Remote Work: Committing 100% to a Remote Team

With the goal to better understand the remote work landscape and see where remote work is headed next, we offer insight into the current remote environment and an in-depth look at what we’ve learned from our experiences.

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Remote work, or working from home, gets a bad rap.

Yet, when we look at the in-office statics, it doesn’t exactly put traditional office-space environments in a positive light. A majority of people from one survey reported that they did not feel they had a healthy work-life balance.

Work—and commuting to it—is taking up more of their time, which means less time for family and friends, leisure travel, and overall personal care.

The Netherlands, documented as having only 0.5 percent of employees working 50 hours a week or more, is lapping many other countries in the race for happier workers.

As a stark contrast, the U.S. weighs in at an average of 11.4 percent of Americans working for 50 or more hours per week—and thereby missing out on precious time with their spouses, children, pets, and hobbies. We feel it’s imperative that employers around the globe make it a priority to catch up.

People want to work to live, not live to work.

Our companies have evolved in many ways over the course of a decade. One of the biggest changes, however, has been the move from a traditional brick-and-mortar office environment to a 100 percent remote work setup. While this type of business model has brought changes in how we function, we’ve found that the benefits far outweigh any risks.

We want to share with you why we’re committed to a 100 percent remote team, what that looks like, and how we function across continents and time zones. After reading this, you’ll have what you need to decide if this model is right for your company or whether you might want to start telecommuting yourself—in either a partially remote or fully remote capacity.

First off, what comes to mind when you think of remote work?

In our experience, it’s not only one image. Remote work comes in many different shapes and sizes. We are a fully distributed team at Uhuru, meaning that we have no office and everyone chooses to work from where they’re happiest. This means both geographically, as we have teammates across the world, and functionally, seeing that we have teammates who use coworking spaces, coffee shops, or home offices.

We’re grateful to be a part of this movement, along with many other companies and individuals who are embracing remote work. In the U.S. alone, 43 percent of the workforce has spent at least some time working remotely, and that number has steadily increased in recent years.

With the goal to better understand the remote work landscape and see where remote work is headed next, we offer insight into the current remote environment—and an in-depth look at what we’ve learned from our experiences.

History in the Making: The Past, Present, and Future Business Landscape of Remote Work

Let’s examine the various stages of remote work to get an idea of how it has changed over time, why we feel it was inevitable, and how we can predict where it’s going next.

Remote Work History

Over the next few years, it is anticipated that 50 percent of all employees will be working remotely. In fact, Upwork’s “Future Workforce Report” predicts that 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028. Technology is allowing us to throw away what we used to think of as a work-life balance and, instead, create harmony between all aspects of life.

When we say “remote,” we’re talking about flexible work environments—in other words, telecommuting. It is the idea that someone does not have to travel to “go to work” every day.

Due to the technology we now have in the digital age, people can get their work done without having to report to a specific physical location.

Some people have an agreement with their employer where they can work from home a certain number of hours or days out of the week, and others have a completely virtual experience. This is made possible by simply having a phone, the right attitude, communication skills, and work ethic—and the proper applications on a home office computer, of course.

Remote Work Evolution

In today’s work landscape, allowing employees to work remotely at least part of the time is becoming more than a luxury—it’s an expectation.

While the ability to work wherever and whenever has proven a valuable recruiting tool in attracting new, young talent, it’s equally as effective in retaining baby boomers who might otherwise be forced to retire early.

Companies who preemptively adopt a remote working model prior to an emergency event (such as a natural disaster) will remain one step ahead of competitors who are unable to do business when the office is inaccessible. As technology expands, businesses won’t trend toward less personalization or customer experience, but rather toward retaining these elements regardless of location or distance. Those who follow this trend will be better poised to serve the next generation of buyer needs.

Last year, 37 percent of workers telecommuted at least some of the time. That’s quadruple the number that telecommuted a decade ago.

An impressive 99 percent of those surveyed for a report by “State of Remote Work 2019” said they would like to work remotely, at least some of the time. When it comes to U.S. workers alone, the current number of remote workers is estimated at 4.7 million—or 3.4% of the population.

