For traditional founders and team leaders, the idea of running a completely remote business is fraught with anxiety. Yes, there’s an opportunity to lower overheads and recruit from anywhere, but is it really worth it at the expense of growing a cohesive brand culture under one (literal, physical) roof?
Many businesses have had to find out quickly if remote working works for them (for obvious 2020 reasons), but lots of successful startups recognized the benefits long before a pandemic forced their hand. Companies like Buffer, Mozilla, and Zapier have blazed a trail when it comes to WFH, while tech giants Twitter and Google are now offering their staff the opportunity to work remotely forever.
So, how do they make it work?
As we’ll discover in this post, there are few key elements to getting it right, namely in the hiring, growing, and managing stages. And woven throughout are the three non-negotiable core principles of remote working:
Without further ado, here are our best tips to grow your startup remotely and build a culture from wherever your people are.
The best thing about growing your startup remotely is that you’re not limited to your local talent pool. You can cast your net far and wide to find the best people for your situation, no matter where in the world they’re based.
Yet, while the choice of applicants is undoubtedly larger, the goal of hiring for a remote job isn’t all that different from hiring in-person. Ultimately, you’re still being tasked with spotting, vetting, and interviewing talent — you’re just doing it entirely online.
Let’s take a look at how to do this effectively.
The aim of any recruitment drive (short-term or long-term, online or off) is to find and hire people you can trust.
But doing this remotely for a fast-growing startup introduces an element of time pressure. You can’t always stick an ad up on social media and wait for an influx of applicants. Sometimes you need to go out there and find the right candidate yourself, fast.
The good news is, there are a number of digital platforms designed for this. Websites like Upwork, Fiverr and others are solid options for low-skilled, one-off, or short-term needs. You can usually find a verified freelancer for simple graphic design, data-entry, or copywriting tasks on these sites with very little fuss.
Hiring remotely for high-skilled, core team roles, on the other hand, requires a slightly different approach. There’s more risk involved when building your team, rather than simply delegating smaller tasks to hourly freelancers. You need to ensure that anyone you’re adding to your payroll has the right mix of skills, personality, and culture fit to hit the ground running – otherwise, you’re back to square one.
Beyond the conventional freelance or contractor hiring sites, new platforms are starting up and changing the game by handling the burden of due diligence and filtering out anyone who doesn’t fit your needs and profile. They’re bringing in things like strict vetting, using technical assessments, video interviews, and reference checks. This reduces the amount of time and energy you spend on assessing the suitability – or credibility – of a candidate, and means that you can hire smarter, quicker.
Here are a few more resources to help when recruiting and retaining remote employees:
Speaking at a Google Startups panel, Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO of GitLab said that entropy is lower for remote startups. Why? Because everything is written down.
“There is less shoulder tapping. Days are more predictable,” according to Sid.
So, to grow your startup remotely without disruption, you need to nail those processes. Write everything down. And remember, communication is key here.
As we’ve mentioned, along with trust, communication and cross-functional collaboration are non-negotiables when it comes to effective remote working. You need transparent communication processes to enable effective collaboration. You also need buy-in from your team; every single one of them must grasp the importance of regular contact with their co-workers.
It’s, therefore, a good idea to start each day with a team check-in.
Just as you would have a stand-up meeting or a scrum in the office, jumping onto a video call first thing gives you a chance to address questions and concerns, ensures that everyone knows what they’re doing, and gives your team the chance to see and speak to one another. This also keeps siloes from forming, or individuals becoming lonely or disenfranchised.
Over and above this, you should also run regular, company-wide meetings (monthly or quarterly) to keep everyone in the loop regarding overall progress and provide opportunities for internal feedback.
To get your remote team up-to-speed and communicating like pros, you need to provide them with the right set of tools.
At a minimum, this should include:
Managing a remote team is not without its challenges. And perhaps the most significant of those is the fact that you don’t get as much in-person face-to-face time with your employees.
Sure, you can hop on a video call, but it can still be difficult to pick up on subtle emotional cues and changes in body language that you might spot if you were sitting in the same room. This means you could miss out on identifying the employees who need your help the most.
To guard against this, you need to ensure that your employees are motivated by meaningful work, that they know that you care about them (professionally and personally), and that they have an avenue through which to express concerns, ask questions, and offer feedback.
Here’s the truth: Bored People Quit.
It’s up to you to make things non-boring. And the best thing about working in a startup, in general, is that each person has a very specialized, significant role geared towards growth. Everyone can see that what they’re doing is having an impact.
This has to remain true even when you’re growing your startup remotely. Every single employee should have visibility (and be visible) as you pursue your next growth milestone. They cannot be allowed to work in a silo, wondering if what they’re doing really matters.
A continuation of the last point, to keep your startup team motivated, you can’t let an individual or group win slip under the radar without a bit of fanfare — especially when you’re working remotely.
Something as simple as a public congratulations (with all your favorite Emojis and Gifs) on your general Slack channel will quickly draw attention to good work and those responsible. You could even spring for some perks to make things extra special.
WordStream recognizes and celebrates employees who embody our core values each month at our all-hands meeting
Plus, publicly celebrating success shows that you’re paying attention (employees feel valued) and that you truly care. Same goes for highlighting important milestones in your employees’ personal lives. Give shout outs for birthdays, charity work, family events; prove that you’re interested in more than their work performance.
Regular performance reviews are a staple of every successful business, but they take on extra significance when you’re growing a remote startup.
Once you’ve set expectations and clarified what success looks like, a remote performance review provides a designated, structured touchpoint for each employee to reflect on their role, their performance, and look ahead to their next period’s goals and objectives. What’s more, performance reviews offer a platform for your employee to share concerns or provide you with honest feedback on how you’re doing.
This formal one-to-one is conducive to a healthy remote working environment, but it shouldn’t be the only opportunity for dialogue. Try to schedule regular, informal meetings to check-in frequently over a (virtual) coffee — this will give you the chance to catch any minor issues early before they mushroom into real problems.
If you’re going to succeed in growing your startup remotely, you can’t just pay lip service to the core principles of remote working. You need to eat, sleep and breathe communication, collaboration, and trust – putting them into practice at every opportunity.
Of course, there’s a balance to be struck. You need to trust that your employees can work autonomously, but you can’t be so hands-off that they feel abandoned. And you need to ensure that lines of communication remain open, but you shouldn’t micromanage and insert yourself into every conversation or collaboration.
In short, you need to lead by example, showing your employees how it’s done. Remember, trust is earned. “Do as I say, not as I do” simply won’t cut it in the world of remote working.
Jaron Soh is co-founder and COO of Traktion, a freelancing platform dedicated to the world’s best marketing talent.
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