How to Hire and Manage a Remote Startup Team

If you’re considering letting your team take their work out of the office, here are a few pointers to make your staff more comfortable – and more productive — from afar.

We’ve all had days where we’ve walked out of the office vowing, “I’ll never set foot in there again!” Yet despite all our bluster, we come back the next day and muddle through our work — paychecks don’t grow on trees. But how would life be different if you never did set foot in the office again?

Many businesses are now looking at remote work to solve their problems. I lead my company from a tropical paradise in Costa Rica. Allowing employees to get their work done from another location can solve some immediate issues — listening to others’ gum-chewing or smelling neighbors’ “interesting” lunch concoctions — but it can also solve some long-term personnel problems as well. A study of 10,000 workers conducted by Kenexa Research Institute showed that employees who telecommuted reported higher job satisfaction rates. These employees also indicated they were less interested in leaving their employers, and felt their companies’ communication was more open than their desk-bound colleagues did.

If you’re considering letting your team take their work out of the office, here are a few pointers to make your staff more comfortable — and more productive — from afar:

Get the Right People in the Right Places

Regardless of where your company conducts business, your employees are the most important facet of your operation. Hiring the right people is crucial, particularly when you will be physically separated from them. When looking for people who will perform at a high level remotely, search for reliability. Employers need to be able to entrust their remote employees with work tasks, and remote employees also need to build trust in order to lessen the psychological gap between themselves and their supervisors. This results in less self-consciousness and higher success rates for remote employees, and a better bottom line for their companies.

It’s also vital to look for people who are compatible with the company culture. People who have a strong passion for the business at hand, and who are flexible, open, and willing to suggest upgrades to processes, are the most valuable to have on your remote team.

Finally, a person with strong communication skills is an asset to a remote work group. Electronic communication can occasionally be interpreted negatively, so it’s essential that your crew is clear, friendly, and interested in forming bonds with their co-workers.  These factors will allow the group to overcome misunderstandings quickly — and minimize the chances of misunderstandings in the first place. Just as importantly, a Cornell University review showed that good communication skills reduced the sense of isolation felt by remote workers.

Managing Mr. and Mrs. Right

Remote supervision depends more upon openness than concrete task management.  For example, my company believes in a “top-down” philosophy, and management displays a caring attitude geared toward meeting the needs of the staff. By setting the example we want our employees to follow, we’ve instituted a culture of free-flowing communication.

Our staff communicates via a group Skype chat during the workday. This allows questions to be answered immediately, yet with minimal interruption.  Because all projects are collaborative, each staff member writes weekly goals that are discussed with the group. Co-working relationships are enhanced by occasional company retreats.

Many experiences have proven that remote employees’ morale suffers when they aren’t clear on the standards their supervisors expect them to follow.  Give your staff some say over their own benchmarks. Make it clear when items need to be prioritized differently or a new task pops up. If someone can be trusted to work remotely, they should also be trusted to understand their workload.

Logistical Considerations

The truth is, not every business model lends itself to a remote setup, including businesses that require micromanagement or a lot of face time. The individual responsibilities of each role need to be considered — your grant writer may be able to work remotely, while your graphic designer may be  better suited to a centralized office setting.

Structure is critical to your mission. I live in Costa Rica while running my business, and though living in a tropical paradise could be distracting, my work environment is structured as it would be elsewhere. A real office, with normal work hours, is required for productivity. Access to the necessary amenities — FedEx, Office Depot, banks, etc. — also needs to be taken into account. The Amazon is not a great spot for a remote company branch.

Like the old story about the ant and the grasshopper, remote work requires that you understand yourself and your staff intimately. If the company CFO is more of a grasshopper and finds himself easily distracted, he’s not going to succeed as a remote worker. Be honest with yourself and your staff: don’t set a great employee up for failure by granting an opportunity that’s a bad fit.

With due diligence, a solid hiring philosophy, and a thorough understanding of your systems, your company can find success in remote work.  Improving job satisfaction among staff by allowing them to work from a location of their choosing improves your satisfaction as well — you’ll get better productivity, stronger communication and a willingness to go the extra mile. And when your employees talk about never coming back to the office, you’ll know they mean it in the best way.

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