It is often said that knowledge is equal to power.
While this statement cannot be universally applied (and is in fact somewhat cliche), it reflects an important truth regarding the state of today’s global economy.
We are experiencing an information revolution.
In stagnant job markets, revolutions are sure to arise. Often beginning with workforce discontent, these revolts have the potential to wash away staleness, and stimulate a new era of innovation.
If history has taught us one important lesson, it is that change never comes easy.
After much effort on the part of both consumers, employers, and employees, a new era in workforce management has arrived to remove the old, archaic methods of the past. New needs are the norm, especially for employees and consumers, and they must be creatively met like never before.
A shift in values has visibly manifested in the relationship between employer and employee.
A change in the employment paradigm has occurred, and as such, traditional workplace management will soon be obsolete. The limits of the employer-employee business relationship are no longer controlled and dictated by geographic location.
Businesses can no longer justify the creative limitations of past generations… today, the digital value driver of the global economy is information.
And information knows no borders.
Nowhere has this notion manifested in a clearer way than with the rise of the Digital Nomad…
Digital Nomads – The Information Age Value Drivers
The trademark of the information revolution as been the free flowing and cross border movement of knowledge. Digital Nomads have been a revolutionary force, driving the digital age forward with their so-called “non-traditional lifestyle.”
Digital Nomads are those individuals who utilize advances in telecommunication technologies to work remotely, free from traditional restraints of the “9-5.” They earn a living engaging in a lifestyle that is truly representative of their digital age values, i.e. developing stimulating work engagements:
“Wherever, whenever, and however we want.”
From coffee shops, to public libraries, to hostels. From Vienna, to Medellin, to New York City. Digital Nomads focus on experience based value drivers to accomplish tasks that were traditionally limited to brick and mortar office spaces.
Digital Nomads take advantage of the information age by creatively applying smart devices, wireless internet, and cloud based operations. They use these tools to communicate with contracting employers, wherever in the world they may be located.
These individuals are often able to support a productive and rewarding lifestyle as a result of ambition, careful planning, and a wealth of digital tools / applications made possible by modern technology.
“Great,” you may say…
“But how does this affect my business? What lessons can I learn? What benefits do Digital Nomads bring to my brick and mortar?”
I have news for you.
“Non-traditional” is now the norm.
The time to adjust is now.
As with most forms of compelling innovation, there will be some early adopters (there are already), and there will also be those who, in hindsight, wish they had adopted. (maybe this is you?) Much like those businesses and industries that resisted the call to adapt to Millennial consumer values, those who fail to adapt to the new employee value paradigm will miss the ROI train.
Are there other important digital age employee values?
In a word, YES.
“The digital age employees of today do not come from the same cookie cutter generations of the past. They grew up under the unique duality of advanced technological freedom, and the very real constraints of an economic downturn. Some may be Millennials, other may not, but they all will value a work-life balance that is heavily tilted towards life, and they will all want to find their own” Lisa Mills “work from home moment.”
Causes are key for this new generation of employees. This is reflected in their desire to be a part of a community with a purpose, a community without borders. Traditional “book and lecture” training has been cast aside in favor of “hands on” engagements. These digital age employees value social technology, transparency and utility … and they are here to stay.
If the digital age was a basic SAT math equation, it would look something like this:
Evolving Employee Values
New Market Demands
What is the all-important answer of the digital age equation?
Drum roll please… (Ba da Dum)…
The Remote Team.
“The What” – Remote Team Basics
Lets begin with a simple, but essential question:
What is a remote team (i.e. telecommuting)?
A remote team (also known as a virtual team) is one comprised of a small number of individuals with mobile and agile technology skills. It is a trend that has increased 103% since 2005, and shows no sign of slowing down. Within the team, each member brings to the table complementary skills in both technology and interpersonal relationships. While individual responsibilities may differ, each member shares a collective responsibility for achieving the clearly defined objectives and goals of the greater organization.
