In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 4 million remote workers, and 70 percent of people around the world work from home at least once a week.
Telecommuting at this scale is a recent phenomenon, putting business owners and executives in a very unique but challenging position. Do you also work from home yourself? Do you provide work-from-home opportunities for your staff? Do you upgrade your technology to account for a virtual workplace?
These issues didn’t necessarily exist a decade ago, and as someone who runs a business while simultaneously traveling the world, here are a few secrets I’ve uncovered along with what it takes to make a 21st century enterprise work for all involved.
Running a business and running it remotely are two very different things…
There’s being a CEO, and then there’s being a remote CEO. Some staff may find this setup as a bit distant and impractical, and, to be honest, it can be if the realities of this arrangement aren’t addressed upfront.
For instance, there’s no way for you to be available for every call at the drop of a hat, and it may be hard to attend that industry conference that could land you several leads if you’re two continents away. That said, as long as you’re creating forward-looking calendars and accounting for these potentialities, you shouldn’t have to choose between travel and executive leadership. You can do both as long as you budget your time well in advance, continue to take action on rolling initiatives, and check in often.
This could require an additional late-night email or maybe a red-eye flight or two, but that’s a welcome tradeoff if your workers are happy and the business is performing at a high level.
But don’t be fooled in thinking that everyone is adept at such a potentially hectic schedule. On-site CEOs may tend to stay at work late, micromanage in-house staff and spend more time than necessary on small details, whereas remote CEOs don’t really have that luxury, for better or worse, and for the sake of your own satisfaction and that of your workers, this could be for the better.
...but it’s easier than you think.
It’s 2018, and if you’re not leveraging all of the tech tools on the market, you’re likely losing out on margins somewhere in your business.
Spending money on a proprietary accounting system? Have in-house HR? Paying for several assistants?
Ask yourself, truly, are these necessary for revenue generation, or are they legacy holdovers from the way companies were run decades ago?
With Google’s suite of business products, for example, you gain free communication, free scheduling, free data storage, free networking and free location services.
Considering email is the most effective communication channel for B2B marketers, a simple Gmail account is so much more powerful than many recognize.
Being able to manage your business through your mobile is the key to success here. Tools that simplify basic tasks and complement the flexible nature of your business are invaluable. The Grasshopper mobile app’s virtual phone system allows you to setup toll-free business phone numbers, so you can keep up professional appearances for you and your team, without giving the game away to clients that you’re not actually working from a physical office.
Applying this sort of thinking to other tasks within your organization helps you prioritize job functions that can be outsourced, deleted or made more cost-efficient. As you shift your organization around to be product- or idea-centric, you as a CEO are freed up to do less management and more sales.
Quick tips to make your internal company processes “remote friendly”.
To turn your workforce and your operations into a stronger, virtual model, here are a few techniques we use:
Get an internal communication or project management platform that’s accessible via the cloud.
Slack. Trello. Asana. Wrike. Airtable. There are so many to choose from, and many of the features are customizable to your company and intuitive enough that workers can pick up the necessary tasks in a matter of hours.
Set the standard for how you prefer to interface with clients/prospects.
Depending on what industry you’re in, your clients may still use legacy technology or prefer more face-to-face interactions. It’s important that you set the standard as to what the preferred means of communication are. This may sound counterintuitive - isn’t the customer always right?
Well, the more exceptions you have to make and the more you divert away from your core communication platforms, the more you have to invest in additional training, software or labor. So, while a client may prefer Excel or Microsoft Word docs, offer them an easier way - for them and you - via Google Sheets or Google Docs, for instance. They may be hesitant to change at first, but they also just may have never had the opportunity or need to experiment with other communication vehicles.
Internal teambuilding and recognition is harder, so incentivize in other logical ways.
The corporate retreats and pats on the backs are less feasible in a remote work environment. That’s OK.
Use e-gift cards, virtual birthday messages, membership discounts and investments in small but meaningful workplace improvements that benefit your workers but also your company, such as wireless mice, standing home desks or fronting the cost on pre-selected laptop or smartphone upgrades.
Write every single job spec as clearly as possible, down to the technology used and the hours worked.
Job specs that are unclear only become more opaque when you factor in distance and lax management. It’s imperative to set clear boundaries, expectations and responsibilities for remote workers as it may not always be understood when everyone is supposed to log on each morning, or who reports to whom or what happens when a problem arises. The simplest of issues can go unnoticed for long stretches of time due to poorly designed job specs that lenient CEOs never thought to check in on. Remove these possibilities from the start through prescriptive job mapping.
Create your own virtual workplace routines.
Formulating a work atmosphere that works for you - and your staff - day in and day out is paramount. I factor in one hour of exercise, 15 pages of a good book, one sales call, several healthy meals and three networking opportunities into every workday. Those are the high-level goals that matter to my own productivity and my company’s productivity.
CEOs need to re-program their internal habits down to how they spend every 30-minute block of time, even on weekends. If not, bad habits like sleeping in late and taking long lunch breaks can start taking precedence. So stick to a routine and hold yourself — and staff — accountable.
Hire great managers who can hire great staff.
The longer you are abroad, the more important a solid management team becomes. You need a backbone and an unbreakable bond to your managers — as they’re the ones running a lot of the internal and client calls, setting agendas and deadlines, delivering services, hiring new talent, and devising ways to outpace competitors.
When I started my company, I hired a Head of Growth and a Head of Content & Strategy, and they devised their team structures with remote workers and operations in mind.
Supervisors often uncover room for improvement, process flaws and internal strife much faster than a CEO can, and the more executives recognize that, the more they’ll entrust strong managers to do a lot of the operational tasks that free up CEOs to pursue global opportunities.
And that’s how it’s done. However, we should always be looking to the future to continually evolve our company policies to scale with our growth and work preferences.