This week’s guest post is written by Tijana Momirov. Tijana is a software engineer, product manager and founder of StartupSetup where she helps founders start their startups, all in a remote, agile and super lean way leveraging the gig economy. Tijana has been building remote teams for years so we asked her what her best tips are on building and managing a remote team!
Is it really possible to develop a meaningful professional (and human after all) relationship with a person you’ve never met in your life? Those letters coming out of your chat client, do they really carry the value? Can we really learn, grow, create, collaborate, deliver and prosper without sharing the physical space and talking in person? Will we ever be able to create a company culture without having lunch breaks and after work drinks together?
When I’ve started freelancing, working remotely and living as a nomad back in 2010, it sure took me a lot of explaining each time somebody would ask me where I work. I’d always reply “Today I work FROM here, and tomorrow we’ll see”… And that would generate tons of questions. However, today it’s enough to say I work remotely and people just get it. But then there are all these other questions being opened and it’s crucial to address them, as the future is on its’ way and those who adopt, win 🙂
So yes. Yes, it is possible to start and grow a business in a fully remote way. And no, it does not come pre-cooked. You need to make it happen. But that’s what being a creator is all about 🙂 Read along for a few tips on how to create a business with a remote (freelance) team:
Get clarity on why you are doing this
Ask yourself why do you want to start the business remotely? Simply cos it’s cool? That’s never a good enough foundation. Think about how you’ll be opening yourself to the global talent (and talent is super scarce anyway). You can go super lean by starting with part-time / as-needed freelance arrangements with the safety of the global marketplaces. You will attract a certain type of people – productive, self-starters, proactive, entrepreneurial – and that’s the type you want. You and your team will have much more freedom and a higher quality of life. Well, that’s all pretty cool indeed 🙂
Start remote from the very start
Some founders get a bit scared at the beginning and think they’ll feel more comfortable with starting with a traditional in-office team and then going remote down the road. It’s a trap! It’s gonna get waaaay more difficult to separate the team that is used to being co-located and having the possibility to “skip” the processes and tools and just has a chat while getting a new cup of coffee.
Go remote all the way
Having a co-located team and then a few add-ons in terms of remote peeps joining – in my experience, it’s one of the most challenging setups for a remote team. It’s even easier to have people distributed over multiple time zones, as long as they are all distributed, than having a partially co-located team. The ones sitting together will, naturally, tend to skip the tools and online collaboration methods and keep on the office talk, which will lead to the remote team members being left out.
Build an online presence and attract talent
Having a blog, youtube channel, e-books and so on will help you attract the talent. Remember, once you open yourself to the global market, your local reputation doesn’t mean that much. Maybe people in your local community are aware of how good of a work environment you can provide, but the rest of us are not. But if we read a very interesting blog post and then spot a little “work with us” button on your website, that could sound appealing.
Hire based on personality
It’s not easy cohabitating with office mates with awkward social skills, but in the remote environment, it becomes close to impossible. Hire a person you can easily communicate with, who can express themselves in a written form in a systematic way and work independently. And then let them ramp up on the hard / tech skills.
Set up tools and processes from the beginning
You might find it unnecessary to set up things like an issue tracker while it’s just you and your first team member, but you should do it anyway and here is why: without it, you’ll never scale. All the info you guys are having in the 1 on 1 calls and emails will be buried their forever, inaccessible to anybody joining you down the road, and also pretty soon unsearchable by you as well. Get Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Jira – your tool of choice and start entering the info where it belongs. Any question, comment, update – it should go into its’ context, like a Trello card or a Jira issue.
Hire many, hire early
With the convenience of remote work and freelance marketplaces, and efficient onboarding and management processes, there is no need to be afraid of collaborating with many people at the same time. It’s crucial to have the right person at the right moment, and very often even more at the beginning in order to get the right consultation and make the right decisions.
With remote freelancers coming and going, you need to have a very efficient onboarding system – fx, it doesn’t really pay off to spend 2 weeks onboarding a designer who’ll stay with you for 4 weeks. Moreover, it’s crucial you protect the current core team from getting interrupted all the time. Create a kick-off doc listing all the major points, like the tools used and how to access them, sprint length, user story estimation method etcetera (examples for a software development team).
Do not rule, collaborate
As a founder/manager, you’ll probably be tempted to give orders and be scary sometimes. Not only that this doesn’t work with sending a Slack message as good as it would work if you would enter the office and start walking behind people’s shoulders, but it’s a very bad idea regardless. You’re part of the team, we’re all a team, one for all and all for one and all that. Just one example: in the daily standup, you should also report on what you’ve been up to. Just like any other team member, that you really are.
Leverage the gig economy
The gig economy and freelance marketplaces give us access to various experts and it’s easy to make arrangements other than full-time ones. However, as freelancers are not your employees really, but rather kinda businesses on their own providing the services to you, as well as to the other customers, make sure that you always inform them well in advance when you’ll be needing those very services.
Working in different time zones and on multiple projects with multiple teams at the same time can lead to being blocked most of the time – by waiting for some input from somebody. By building the workflows in an async way, you’ll make your team members more independent, yet always on the same page. For instance, instead of the real-time daily standup call, use one of the bots for Slack for async standup, where team members (and you!) will post status updates in their own morning hours. In addition, break down the tasks in a loosely coupled way, so that people can work on them without waiting for each other. And last but never the least, prepare the full requirements and make sure everybody understands them before going into the implementation.
Remember, people don’t see your face nor hear your voice in a chat channel. Use all sorts of emojis to avoid misinterpretations.
Set up the dual track
Any type of work (software dev, content writing etc.) needs some kind of specs and requirements, in order for everybody to know what should be done and what would be the value we are attempting to create. However, often that phase is neglected and the info is given informally in order to start getting the actual work done ASAP. A trap! While the team is working on one batch (like a sprint), you should be busy creating the specs for the next one. In a dual track workflow, the requirements iteration is “shifted” for one from the implementation iteration to ensure having the specs right on time, for everybody to analyze, discuss and estimate the effort needed prior to starting the actual work. Fx, for a software dev team using Jira to maintain the development process within a sprint (status of issues, code reviews, testing etc.), you could use a simple tool like Trello and set up a workflow for working on the specs (columns like: ideas, specified, clarified, estimated, prioritized, in review, accepted…).
Do look back – Retrospective
After each iteration (for a software development team it might be a Scrum sprint, for a marketing team it could be a campaign etc.), gather the team on a call for a review of the results, planning of the next moves, and very importantly – a retrospective! All the team members, including the most transient ones, should be encouraged to share what needs to be improved and what went really well in their opinion, regarding the teamwork in the completed iteration. Use a tool, fx Atlassian Confluence, to prepare a retro doc and share the actionables with the team. Remember, sometimes you win – and sometimes you learn 😉
Be results oriented
As remote working peeps, we don’t get to score some credits for showing up in the office and looking busy behind our computers. That’s why we have the urge to deliver something on daily basis. As a remote leader, make sure you break down the tasks in a way that your team members can wrap up at least one each day, and can happily go and enjoy the rest of their day knowing that some cool stuff is coming your way over this amazing internet of ours.