5 Foundational Tips for Remote Startups

By Gwen Murray on March 18, 2020

Founders and entrepreneurs leading a remote company face a unique set of challenges when it comes to employee engagement, business operations, and team communication. You’re creating company culture virtually, without the luxury of in-person management. With your team’s increased mobility it becomes more important to centralize and standardize your business practices and keep everyone in sync. 

Thankfully, there are many options to choose from when it comes to affordable cloud-based tools that make it easier for your remote team to collaborate, as well as a wealth of information from companies that have paved the way. If you are about to launch a remote company or are looking for ways to improve an existing business operating remotely now, we’ve got a few core practices that will keep you organized and your team optimized. 

1. Don’t underestimate (virtual) face time

We’ve written about the importance of remote communication before, but it’s worth mentioning again. A simple way to strengthen rapport with your team is to replace conference calls with video conferences. It’s a great way to connect with colleagues who would prefer to put a face to a name while easing the barrier of remote communication and helps create clarity on tasks and projects . Start with free, easy to use tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, or even Slack Calls.

2. Use the cloud

Storing data in the cloud allows you to access and analyze important information quickly, enabling you to make informed decisions more readily. Instead of creating an Excel spreadsheet that can’t be shared in real-time, leverage cloud-based apps until you need a more robust tool, like a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. Avoid the trap of investing in software that your employees might not need by testing a free or inexpensive tool and by being strategic about how the tools you’ve put in place interact with one another. 

3. Put yourself in your client’s shoes

Running a remote company has its benefits, as well as its trade offs when it comes to your client base. I recently spoke with a customer who was turning down clients that were only able to send payment via mail (paper-based billing and paying by check are more prevalent than you might think). Since this client relocated from the US to Europe, receiving and processing payments from abroad was taking too long, checks were occasionally lost in transit, and the company was at risk of not making payroll. A digital mail solution, also sometimes called a virtual mailbox, gives you access to important correspondence, such as postal mail, documents, and checks, all via an online platform. You’ll have continuity in your mailing address even if you want to travel the world or set up shop in another state. Some solutions, like Earth Class Mail, even offer remote check depositing solutions, which allow you to keep clients whose billing practices might not be as automated as your own.

4. Start with data

And don’t stop. Without a doubt, centralizing customer and prospect data is a must when starting a remote company. Even if you’re a solopreneur, or work on a small team, begin with something as simple as Google Sheets, a live document that’s accessible from anywhere. As you add employees, give them access and review the data that you require them to enter. At a minimum, start tracking your business prospects and customers. Collect relevant contact details and lead source information, the product of interest or the product purchased, as well as other data – such as the time it took to close the deal or the reason why you lost the deal – to inform future decisions. When the time comes that you have too many data points to manage, move to an affordable cloud-based CRM to centralize customer and prospect data. 

5. Standardize processes

As you add employees to your team, be sure to communicate and train each employee on the tools you have in place and your expectations on how the team should use them to collaborate. Otherwise, you could end up with disparate data and inefficient processes. Create an on-boarding document or new hire training so that you minimize the time spent bringing new employees up to speed. And, don’t think of standardization as infringing on your employee’s autonomy. You’re building consistency among your remote workers the way it might more organically be built if you all were working in the same physical location. 

Remember, if you’re just getting started, use free cloud-based tools to build out your core business processes and make it a practice to have all your information living in a central repository. If you and your employees have conquered your business workflows with free cloud-based tools and feel like you’ve outgrown them, then it’s time to begin looking for a more specialized solution. 

6 Communication Best Practices for Your Remote Team

By Gwen Murray on March 18, 2020 

If you lead a remote team or manage some of the 4 million remote employees in the U.S., you’ve already noticed the heightened importance of communication. After all, remote teams forgo more immediate opportunities for collaboration, important nonverbal cues, and a shared office environment.

In fact, employee engagement drops the more time that employees spend “off-site.” And since worker engagement is critical for collaboration, companies should take extra care to keep remote workers in the loop. Here are six ways to mitigate some of the challenges posed by remote communication.  

1. Utilize the right tools 

Communication platforms can’t replace doing the work to foster a culture of open dialogue and collaboration. But without the right tools for staying in touch, chances are that important updates and notifications will fall through the cracks, especially when your office is virtual.

In addition to email, some of the most commonly used team communication tools are Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts Meet. Depending on your specific business needs and practices, tools that might also be helpful include Twist, Zoom, and UberConference. When selecting technology, focus less on bells and whistles and more on finding a platform that matches your team’s needs. Like: do you need built-in file sharing?  Or if your team is in different time zones, do you want options for synchronous or asynchronous communication? 

2. Centralize shared information

Avoid paper trails, especially for important information like government documents. Misplacing paper files is a sure proof way to cause headaches and lengthen project completion times. Shameless plug: if you receive high mail volumes or if you have boxes of old files preventing your organization from going paperless, let us transform your files into searchable, actionable PDFs.

Whether it’s Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, teams need to choose a cloud storage solution and stick with it. A common barrier to knowledge access happens when some people are storing files in Google Drive, some people are storing documents on Dropbox, and everyone is searching through both to find what they need. Instead, centralize information in one location. This way work won’t be further disrupted if someone is out sick or leaves the company. 

3. Use a project management tool

Managers are often concerned about how their remote reports are progressing. After all, not being able to stop by someone’s desk for a quick update adds a layer of difficulty for project management. Luckily, there are tried and true tools for tracking progress and promoting accountability when face time is not an option. Some popular options to check out include Trello, and Asana.  Also, some project management platforms like Hibox include chat features so be sure to evaluate how these work with, or might even take the place of, existing communication tools. You don’t want to distract your team with too many communication methods.

4. Set clear and achievable goals

Don’t rely on on-screen deadlines and project tracking to replace more traditional team management. Hassan Osman, a virtual teams expert, says that if companies want remote teams to communicate more effectively, they need to first set clear and digestible goals that every cross-functional team agrees to and understands. Paired with frequent check-ins and updates that reach all team members, your team will be up to speed and you’ll have the space to allow for adjustments and corrections from the beginning.

5. Keep your team in the know

Along those same lines, leaders shouldn’t forget to keep remote staff up to date on company developments. Your remote team needs to know what the company mission and goals are and how their role fits into the bigger picture. This can be a huge factor when it comes to employee engagement. If you fail to keep employees notified about the broader vision, you might be giving them the impression that they are not important, even when the opposite is true.

Video conferencing is a great way to get to ensure everyone understands how they contribute. Don’t underestimate the power of video conferencing and non-verbal cues. Another great tool for replicating the collaboration that can come from spontaneous brainstorming around a whiteboard is Miro.

6. Maintain a balance 

Having the correct technology for syncing up online is just as important as the underlying norms of your remote team. Guard against the tendency of overlooking remote employees because they’re out of sight. Conversely, avoid cutting into too much of your employees’ time with emails, phone calls, and messages that can be viewed as micromanaging or distrust. And, if the team dynamic feels off, jump on a video call and get to the bottom of it.