Already Running Your Business Remotely? Here Are 5 Tips on How to Up Your Game
Did your parents throw you into the deep end to teach you how to swim? If so, you learned fast, if not all that well. The same happened as the pandemic swept the nation and made numerous businesses remote overnight. Though most executives figured out how to tread water (so to speak) with the new operating model, no one is going to confuse them for Michael Phelps.
Running your business remotely and with proficiency takes time and perspective. Since most business leaders cannot afford to learn gradually, I’ve been thinking about the lessons I learned over 20 years of remote operations that can speed up the process. Though you don’t have to fake having a real office the way we did in the early days to maintain credibility (true story), there are still some key takeaways from our 20 years of remote business experience that can increase your performance and team engagement.
1.) Connect and check-in with your team
Now that more businesses have dabbled in remote operations, the results are speaking for themselves. Mercer surveyed almost 800 U.S. business leaders and found that 94% of businesses maintained or increased their productivity after their employees went remote. HubStaff dives deeper, looking at the data to find remote workers put in an extra 1.4 days a month compared to when they worked on-site.
The problem is that productivity without direction or guidance does all the good of a bridge to nowhere. How do you harness that productivity? In a physical office, it’s easier to bring everyone together for meetings or walk down to their workspace to chat about milestones or defuse problems. In a remote office, you need to be way more intentional, locking down time for regular meetings to keep your team from remaining strangers. There are two ways of going about it:
- Deep-dive meetings – One tradition that we’ve maintained since our early days as a remote business is our regular Tuesday meetings. It’s a chance for our team to cover reporting, break off into work sessions, and generally bond (yes, there needs to be time for your people to talk about their kids, dogs, and weird hobbies). In the non-COVID days, we’d exclusively meet face-to-face, but video conferencing makes it easy to bring everyone together (just be sure to avoid Zoom fatigue).
- Agile methodology – Dedicate 15 minutes to run a daily stand-up with your team, allowing each member some time to discuss their contributions and their obstacles. And be sure to fit in some semi-regular calls to talk mano-a-mano with your people so you can talk career development and dig into problem-solving. Remember: be open to shifting around schedules so you don’t burn yourself out either.
Speaking of burnout, remote leaders need to be more proactive about the mental well-being of their people. In the last year, 75% of the workforce struggled with some level of burnout, and 40% of those people say it’s directly because of the pandemic. With remote work, people can feel disconnected. If you’re not working to stay invested in their lives, your attrition rates can spike after the transition. No, you don’t need to be their shrink, but you do need to employ emotional intelligence in your interactions to help them handle their challenges and keep any work stress manageable.
2.) Hire the right people
Remote working is not for everyone. There’s a temperament and some personal traits that separate those who thrive from those who routinely fall down Reddit rabbit holes or binge 50 hours of Friends. So, on top of your usual search criteria, there needs to be a prioritization for these specific soft skills:
- Motivation for your business – Great remote workers are self-starters. They should be the type of people who can take objectives, breaking them into manageable chunks rather than scarfing down the elephant whole to complete tasks before the deadline. Yet true motivation is not something you can bottle, store, and uncork to use for every occasion.As Liz Ryan puts it, motivation is more the “result of a good match between an employee and an environment.” Not only does this relate back to their home office environment, but their connection to your vision and work. Think of it this way. If you’re playing a metaphorical tee-ball game and an employee wants to play soccer, even the most passionate person might turn into the kid in the outfield picking dandelions when you need them to catch a line drive. That’s why we always hire for shared passion, not just technical mastery.
- Proactive communication – Even those suited for remote work aren’t necessarily going to thrive in a remote team. Sure, Hannibal Lecter was an industrious guy on his own, but not too many people would mistake him for a team player.In all seriousness though, people with a lone wolf complex can be a true bottleneck for remote operations. Their lack of responsiveness to calls, emails, or messages of any type can slow your projects down to a crawl. And their reluctance to collaborate or tendency to keep their ideas to themselves can keep your projects from sprouting wings.
