We couldn’t have done this without our remote team

In today’s connected world where office floor areas are shrinking, and commuting times are growing, remote working arrangements are now becoming more necessity than staff perk for some companies.  I know because for the last three years, I have been on a self-enforced remote working experiment, building and managing a team that is 100% virtual.

 Kinetic is a leading outsourcing company providing dedicated remote staff and offshore staffing services.

Kinetic is a leading outsourcing company providing dedicated remote staff and offshore staffing services.

I call it an experiment, because at the time we didn’t have the budget to hire as many people as I thought I needed to get our software application developed.  The options were to either hire a smaller number of people and see them burned out within a short period, or hire a larger virtual team that would provide the cost-efficiencies I would need to squeeze everyone into the budget.

As part of this experiment, we were also determined to understand a few things:

  • What if the ‘boss’ (me) was also remote?  Often, ‘bosses’ are still part of an office environment.
  • What are the implications for culture, productivity and efficiency?
  • Is it a sustainable solution?

There is no doubt that there are challenges when bringing people together who never get to meet in person, most of which are pretty obvious.  The lack of three-dimensional in-person contact was going to be a big one for an old-school operator like myself.  Another is the inevitable questions that surface when internet problems present themselves.   Are they at the beach?

However for me personally, it has worked, and worked extremely well.  Here are a few lessons that I can share.

There are a lot of clever people out there

It’s funny, sometimes our ‘western’ brains seem to trick us into thinking we have some sort of superior intelligence over those from ‘developing’ countries.  As someone who has worked extensively across the Asia Pacific region, I can assure everyone this is rarely the case.

Our team are scattered across the Philippines, working from home to avoid the snarly traffic.  So it means I have people who are skilled, speak English very well, and are committed to what needs to get done. 

People are people

There are no substitutes for simple human decency, no matter which country someone is working from.  Our team have a healthy respect for each other but still manage to keep the fun. Then again, this is a requirement for any successful team, no matter where they are.

The drumbeat

The reason why most bands are as good as they are is because they play in time to the same beat.  If each person was playing to the beat of their own drum, it would be a disaster.

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The same goes for our team.  We have a created a minimum set of daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly habits that keep us moving without adding unnecessary burden.  Sometimes people refer to ‘scrum’ style meetings, this is what we call them each day.  It is amazing how much time a 15 minute daily conversation can save.  The fact that the software application we were building helped to support this was just a bonus (Employee Life).

Use video chat for important topics

A lack of clarity that comes from either assumptions or misunderstandings is a time killer, time that no-one really has.  If there is something important to talk about, we don’t use chat, or a simple voice call.  We use video so that we can check in with understanding.  As long as we are communicating clearly, and everyone is taking responsibility for their part of the interaction as well as not making assumptions, we are fine.

Hire with exactly the same rigour, and then some

One of the mistakes I have seen other people make is that they alter the recruitment process for some reason.  This isn’t a good idea.  It is reasonable to expect anyone to live up to the standards and behaviours expected of all team members, and there is no need to change the process.  Skype interviews are great, as are having candidates supply examples of their work, or complete a test of their capabilities.

Start with one and then go from there

Anything new seems a bit strange at first, and for any team who hasn’t had to include a remote team member, the adjustment can be a little weird.  My suggestion to anyone looking at possibly taking on a remote team member would be to start with one first up, and learn the lessons that need to be learned.  

In summary

We have been able to build a software application that would have cost 3-5 times as much if we hadn’t done it this way. Kinetic Innovative Staffing offers a wonderful support structure to enable this to happen, and we couldn’t have done this without our remote team.

It is something every business should at least consider.

 

About the author:

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Jason Buchanan is the general manager for insights and innovation of Optimum Consulting Group, a trusted and leading HR consultancy firm in Australia. He is the brain behind Optimum Direct, a web portal of the best HR tools and software for small business. He is interested in finding solutions on how companies can continue to grow without destroying the things that are important to them (employees, customers, suppliers, reputation etc).