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Out of office: embracing remote working

Callum Adamson, founder of Distributed – a platform that lets businesses use remote teams on demand – reckons businesses and their bosses can benefit from embracing remote working. Here he shares his experience and advice.
Callum, founder of Distributed

Every company has to be a tech company in order to stay competitive these days. The problem is, there’s not enough tech talent for that to happen.

By 2022, there’ll be about 1.2 million unfulfilled jobs in the tech sector. We’re already seeing the impact of this talent shortage ─ right now in London, it can take up to six months and cost as much as £18,000 to hire an individual.

This, coupled with the fact companies may limit their talent search to people who live within a certain distance from their office, makes it harder than ever to build top-quality teams.

A solution? Remote working. Businesses can get access to high quality tech talent with their current budgets.

A new management mindset

To manage a team which is partially remote, the top three apps I’d recommend are Google Drive, Slack and WhatsApp.

Drive has all the office applications you’ll need, from spreadsheets to presentations. Slack is specifically built for teams to communicate on the internet, while WhatsApp is a more social, informal communication channel.

But more importantly than apps, managing remote teams requires a different mindset.

Often, conversations in the office ─ when John shouts over to Melanie to see how she’s getting on with that file ─ aren’t written down. Decisions are made as a team that inadvertently exclude team members.

For this reason, embracing asynchronous communication is crucial for remote working. In other words, everything needs to be written down and accessible, no matter where your staff are working or what time zone they’re in.

Workflow can be managed in a Google Sheet, or via a continuously circulated email thread. Phone calls and meetings must be minuted, too. The goal is to get rid of any potential for confusion. If everything is written down and circulated to the whole team, there’s less information leakage and silo-ing.

"Remote workers tend to be powerhouses ─ they get so much done because there are no distractions. But it’s not healthy to work solidly all day, every day. So you need to build in synthetic distractions for them. "

Value over time

It might sound like a lot of admin ─ but embracing asynchronous communication will make you a better and more transparent company.

That paper trail will also help you understand where processes are working ─ and not working ─ in your business. Want to find out where you need improvement? Run half the team remotely for three months.

Remote working also prompts more philosophical questions about how we value work. Instead of paying for someone to hang around for eight hours, you should be paying for value delivered. If your team has all agreed to the same goals and deliverables, it doesn’t matter where they work. And if they get their part done by lunchtime? Good for them.

Today, we mostly communicate through open Slack channels ─ which means there are fewer interruptions. People can choose to respond instantly or finish up what they’re doing and then reply. It’s less disruptive and more productive for staff.

Scared of slacking?

Some bosses might worry that staff won’t be working as hard if they’re not in the office. Often, the opposite is the problem. Remote workers tend to be powerhouses ─ they get so much done because there are no distractions. But it’s not healthy to work solidly all day, every day. So you need to build in synthetic distractions for them.

We encourage people to set 30-minute reminders to get up and take a short walk, and we get them to schedule “remote coffees”. That might involve Facetiming each other while eating their sandwiches or sharing screens to surf YouTube together.

The only rule is that you can’t talk about work during these catch ups ─ otherwise, you have to pay into the pizza fund. It’s strange at first, but it only takes doing it twice to see the value in these small, soft social moments.

Managing a remote team will challenge you as a boss ─ it requires a lot of personal growth. You need to learn how to communicate better, be more organised and get better at working without interrupting people. For a lot of bosses, it’s tough, but if you can do it, it’ll make you and your company stronger.

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