The talent war, or rather, the “war for talent,” is a term that was created by Steven Hankin in 1997. A Harvard Business School Press book immortalized it in 2001. But one 2015 study of a Chinese travel agency found that when call-center employees were shifted to working from home, their productivity increased by an average of 13%—apparently due to a more comfortable work environment and a reduction in break time and sick days. It’s said that the reason companies are having trouble finding great people is that they’re all looking in their own backyards.

Why limit your pick of candidates when you can leverage the entire world?

Research shows that office workers cannot concentrate adequately at their desks. In fact, one study found that the number of people who say they do not concentrate best at their desks has increased by 16 percent since 2008.

Also startling: the number of workers who say they don’t have access to quiet places to do sincerely focused work is up by a dangerous 13 percent.

So what can we do about this?

Let’s look to the future and get a sense of where we’re headed if people keep embracing these findings.

Future: What Will the Remote Workforce Be Like in 2020–2050?

The future of teamwork in a distributed world is an inclusive one.

Some employees are unable or unwilling to take on a daily office commute yet still possess valuable skills and are eager to contribute. Employers who allow for telecommuting enable seasoned workers to remain in the workforce longer.

While a long commute may not be feasible and would otherwise force them into retirement, allowing team members to work remotely enables employers to benefit from their extensive experience and contribute to a multigenerational workforce.

Similarly, single or new parents may have trouble juggling childcare responsibilities with their work. By accommodating their schedules through telecommuting, they can continue to be a valuable resource to their employer while they tend to the needs of their family.

In 2005, Thomas Friedman published his bestselling book, “The World is Flat.” In his book, he described the technological, cultural, and economic forces that would lead to an abundance of international teams. Over 10 years later, we see his forecast fulfilled.

It’s easy to ascertain the tremendous benefits of diverse, geographically dispersed teams working well together—wherever they may be located—based on their skills, performance, and reputation.

Uhuru’s Own “Why” Behind the Concept of Remote Work

In “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter,” authors David Rock and Heidi Grant found that such teams are smarter for three main reasons:

  • They focus more on the facts
  • They process those facts more carefully
  • They are more innovative

The authors found that working with people who are different from you challenges your brain to overcome habitual or mechanical ways of thinking, which sharpens its performance. Our company can also recruit from a global talent pool that is greater, in aggregate, than any geographic region.

Now, even the most capable teams may be wondering, how do language barriers, varying time zones, and cultural differences not get in the way?

You can lead efficiently and effectively by applying the principles of business empowerment to international teams, which we will touch on later. These are only challenges if you allow them to be. Rock and Grant’s article offers some guidance and best practices on how managers can use a distributed workforce to their advantage.

The same systems we use as a distributed team enable us to build the operational habits required to successfully support clients all over the globe.

We’ve promoted remote work in dozens of interviews and articles. A lot of people see Uhuru as a loud advocate of remote work—and we are. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our moments.

Moments where advisors tell us that we need an office in order to attract the best talent, the best investors, or ideal partners. Moments where our productivity slows to a crawl, and it feels like if we just had everyone in the same room, we could work this thing out. Moments where I’ve doubted this whole remote thing, completely.

But in those moments, we re-evaluate and decide that, for my team, these benefits are far greater than the temporary feeling of discouragement (you’ll want to remind yourself of these, as well, during your own “moments”):

  • Cost-Effectiveness of a Remote Team
    Save on office space, office supplies, hardware, insurance, heat, air conditioning, and more—not to mention gas, train tickets, or frustrations that come with commuting (and who doesn’t like to help the environment as an extra side benefit?).
  • The Happiness of Employees
    One of our graphic designers decided to take an extended trip to Switzerland and one of our best salespeople chose to temporarily move to South Africa—simply because they could. In what other job landscape can you move to—and work from—anywhere around the world, wherever and whenever you want (as long as you have a stable internet connection)?
  • Quality of Life Influences Output
    It’s no secret that when employees work happier, they work more productively. And that’s always good for your bottom line. One study scored workers on a scale of 1 to 10. Telecommuters scored an average of 8.10, while traditional workers averaged only 7.42. Overall, remote workers outperformed office workers in the areas of performance, teamwork, and presence.

