The reality of running a remote company
With huge advances in cloud services, communication tools and other collaboration technology, a growing number of companies are using remote teams to build location independent companies.
In a recent survey at the Global Leadership Summit in London, 34% of business leaders said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. It seems like a natural progression for the digital economy — but can remote ever work as well as colocation?
Expectations vs Reality
Over the years I’ve started, bought and sold companies, but until recently the one thing my companies had in common was the colocation model. As a business owner, I was more comfortable with the majority of employees being located in a physical office. Remote working was the last option due to the perceived impact on communications, productivity, retention, creativity and security.
Recently, I moved into the world of remote companies. I entered this brave new world saddled with preconceptions and biases from the colocation world. The reality I met was vastly different to my expectations. Here’s what I’ve discovered about the realities of running a remote company.
In reality, most companies today run on digital communications, but in an office when urgent things happen the worst case scenario is a short walk to find the person with the answers. Many colocation managers expect remote team communications to be less responsive, less clear and generally less effective.
While the dynamics of communication are different, communicating really isn’t a problem. There is more consideration given to the type of communication you need to use, for example, our team chat through Slack, but for face time, we’ll fire up Zoom. When you want to communicate a clear message that conveys emotion, we use video apps like Loom to exchange updates.
Productivity is universally important for every company. In an office environment proximity provides comfort that employees are being productive, while remote workers can’t be observed being productive – they could be sat in pj’s watching Star Wars!
In reality, remote workers value independence and flexibility and will work to protect these privileges. Combined with output orientated management and monitoring, remote teams are more output focused, achieving better output metrics. If you need convincing take a look at the Ctrip remote working study which achieved a productivity gain of 13.5% by introducing an effective remote work policy.
Good people are hard to find and expensive to onboard, so for many businesses talent retention is as important as customer retention. There is a misconception that remote work impacts the ability to become part of a cohesive team, driving lower retention rates.
Most of what drives retention goes beyond physical location. Talent is retained by strong leadership, a shared vision, a sense of purpose and cultural alignment. It’s important to provide the processes and systems for remote workers to integrate into a cohesive team. If done well, talent retention metrics will outperform most colocation companies.
The statement I hear more than any other is “but what about the watercooler moments?”. Like the business leaders who ask this question, I once believed in the mystical creative powers of the water cooler. I expected distance teams to be less creative and far less spontaneous.
It turns out that spontaneity and creativity are innate human qualities which are not restricted to the proximity of a water cooler. In reality, wherever humans congregate to communicate new ideas will be sparked.
In today’s environment, the risk presented by technology is omnipresent. Most companies feel they’re only one step away from a PR disaster. Whether we’re talking business data or social media accounts, many business leaders consider remote workers as an unnecessary security risk.
In reality, data security has nothing to do with location and everything to do with company policy and procedure. There are a tonne of management and monitoring solutions to help companies work more securely. Most companies with remote workers are forced to think about the adoption of processes and culture which allude many colocation companies, providing an inherent security boost for remote companies.
Does remote work as well as colocation?
This is the billion-dollar question.
There is a growing number of success stories from leading global companies demonstrating the feasibility and effectiveness of remote work. So yes, remote can work as well as colocation work, but the roadmap to remote success is different.
Colocation success, is not equal to remote success. If you want to access the global pool of talent, increased productivity and reduced overheads offered by remote team you need a new playbook. Remote success takes a different kind of leadership, culture, tools, processes, and dare I say it – people. When these blocks slide into the right place, you’ll be well positioned to take full advantage of going remote.