nick Donnelly, CEO of WorkClub, to shed some light on the equipment aspect of managing remote workers. He said:

“The businesses that can support this new group of skilled, remote talent will be the ones to become market leaders. But when businesses want to hire remote workers, the upfront investment that goes into offering a successful remote work programme often catches them off-guard.

There are a few tools I recommend as being essential in handling this new workforce. I recommend to businesses that a laptop, phone, printer, and access to flexible workspace is necessary.

This would be considered as a deluxe package, and it has several advantages.

First, employers have control over the equipment their remote employee is using. That should make it easier to ensure its compatible with the business, as well as making information security and tech support simpler.

Offering access to a flexible workspace also gives remote employees the choice of where they work, which improves creativity, motivation, and mental wellbeing.”

4. Send company swag to boost connections.

Remote workers might lose their sense of belonging when they’re not working with their co-workers day-in and day-out.

That doesn’t mean they have to lose it completely.

You’re able to boost their sense of belonging and make them feel like they’re part of a team, by sending company swag, such as:

  • T-shirts
  • Coffee cups
  • Mouse mats
  • Laptop cases
  • Notebooks or stationery

(Bonus points if your branded swag helps with their productivity.)

Take a look at how people on Agorapulse’s remote team each have their own branded hoodie.

Looks snazzy, right? And because Agorapulse’s team can wear these hoodies all over the world, they’re also giving their brand awareness a boost. Talk about a win-win.

5. Organize company retreats.

Whether you’re inviting every member of your remote team to a retreat with team-building exercises, or planning to work together for one week in a rented office or apartment, company retreats are a great way to boost connections and make your staff feel like they belong.

(You could also do annual homecomings, where remote workers come to your HQ city for several days.)

Just take Buffer, for example. They have a remote team in 15 different countries but organize annual company retreats to keep their staff connected. They’ve been to Iceland, Australia, and Hawaii on their travels - and share the videos to prove it:

The best part about company retreats? 40% of CFOs who organize them say the events increase teamwork and staff morale. I bet you’d love to see that first-hand.

What happens when things go wrong with remote teams?

That’s a question many managers have when planning to make the switch to remote workers, and rightly so. You don’t want to put all of your eggs in the remote working basket without knowing how you’ll solve dilemmas if (or when) they rear their head.

So let’s talk about how you can solve common issues, like:

  • Staff making mistakes
  • Recruiting and hiring new employees
  • Managing your team’s training

1. Start with a team you can trust.

Having a staff you can trust not only prevents issues from happening, but makes it easier to manage sticky situations. You’re much more likely to solve confrontations and figure out the answers to difficult questions with a group of people you can depend on.

Rob Volpe, Founder and CEO of Ignite 360, explains how he’s put this into practice with his entirely remote workforce:

“Since we're a virtual company, we've learned to hire people with a maturity and work ethic that can handle the freedoms of working remotely. Additionally, we have a policy of trust. In prior companies I've seen employees slack off and not meet deadlines while sitting five feet away from their supervisor. If an employee wants to goof off, they don't have to be at home to do that.

Successfully managing remote staff requires letting go of any micro-managing tendencies. You don't want to be a distraction to your own staff. Use technology to staying in touch -- video calls instead of phone or email. Learn to prioritize which communications method is for priority. Text is for when it’s really time sensitive and urgent at our company.

Also let people do what they have to do during the day - a midday break for the gym, yoga, lunch out, or just running errands can be highly motivating and rejuvenating for remote staff. Be mindful, and speak to them that some days will allow for this and others won't. Do it when you can but always make sure the work is being done.”

But how can you hire staff you know you can trust?

HBR Low Trust Companies vs High Trust Companies

PC: Harvard Business Review

The answer is simple: Build a strong recruitment process. You can do this by:

  • Asking your network to refer potential remote workers they trust
  • Hiring potential team members to work on a trial basis for a few days to assess their speed of response, quality of work, and whether they use excuses for late work
  • Quizzing candidates for examples on how they handled tricky situations when they worked remotely at a previous job

Related: Which Online Recruiting Platform is Best for Your Business?

2. Book personal reviews every quarter.

Office workers can easily have conversations with managers about their growth. Remote workers have the same ambitions, but it’s not as easy for them to chat about it - especially if their manager is halfway across the world.

That’s why you should regularly book one-on-one reviews with each member of your remote workforce, say every quarter. You could chat about:

  • Any future conferences they’d like to attend
  • Any courses or training they’d like to enroll in
  • Their progression plan within your company (e.g. Working your Account Executive up to become an Account Manager)

The best part about these personal reviews? They help prevent friction between staff.

By asking your employee for a run-down of how they’re finding their work, the issues they’re running into or the low-down on the staff they’re struggling to work with, you can arrange further plans to solve the issue and prevent it from affecting your customers.

3. Don’t stall negative feedback.

It’s easy to go guns blazing into a dispute with your team, especially when you don’t need to worry about the awkwardness of physically sitting next to them.

What Employees Think About Feedback

PC: OfficeVibe

But Brenna Loury, Head of Marketing at Doist, says that approaching disputes with empathy is the best way to resolve conflict. Here she is talking about how she puts this concept into practice with her 100% remote team:

“As a manager on a remote team, it’s not a matter of if you run into problems but when, so you need to be prepared to address them quickly when they can still be solved.

Broaching the subject of poor performance with a teammate is uncomfortable no matter how many years of experience you have as a manager. But when you approach the subject with a radically candid foundation and an empathetic mindset, everyone can come out of the situation stronger for it.

Remember, it’s a problem to be solved, not a punishment or an ultimatum. Dedicate one-on-one time – in real-time – with this person to unearth the root of the problem and co-create a step-by-step action plan that reflects this person’s specific situation. At all times, it’s important to be intentional and consistent about your feedback and communication with your team members.

Give positive feedback immediately and only when you really mean it. Give negative feedback immediately and only when you really mean it. Always waiting to share feedback until a 1:1 only shows additional and unnecessary anxiety.”

Makes sense, right?

Being consistent with your feedback is a great way for staff to know what’s expected of them. And not being afraid of giving negative feedback immediately prevents anxiety from wreaking havoc with your entire team (and from affecting your customers).

Final thoughts on remote working

There you have it - the ultimate guide to remote working, from building your workforce to managing their daily tasks.

Remember to book regular catch-ups with your staff, chat (via video) as much as possible, and go above and beyond to make sure your workforce is working comfortably.

Now, it’s time for you to take advantage of the benefits that remote workers bring. From increased productivity to happier employees, it’s yours for the taking!

Related: 25 Powerful Digital Marketing Tools to Increase Sales (2019)