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Five lessons learned from managing a remote business

Having operated in an entirely remote model for almost three years now, my technology focused PR agency has been able to use the time to optimise the way we work. Some office ways of working can be easily replicated, while others require a totally fresh approach.

Personally, I prefer to think of our model as being location agnostic rather than remote, which means not discriminating against where employees are based. It also doesn’t take away from the need to spend quality time together as a team. When we travel, we do so with purpose (not just to commute to an office). And, what’s more, we invest heavily in this time together as a group. 

For anyone considering setting up a remote business, regardless of their industry, here’s the top five lessons I’ve taken away from having done so myself.

Strive for transparency in communications

In an office environment, information flows organically. If someone misses something, they end up hearing it from someone else. But, in a remote environment, this doesn’t happen. I personally strive for as much transparency as possible in everything we do, every single day.

This means taking measures like ensuring communications are as secure as they can be by using messaging and collaboration platforms like Wire, having discussions in shared channels as opposed to messaging privately, and sharing important company-wide information during all-hands video calls, repeating it where necessary.

Strive for structure

When you’re primarily communicating via messaging apps, it’s very easy to develop bad habits and to continue messaging to people outside the working day. This sets in motion a downward spiral of a bad work-life balance, especially as people will typically follow the example set by their leaders.

Being conscious of when the working day starts and stops is a must, as is regulating when you focus your communications with your team.

Develop new creative techniques

If in your office-based life you normally hold brainstorms to develop new ideas, you’ll likely need to reconsider how you do this remotely. Quite simply, brainstorms conducted over video just don’t work.

Instead, I’d recommend using the creative sprint methodology, which involves providing people with time to review creative briefs, and having the ideas being presented back to the team on a group call 24 hours later. The call is therefore used to discuss and debate ideas, rather than inducing a pressurised environment in which to formulate them.

Consider how you celebrate your success and your culture

We have Friday drinks over video, send people cupcakes for their work anniversaries, gifts for their Birthdays, have a pride channel specifically to celebrate achievements, and a culture channel to share our quirky lives as remote workers.

Although we’ve found that when everyone’s remote, no one feels remote, you still need structures and approaches in place to build a company culture and boost team spirits.

Listen to people; very closely

When you’re in an office, it’s very visible when someone is upset, anxious or struggling. In a remote model, it’s vital that you make a disproportionate effort to listen to your team and proactively ask them how they’re doing.

Committed employees do try to muddle through, so you need to really probe to understand how your team is feeling given you’re not sitting next to them.

If you do these things, remote working is a joy and can be even more rewarding than working in a physical office. Considering the savings in not only time, but money, as well as the benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing, be your model remote or location agnostic, this is undoubtedly the future of work.