We have entered the new digital era and some may be a little behind in the times. There are misconceptions about this newer work concept. People might question if work is actually being done or if it’s an excuse to slack off and do whatever you want. In fact, the opposite is true. When people work remotely, they tend to get a lot more work done.

There are many tools available today to help you track your time, such as Toggl, Harvest, and TimeDoctor.

Keep in mind that this is not to give the feeling of micromanagement, but rather, help you assess how long something should take you, how long it is actually taking, and how to plan your day in a healthy, realistic way. It will also help your team members who are part of a pipeline and are waiting for something to be passed back to them so they can get their work done effectively as well.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are more tips and tricks where those came from. It’s time to dive a bit deeper into what exactly we’ve been doing to get to where we are today.

More on the “How”: What Uhuru Does to Get Unbelievable Results

When roles and responsibilities are made clear and a step-by-step workflow is understood by all, any team can significantly amplify its potential.

Communication will be key for any team—but for those professionals managing globally distributed teams, next-level communication is essential. If an important decision is made and word of it only reaches some team members, those who are left in the dark will unknowingly veer in the wrong direction.

You don’t want anyone feeling left out or going astray. This leads to mistakes, which is bad for your clients and team morale. As part of one brand, everyone needs to be heading in one direction, as a unit, toward the same central goals—no matter how far apart they are physical. Things need to be transparent and everyone needs to be on the same page for efficiency, accuracy, and cohesiveness.

If you’re thinking it’s impossible to ensure that happens when the team isn’t in the same office, unable to simply knock on a door or swing by a cubicle to ask a question, think again. Remote work might have been more challenging back in the day, but in recent years, it has become almost second nature for so many because of technological advancement.

Utilizing Technology to Support Remote Teams

The right training and technology can ensure that offsite workers don’t feel left out. We focused on building an agile business through digitally distributed systems. Like many other successful remote teams, Uhuru communicates across different time zones (eight at the moment) without really feeling the distance. Keep reading to see how this is made possible through the right technology.

We make sure to put tried and true tools to the test every day to see what works best for our teams and what doesn’t. Through trial and error, we’ve been able to narrow down our favorite apps that help us get the job done, which we share later in this article.

Again, remote work has its advantages—flexibility, low or no overhead costs, and a greater pipeline of applicants from which to hire. But it also has its drawbacks—less face-to-face interaction, concern about whether employees are staying on task, and sometimes, communication challenges. Because dispersed employees may work in different cities, states, countries, and time zones, they rely heavily on technology to connect and collaborate with each other and with clients.

So how does Uhuru handle successful daily operations without an office? Here are some of our tips and well as ones from other supervisors and workplace experts who are getting great results from their remote teams:

Start Strong

Before his software company’s workforce became 100 percent remote, Alex Turnbull, founder and CEO of GrooveHQ, described an office where workers were there but not always “present.” While people generally worked well together when they absolutely needed to, many were tuning out their environment with headphones while tackling their day-to-day tasks. Turnbull didn’t see why they needed to be in the same room all the time if they weren’t taking advantage of being together in the same physical space anyway.

Relinquishing a physical corporate office eliminated costly real estate expenses, improved work-life balance, and expanded the company’s capacity to recruit top talent more quickly than ever before. But culture suffered until the staff figured out ways to maintain a sense of community through virtual, and even infrequent in-person, meetings.

As a strategy to find the best remote employees, some companies deploy the same type of technology workers will be using on the job during the hiring process. For instance, conducting virtual interviews can give employers insight into how the candidate approaches remote work since that’s a similar setup they will experience on the job, if hired. From our agency hiring experiences and our recent launch of talent agency focused on helping companies find the highest quality full-time remote Marketers, we’ve learned; it’s important to understand why they [the company or candidate] work remotely and how they work.

Create a Well-Designed Onboarding Process

Experts say onboarding is an effective way to familiarize new employees with the people, processes, and tools—such as video technology and collaboration platforms—that they will need to succeed.

For example, some organizations use conferencing tools to give new employees a chance to meet coworkers ahead of time. A virtual tour of workspaces is a nice touch if the company still has some in-office, non-remote workers or the job requires you to be there at least part of the time.