Moreover, it’s important to ensure that the people who share in your company culture can maintain those qualities outside of an actual office. If they can’t innovate or stay accountable from their home office, then you’re better off hiring other professionals (which the right IT staffing and consulting partner can help you find).
3.) Setting up the right platform and tools
The right technology can make or break your remote business. Early on, we made up for our lack of office hardware by adopting the nascent smartphones we were seeing on the market. We used the Palm Treo, which looked suspiciously like the retro communicators from 1960s Star Trek and was very generously labelled a business tool. Nowadays, most tech professionals have the essential hardware to work from home, but not everyone has access to the right apps or cybersecurity measures to maintain smooth and secure operations.
Here are a few areas that organizations still struggle with even after the transition:
- Network security – The truth is that hackers grow more and more sophisticated by the day. Data shows that remote workers may have contributed to a minimum of 20% of data breaches in 2020. The good news is that many of those vulnerabilities can be fixed with the proper data hygiene.Password hardening, multifactor authentication, safe email habits, VPN implementation, and other heightened cybersecurity practices are nonnegotiable outside the office. In fairness, they’ve been essential for a while, no matter your situation, but running your business remotely requires you to get ahead of the curve – whether you implement these measures yourself or leverage the right IT security solutions.
- Greater cloud operations – Most of the holdovers on cloud migration found it difficult to run their business without the right cloud infrastructure solutions. Synergy Research Group found that cloud infrastructure investment was up 35% over 2019, showing that many organizations were responsive to the shift in operations – but that doesn’t mean they always opted for the most efficient implementation.Now that the dust has settled, it’s important for organizations to audit their cloud performance. Are their current cloud platforms secure? If your industry is subject to regulatory compliance, is your cloud partner compliant? Is your partner’s customer support reliable? Get curious and find out if what you’re using to run your business remotely elevates your operations.
- Communication infrastructure – This is often overlooked. Maybe you found a VoIP system or communication platform that is good enough. In the long run, that isn’t going to cut it. For example, if you have clients or potential employees who need to hop on your conference bridge and it’s a nightmare to navigate, it’ll reflect badly on your business or at the very least cause some friction. Unlike the big consumer cell phone or cable providers, you have options, so find tools that are reliable, secure, and usable.
4.) Have physical space when possible
Eventually, you’ll have to meet employees or clients face-to-face again. Depending on vaccination rollouts or whether your team is your COVID bubble, that might be soon or later in the year. When you do, it’s important to have the details worked out in advance. You can only meet in restaurants and coffee shops for so long (believe me, we’ve pushed those limits early on).
Over the years, I’ve seen a number of different approaches to the office space conundrum. Some companies hold on to a compact office space for any essential in-person communication or the occasional project (we needed that space when we set up and delivered Chrome Books to a local school district client).
Others choose the WeWork route, which has managed to retain their customers and keep from falling over the brink during the pandemic. With flexible office space, you can choose to use short leases, coworking space, or the occasional meeting room depending on the membership option you choose. With 86% of companies considering this option in the future, there should be no shortage of providers or arrangements out there.
5.) Stay open to feedback
Even with insight into remote best practices, you are going to run into pot holes or dead ends along the way. But if you’ve put in the effort to surround yourself with like-minded people, implemented solid tech, and figured out how to keep your business operating…you’re still going to screw things up. That’s okay. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes and embrace failure (as John Cleese put it, “Nothing will stop you being creative more effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”).
The good news is that there are shortcuts to working through the kinks in your process. By creating a feedback process with your employees, you can determine what is working, what isn’t, and what just needs some tweaking. If you can keep communication open (and develop some thick skin), you’ll thrive while running your remote business.
Looking to hire the best people as you work on running your business remotely? Reach out to iSphere team to find the right IT workforce that can elevate your results.
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