A remote team is exactly what it sounds like – remote!
While clearly defined work objectives exist, members are not necessarily geographically co-located. The structure and communication within a remote team is less of a top down power structure, and more closely resembles a wider “solid line” communication structure.
Other key differences between remote and traditional teams include:
- Culture: Team members are likely to come from around the world, and likely to have quite diverse and unique values.
- Relationships: As most team members will be remotely located, remote teams often face difficulty in relationship building (as well shall see cover). Within the team there exists little or no opportunity for face-to-face relationships. For this reason, team members rely heavily on advanced technology to assist with rapport building. Thanks to the advent of communication solutions in the digital age, successful cross-border relationships are now more possible than ever before.
- Communication: From Beijing to Los Angeles, and London to New York, one issue that frequently arises is that of “time zone depreciation.” This refers to the perception of diminishing returns on communication. As body language, facial expressions, and other verbal cues may be visibly blocked, and as team members juggle multiple time zones, they will have to be reminded of the value of efficient communication, more so than traditionally stationary teams.
Many traditionalists would actually argue that these differences are, in reality, the clear disadvantages of working remotely. However, what that position fails to appreciate is that these “disadvantages” may actually assist in promoting not only company growth, but character and identity. More often than not, the naysayers focus on the same three differences we just reviewed: team communication, inter-company relationships, and company culture.
- Culture: Where a traditionalist would see a lack of team centralization as a barrier to company culture growth, a digital age Nomad would discover an opportunity to develop a global team influenced by many unique cultures.
- Relationships: Where a traditionalist would argue that a lack of physical proximity will marginalize employees, a digital age Nomad would see an opportunity for social tech growth, and multi-channel communication innovation.
- Communication: And, finally, where a traditionalist would see time zone communication as an obstacle, a digital age Nomad would understand the value of asynchronous communication.
At the heart of the matter is this:
Effective telecommuting implementation demonstrates that success is determined by people and technology. No matter how far we evolve as a workforce, this notion will always instill fear in advocates of top-heavy managerial power structures.
How can remote teams help foster growth and innovation?
Well… rather than ramble on with my “digital age” rhetoric, I will allow the numbers to speak for themselves.
Let’s take a look!
“The Why” – The ROI of Remote
The benefits of implementing telecommuting solutions, either partly or entirely, run deep. Most benefits focus on “value added” staff aspects.
For example, building a remote team allows companies to passionately recruit the most talented candidates for the job, regardless of geographic location. These candidates, valuing a great work-life balance, are also more likely to be retained.
Yet… numbers will always remain supreme when measuring ROI.
Therefore, let’s review some data measurables:
- Increased Productivity: Perhaps the most appealing employer benefit of establishing a remote team is the exponential increase in worker productivity. Traditionalists have a hard time believing this, given the laxed supervision and de-emphasis on workplace discipline that result from remoting working. Yet, this is exactly why increased productivity results! Now, instead of worrying about loud coworkers, workplace social pressures, and top-down management control, employees can focus on enhanced creativity and freedom. In-fact, 86% of employees surveyed for a recent SurePayroll study said they actually prefer working alone because they can more easily reach “maximum productivity.” Correlating this, two-thirds of employers surveyed agreed that working remotely increases worker productivity. When both employees and employers agree, the business world should pay attention.
- Reduced Risk of Burnout: PGi recently conducted a study on the state of telecommuting, reviewing the trends in remote work. One of the more interesting statistics to come back was that 82% of remote workers reported lower stress levels… 82%! This number is amazing, but when you really think about it, it makes sense. Most remote workers do not have to deal with the hour long commute to and from work, nor office gossip. They can avoid the high stress social pressures that exist in office settings, and they can create their optimal creative environment. So long as resources, feedback, and support remain high, the potential for remote worker burnout will generally remain far lower than with brick and mortar based peers.