A good deal of training in the form of how-to demos can also be done through video to catch new people up to speed quickly in an engaging, personalized way. Create lessons for them to see how your processes and tools work and get them familiar with certain nuances without having to be there in person.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Kevin Eikenberry, founder of The Kevin Eikenberry Group and co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute in Indianapolis, says, “from the ubiquitous email to how to have meetings, everything is mediated through technology.” That’s why he asks new virtual team members to initiate 15- to 30-minute get-to-know-you phone conversations with each existing team member. The calls foster collaboration and trust, but also take some of the pressure off the manager to be the sole contact person.

At our companies, aside from these valuable personal calls, each team is encouraged to share recent accomplishments, next steps, issues, and risks while on work-related daily, weekly, and monthly conference calls. During these mandatory calls, we briefly review each team’s status, leaving enough time to dive into any area that need clarification for any member. The conversations have always resulted in engaging dialogue because different individuals offer different ways of thinking and different perspectives. If we did not have these check-in sessions, something important may have been missed.

To mitigate information that might be lost in translation, participants can make use of cloud-based tools that allow for multiple communication methods.

PRO TIP: Loom videos are particularly helpful when an employee is new and management wants to help them learn a process without being in the room. They can be recorded quickly and shared by a convenient link to be watched at any time, as many times as needed. Audio and video are not the only options, as you’ll see when we walk you through our recommended software at the end of this section.

Build Great Management Teams

It will not always make sense financially for your company to bring everyone together, but if a manager can gather the team for a retreat or workshop even once a year, it can make a huge difference. Empowerment is a management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and improve their overall performance.

It is based on the idea that every team member should be given a voice, opportunities to develop their skills, resources, authority, and motivation. It also means holding them responsible and accountable for their actions.

Teams are more likely to engage fully in their work and put in that extra bit of energy and effort when they feel that they have a real seat at the table. Management can help instill this feeling by adopting online recognition and collaboration platforms, carefully choosing the methods they use to lead, and implementing web-based performance management systems that evaluate employees’ accomplishments—not just the hours they spend on the job.

Use Tools That Bind

Remote employees and their managers can both struggle with feeling out of touch occasionally. While supervisors may want some proof—or reassurance—that employees are actually working, virtual workers worry about being “out of sight, out of mind.” To alleviate such fears, provide support tools to virtual teams to make sure each individual member is in the information loop.

In the absence of the kind of “watercooler conversations” that routinely take place in a traditional workplace, teams can find ways to replicate that experience, virtually. Zapier, a distributed software company, fosters connectedness with weekly virtual hangouts where team members get together just to talk and be “real” with one another. The company also has a “Pair Buddies” program that randomly pairs teammates for a 10- to 15-minute phone call to enhance a sense of connectedness, a concept you may remember from earlier in this post.

At Uhuru, we call our official, internal group meetings “huddles,” while GrooveHQ has regular Monday morning “kickoffs” that are a combination of casual chit chat about the weekend and discussions about priorities for the upcoming week. Similarly, the team ends the workweek on Fridays with a 30-minute virtual meeting to recap the week’s happenings and share customer feedback.

Managers can also provide short text and video messages to give employees immediate feedback and recognition. Again, we’ll discuss more about this when it comes to our favorite web-based apps. Essentially though, managers who purposefully create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing information about what’s going on in their lives build important communication channels that can break down barriers.

As you help your leadership team think through these options, you will find that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Determining the best strategy for your remote workforce depends on your company’s business model, its culture, and employees’ needs and attributes. Overlap is required.

As promised, here are the main tools we like to use regularly as part of our standard processes:

GoToMeeting is what we use for some of that good old fashioned face-to-face interaction—virtually. It’s often much easier to understand what someone really means when we can see them. It includes video, audio, type-to-chat, and even screenshare capabilities. If not everyone is using video, it also includes a panel that tells you who is in attendance and who is speaking, in real-time.

  • Slack or Microsoft Teams

This app has conferencing features similar to GTM that allow you to utilize video, audio, and any other means of communication you can think of (other than carrier pigeon). It also acts as an internal social media platform, in that you can post things in specific groups or “channels,” “like” others’ posts, and share images.

