How to Win Big by Going Remote

In case you’ve been sleeping, remote working is big. Like, really, really big.

The days of the occasional telecommute are over. Remote working is now an enormous global phenomenon, with talent and employer alike reaping huge benefit.

Consider these eye-opening stats:

  • Swiss-based office provider IWG’s research shows that 70% of the global workforce works remote at least 1 day a week
  • Global co-working space provider WeWork was recently valued at over $47 billion USD, forecasting enormous future growth
  • Multiple significant software companies have adopted a remote-first or totally remote talent policy (Evernote, Zapier, inVision, Buffer, Stack Overflow, Automattic, Atlassian and of course Fuel, to name just a few) representing hundreds of millions of dollars in Enterprise value
  • Companies save millions of dollars on office space by embracing remote: nearly ½ of Insurance giant Aetna’s 35,000 employees don’t have a full-time desk at an Aetna office, saving the company over $78m USD/year in office-related expenses
  • Remote workers prefer it, too: 82% reported lower stress levels, 80% reported higher morale and 69% reported lower absenteeism
Remote talent is a force-multiplier for companies, creating access to a truly global talent landscape. Instead of fighting local talent shortages and trying to outbid global behemoths for precious developer talent (thanks for nothing, Amazon! 🙂) companies can now access the specific skills or team makeups they require, and do so on-demand. This creates enormous flexibility and agility, and ultimately that begets competitive advantage.

Before we go too much further, it’s worth noting that “remote” isn’t a single state. In our advisory work with clients we talk about a talent-sourcing continuum like this:

Talent strategy for remote workers Fuel
Talent Strategy Continuum

Each of these states has its own unique challenges and opportunities, and requires its own set of management principles and tools. For the purposes of this piece we will be focusing on the right-side of the continuum; at Fuel, we curate trusted networks of existing teams (much more on that here) which companies can leverage on-demand, either for one-off projects or as ongoing remote extensions to their existing organization.

We’ve been fortunate enough to be on the frontlines of this phenomenon for over 6 years, driving outcomes for companies of all sizes. It’s given us a unique perspective into what works - and more importantly, what pitfalls to avoid!

Here are some observations and recommendations from our time on the bleeding edge of this hugely exciting transformation.

1. Be intentional about embracing remote

Get clear about your company’s motivations for engaging remote teams. Going remote opens up a world of talent (literally) - this is great for your company, and great for the talent, too! If it’s purely to grind talent on price, ultimately your engagements will suffer as the quality of the deliverables declines - or you’ll be substituting virtual churn for local churn.

For the strongest outcomes, set a clear strategy that aligns with your internal OKRs** or key management metrics, and then track accordingly.

2. Align internally

Make sure all relevant internal stakeholders are aligned to the purpose, goals and methodologies of going remote. Be on the lookout for management that feels threatened by the loss of their “human capital fiefdom” - a sure recipe for disaster!

Where remote is part of a larger resourcing strategy, it’s critical that leadership engage and solicit input from the managers who will be executing; “going remote” is equal parts business case and team buy-in.

Conversely, if you’re in the early stages of experimenting with remote, make sure to follow innovation best-practice: carve-off an isolated team, budget and management structure, and give them room to experiment and report back.

Remote engagements work best when all key players - leadership, management and talent - are aligned and motivated to achieve a common vision.

3. Over-communicate

When engaging remote teams, communication is key. While this may seem like an obvious-ism, it’s especially true with remote teams.

Clear direction, strong project management and consistent communication are critical to successful remote delivery. Don’t expect your remote team to operate in a box and then reveal the perfect statue to you at the end of the sprint - stay involved, stay present, provide feedback and guidance.

And when in doubt - video chat! More on this later.

4. Invest in the right tools

Productivity tools like Slack, Trello, Zoom, Google Docs and so on are pretty common these days, but we’re still constantly amazed by the number of companies missing these key tools.

In the world of remote teams, these are absolutely critical. It empowers team members to communicate, update progress and share files effortlessly - all key components of successful remote work.

Invest in the right tools up front to set your teams up for success!

5. Use the right tools for the job

One challenge we hear consistently from companies first engaging remote teams is, they can feel overwhelmed by the number of channels for communication. Not everything needs to be a phone call or video chat - same as with co-located office environments!

Urgent matters should be triaged by video chat whenever possible; less urgent matters can be dealt with via Slack or Trello. This helps reduce the feeling of juggling in-person issues AND constant bombardment by the remote team.

Consider creating a formal policy that outlines best practices around communication, so that team members feel empowered rather than encumbered by channel options.

6. Embrace video whenever possible

Messaging tools like Slack are hugely powerful for keeping team members connected, but they do a poor job of conveying nuance and meaning. Ever had a friend send you an SMS and have the sentiment totally misread? Managing remote teams can be a lot like that.

On the other hand, video chat is a hugely powerful tool that allows for context, intention and emotion. Where text can easily get “lost in translation”, video enables clear communication.

This is especially true when delivering feedback - be sure to prioritize video chat for these scenarios to avoid miscommunication.

7. Be inclusive

If your organization is a mix of local and remote teams, be aware of the dynamic that gets created when some team members are co-located and some are remote. Wherever possible (and some companies go so far as to formalize this in their best practices) either everyone is remote for meetings, or no one is.

In a practical sense, that means that at a minimum, everyone is on video, even if some are co-located in the same room (see Point 6 above re: context). It’s a useful forcing function to keep attendees engaged, and helps make remote team members feel included.

8. Don’t let the friction outweigh the benefits

Sourcing, screening, contracting, management, payments… there’s a lot to think about! Additionally, there are a multitude of marketplaces out there to source talent - most of which devolve into a “digital RFP”-style quagmire!

For remote to work effectively and for a sustained period, it needs to both feel like an accelerant and be making a meaningful impact to management metrics. Ongoing success requires careful hiring (more on this below), internal collaboration and management tools, and external tools and partners to make the process simple and seamless.

At Fuel, we’ve been intentional about building a solution that makes the process effortless for clients. It puts a world of vetted teams at your fingertips, and makes managing and paying those teams a total breeze - sometimes even easier than managing co-located employees!

9. Hire carefully

Our final observation on the evolution of remote is that team selection becomes even more critical. Nothing kills momentum and enthusiasm quicker than a bad hire or a failed project - energy is everything!

In addition to the usual screenings for work samples, references and so on, make sure you take time to interact with the team (at a minimum, the team lead or client liaison). Get a feel for how they react under pressure, and how your two teams will mesh. Make sure your company’s/team’s values align with theirs.

Part of our value proposition at Fuel is to rigorously screen teams for you - for skills, language, temperament and so on - so that you’re already dealing with the best of the best. It gives our clients an additional level of comfort and confidence - especially for those new to remote teams.

Conclusion

Embracing remote as a resourcing option for your company creates flexibility, diversity, agility and cost savings - but make sure you set yourself up for success from the get-go!

We work with companies of all sizes every day to help them leverage the maximum value from our global network of vetted remote teams. Whether you’re new to the game and seeking a trusted partner, or a wily veteran looking for additional scale and optionality - we’d love to talk to you!

**OKR = Objectives & Key Results: a management framework for defining goals and managing/measuring activities in support of those goals. Differs from Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in that KPIs are intended to measure the health of the current business - not the target future state. More detail here.

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