- Decreased Overhead Costs: One of the most financially tangible employer benefits of telecommuting are the huge savings in overhead and offices costs. By avoiding mortgages, leases, utility payments, building services, office supplies, equipment, coffee, etc., etc., a typical business can very easily realize amazings savings in a relatively short period of time. Need an example? Since IBM began a remote / mobile workforce initiative in 1995, the company has saved around $100 million annually. Want a non-fortune 500 example? PGi (referenced above) estimated that an average business could save nearly $11,000 per employee per year by allowing their workforce to commute part-time. Now, imagine a completely remote workforce, and you will begin to truly understand the cost efficiency of implementing a remote team.
- Happy Millennials: Ah yes! Those pesky Millennials again! Millennials are the offspring of the baby boomer generation, typically falling within an age range of 18-34. Generation Y, as they are also known, has a strong independent streak that has puzzled marketers and employers alike for many years. Millennials are not only projected to be the largest consumer generation in the United States (80 million strong according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation), they also recently passed Generation X as the largest U.S. workforce generation. If 77% of the largest portion of the U.S. workforce says that flexible work hours would be better for Millennial production, the business world should listen.
It is said that data never lies. If this is true, then it appears we have more than enough information to make a sound judgment regarding the benefits of going remote. Remember, if remote strategies can work for the likes of Amazon, IBM, and Apple, then they should be able to work for any business.
“The How” – Build Your Own Remote Dream Team
Now that we are familiar with “the what” and “the why” of remote team implementation, you are ready for “the how.”
If Richard Branson is right (and he is), and brick and mortar offices will one day be a thing of the past, then it is never too early to strategize for the future. Therefore, let’s take a look at the Five Pillars to building a Remote Dream Team.
Pillar #1: Goals
The first step to build a remote team is to set clear goals and objectives. These goals should be aimed at overall organizational health, as well as individual employee success. As managing remote employees requires a disciplined approach, this should be reflected in your goals. Before the hiring process even begins (see Pillar #2), management should have a clear vision of team goals. Team goals will return to play a role once the hiring process begins, as it is a telecommuting best practice to align team goals with individual employee objectives. In this way, employees will feel more engaged, appreciative of their role, and have a clearly measurable path towards goal achievement.
What are some potential team goals? Very generally, they can be divided into revenue oriented goals, product / service oriented goals, and consumer related goals. For example:
- Revenue: Grow topline revenue to 40k/mo in 2016
- Product / Service: Provide a great product
- Customers: High customer service and retention
Let’s take a look at how team goals and organizational vision will return to play a role in the employee hiring process.
Pillar #2: Hiring
Pillar #2 (likely the most important), is focused on the employee hiring process. It is here that organizations must efficiently hire remote workers that fit not only logistical needs, but the overall organizational vision. The most important employee attribute is that of trustworthiness. Therefore, it is imperative to implement proper hiring processes to ensure a good company cultural fit.
Remember, not everyone is Remote Dream Team material. Here are some basic traits to look for when hiring:
- Go-Getters: Doers, self-starters, hustlers, spark plugs, dynamos, busy bees, eager beavers… those are literally all of the synonyms I can think of! The point is, your Remote Dream Team should consist of those individuals who are never lacking of two very important things: energy and motivation.
- Effective Communicators: The main means of communication between remote team members and project managers will be via a wide variety of technological solutions – chats, emails, text messages, etc. Therefore, a emphasis during the interview process should be efficient and professional communication. If a potential employee struggles during the interview process with effective communication, they are likely to struggle while working remotely.
- Trustworthiness: Going remote fails when you can no longer place trust in the individual on the other end of a Skype call. If project managers and business leaders spend more time worrying about what employees are doing than they spend focusing on vision implementation, the hiring battle has already been lost. Don’t sacrifice productivity (or sleep!) over a faulty hire… make sure to fully vett!
