In a nutshell, remote business leadership isn’t for everyone; but for those who are naturals at working its charms, it’s a great way to do business, with potentially brilliant results.
Why run your business remotely?
As with everything in business, price and market are big drivers of behaviour. If you’re trying to capture the market in India, it makes sense to run a factory or an outlet over there. Similarly, if you want great quality employees, but at a better price than you can achieve in your own country, hiring freelancers across the globe makes sense too.
And although it can be difficult, there’s an additional major factor; it may not be a driver, but it is linked to success:
Remote businesses allow employees to work in an environment that makes them happy – their own homes – and this can have a positive knock-on effect on their work. Much of business – particularly creative work – is reliant on productivity. The happier the employee, the more quality work they will produce.
The EnCoCreative icing on the cake is that creativity has a tendency to bubble up better when a person is comfortable in their environment. Innovation and quality walk hand-in-hand in our remote office.
The added benefit of working remotely with your team is that you are not constrained by physical barriers. A global market of talent has greater potential than the localised physical one near your town. Business without barriers; isn’t that what the global economy is all about?
What’s hard about it?
Ask yourself: are you, as the leader, able to work well this way. Honesty about your own shortfalls and strengths is necessary here.
How well do you delegate?
When you delegate, are you truly happy to let go of that task? Are you prepared to reduce the monitoring of a task or activity?
Does your ability to do that depend on what you think of the employee? Some people don’t do well until they feel you trust them and their capabilities. Everyone screws up at some point, and again, all eyes are on you: can you cope with the occasional screw-up?
Of course, the worst screw-ups are those where you have to take ownership of your employee’s mistake, because you delegated it. Worse still, it can be a situation where you weren’t kept updated. It’s a lot easier to obtain the status of a situation when you sit across an office from the person doing it. If something goes wrong for a remote worker, but they don’t want to tell you about it, you have a few ways of monitoring the situation (and therefore knowing about it even if they don’t tell you themselves) and mitigating it, but it’s all made a lot more difficult by being remote.
How successfully can you assess potential employees?
It isn’t just down to you; it’s also down to your employees. If you’re not sure of them, it’s not going to be easy to trust them enough to delegate something important.
But … and here’s the spanner in the works – unfortunately, you have to take ownership of the employee issue too, because you picked them. Can you identify a potential remote worker’s talent and work ethic quickly and accurately? That’s quite hard to do even face-to-face. Interviewing over Skype, or over the telephone can be a real exercise in ‘knowing people’.
Trust is an important area of remote working that can’t be played down. If you’re not sure that you can trust someone, there are monitoring processes that you can put in place, but often just letting them feel comfortable with the job they’re doing can be enough for a person to rise to whatever situation you’re working to. In the meantime, you ensure that should they drop every ball they were juggling, you have processes ready for you to manage the situation.
How well can you communicate across many varied time zones?
Much of the success of remote leadership and remote teamwork comes down to effective communication. At EnCoCreative, we find that although we have great discussions about topics, decisions, and processes, these discussions take maybe an hour – maybe more – to come to fruition. Sometimes they span more than a day, as stragglers pick up the thread, and time zones allow sleepers to wake. The quality of the discussion isn’t affected – this may even be better than face-to-face because writing can assist in the processing of the issues – but the time allowed for it takes longer.
Time zones have much to answer for. They make team meetings harder to set up; and unless you’re really organised and your team is seriously dedicated, they can affect the reactivity and responsiveness of the team.
Do you use technology effectively enough?
Any company uses email, telephone and video conferencing for communication. But the big difference is that remote organisations lean much more heavily on email and instant messaging than an in-house team would need.
In-depth email communication has to replace a lot of face-to-face activity, but emails can be easily lost. EnCoCreative counters that by using a robust project management software; but even that has its limits. Once a task is complete, all the communications go with it to the grave.
How to counter the issues in a positive way
There are a couple of riders on the above issues, and these are to do with both personal and business development.
Employing the right people for the job, who are a good fit for your business, and who can bring the skills you need (including the ability to work well remotely) is a skill that is integral to your ability to make a success of your business. It makes no difference whether or not your employees are face-to-face or not; if they are not right, then you probably shouldn’t have employed them. If this issue comes up, perhaps you could do with more training in the area, or instead, a dedicated HR person could manage it for you. Clearly the former is more positive than the latter.
In terms of business development, the most obvious way to counter the issues of remote leadership before the ducks hit the propeller, is to ensure robust company processes. These include the way in which work is delivered, the ways that people should communicate, and a company-wide understanding of what needs to be communicated when.