You can direct-chat a designated individual or group message several people at once. It contains profiles on each team member, as well, so you can be reminded of who is in which time zone whenever you need to coordinate on a project.

We like to use this one for internal work, just as with Slack. It helps people across the entire team remain organized by listing all tasks and their status in one central location. It helps everyone remain open about their progress and keen on teamwork. You can go into each task and tag people so they are notified in a timely manner. You can leave comments, links to documents you’re working when you want a second opinion, and more. Assignments can be flagged if you need clarification or more information.

This one we prefer to use for client-facing communication. Similarly to Jira, tasks are listed out and can be clicked one by one for commenting, tagging, and changing statuses as things progress. The appropriate people can be notified via email when they have a notification waiting for them in their Redbooth dashboard. Clients and internal team members alike can be assigned to projects and everyone has the ability to set deadlines.

For both security and convenience, we use this technology to store all our passwords so we don’t have to remember details for the myriad of tools we use daily. We love this one because we want to be automatically and quickly logged back in with minimal extra effort in the event of an internet glitch or signal interruption. No one has time to sit there trying to remember every password for every app when the goal is to have an extremely productive day.

This robust platform has virtually everything you could need in a remote workspace. It is perfect for collaboration, as everything lives in the cloud and is live for all to see at any given time (with the right permissions). Multiple people can work on the same file at once, changes will be saved automatically, and you can always revert to earlier versions if someone is unhappy with the direction in which a document is headed.

Feedback can be left in the document itself, and everyone can see who worked on which section by taking a peek at the edit history panel. Plus, they take very little time to get used to, as these features are simply Google’s versions of popular Microsoft Office programs—Google Slides equates to MS Powerpoint, Google Docs to MS Word, and Google Sheets to MS Excel. Most people will already know these coming in, so onboarding should be a cinch.

Summing Up Why We Love Remote Teams—and Why You Will Too

So, does location matter?

No—not as an impediment, at least. It can actually be a positive for your business, as you have learned by now.

When team members in one part of the globe are finishing their workday, team members in another are just waking up and “going” into the office for the day. You can go home—log off—after whatever time is your “end of day,” and when you wake up in the morning, several tasks may have been completed by other team members in a different time zone. You can then easily pick up where they left off.

This way, the team as a whole can function around the clock, which covers a lot more ground and makes your customers feel as though you’re more accessible. Be available to your clients. It’s a good look and will end up providing the best service without overworking any one team member.

Workers are bound to appreciate the remote environment too. Just remember to:

  • Treat Them Like the Productive Workers They Are
    Ninety-one percent of remote workers do better outside of the office. Don’t treat them with suspicion just because they’re not in your physical sight. After all, many of them love freedom, so micromanagement can crush their engagement.
  • Emphasize Flexibility
    Freedom is the number one draw for remote workers. Allow these employees to determine their own location and hours as much as possible. Many would be happy to work every day, in fact, albeit with shorter hours. It’s an easy way to boost workplace happiness and, ultimately, performance and productivity levels.
  • Make Efforts to Reach Out
    Encourage your team to be in touch as much as they need and not be afraid to ask questions or share something personal or fun. Give your remote colleagues the same level of consideration and respect as their office counterparts if your office is only partially remote. And make sure that your communication with them, however infrequent, is meaningful.

Now you know some of the most powerful benefits to adopting remote work into your overall business and hiring plan. It should be clear at this point why it would be a worthwhile investment to try adopting a telecommuting culture.

If you are a company looking to leverage all that a remote work landscape has to offer, let us know in the comments below. Tell us what your experience has been thus far if you’ve already started, and questions about remote work if you’ve never made this an option before at your organization.

Our expert consultants can advise you on how best to implement a structure like this at your organization. We know that each company is unique and should be treated as such, which is why we always put our clients in touch with a real expert for a one-to-one line of communication.

On the other hand, if you’re a person looking for a new job opportunity, we invite you to take a look at what it’s like here at Uhuru.

We look forward to chatting about some major improvements that, together, we can start making for your company if you’re an owner or manager—or to your life if you’re a prospective employee.

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