- Independent: No one likes to be micro managed either. Managing a productive remote team is a balance. Allowing them to working inside your ideal guidelines but give them the freedom of making their own schedule is important. This is where tools like Time Doctor work so well. It allows your remote team to work effortlessly without feeling micromanaged while at the same time giving you the ability to know how your team is working.
Some great places to start when looking for potential employees include: your own blog followers, virtual jobs boards (Outsourcely, Upwork) prior clients, and social media.
Once your team is in place and ready to go, you can begin the process of building Remote Dream Team comradery and culture.
Pillar #3: Relationship Building
What is the key to fostering a healthy remote work culture? As alluded to in Pillar #1, the key is to align organizational goals with those of your individual team members. As advanced communication solutions can often dull our human senses, it is important to remember that the names that appear in a Skype call, or via email, are more than just names… They are living, breathing, emotional individuals who have lives away from their Skype accounts and computer screens.
It is important to hire those individuals who are dedicated not only to work, but to living a fulfilling life. Managers must discover and unleash the passions of each individual remote team member. Whether it is reading, rock climbing, or running triathlons, great remote team managers will find a way to discover employee passions and align them with overall company goals.
Other viable ideas for culture and camaraderie building include:
- Yearly Meetups: Most companies aim for once or twice a year. These meetups humanize team members, and put faces to the names. It is an essential step in completing the company culture circle, and building trust between team members.
- Advanced Tech Collaborations: From enjoying a beer over Google Hangout “happy hours”, to circulating news and music through Dropbox, technology can empower team members to socialize, and build lasting relationships (even absent physical proximity).
- Remember to Laugh: How can you breath some life into business communications? Laugh, and laugh often. GIFs and emoticons go a long way in not only adding colors and emotions to team communications, but in emphasizing team humanity.
- Virtual team building also works great.
Relationship building is inherent in communication, so let’s move on and take a look at Pillar #4!
Pillar #4: Communication
Communication is the one multi-purpose pillar that can help serve and enhance any organizational purpose. As it is the base ingredient for any successfully implemented telecommuting team, communication should focus on mobility and flexibility. Not only is effective communication important for fostering culture and camaraderie, it is also a key factor in positive ROI.
What is one word to describe ideal communication?
As the majority of inter-team communications are likely to occur via ideas and thoughts on a screen (be it a tablet, a computer, or a phone), clear and concise writing should be priority number one. Clarity goes a long way in helping avoid misunderstandings (especially cultural), and can help diffuse the complicated / confusing situations that are bound to naturally occur in the remote team business life cycle.
In order to help prevent these situations from arising, various “communication best practices” should be implemented. These include:
- Virtual team homepage: A formal homepage should be implemented to grant team members a “central” home base from which they can communicate. Each member should have a profile with pictures and information alluding to their likes and activities (personally and professionally). Additional and informal social platforms are useful as well, as they create a “coffee room” type environment where team members can build relationships.
- Use webcams: Not only are they inexpensive, but they allow team members to feel more connected to one another. They will also go a long way in minimizing the ambiguity that often accompanies remote communications.
- Implement cultural training / language guidelines: A successful remote team is almost guaranteed to be culturally diverse. If team members speak multiple languages to each other, or if there are team members working in a language that is not their mother tongue, it is important to put in place language guidelines. There should be a universal understanding of what the official work language is, and when it is acceptable to deviate from that language. Also, team members with weaker language skills should be made to feel more comfortable with additional written / printed resources as well as training.
Pillar #5: Technology Solutions
The fifth and final pillar is the digital age glue that holds the whole remote team implementation process together:
Understanding that face-to-face meetings are nearly impossible without the use of technology, it is important for remote teams to stay organized and up-to-date on the most innovative work-flow solutions of the digital age. Advanced technology has a tendency to come at a premium, but given the savings on overhead, it is a worthy investment.
From Skype, to Google Hangouts, to Dropbox, there are a ton of great tools available to assist organizations with their communication needs. To help you get an idea of the essentials, we have compiled a list of our favorites:
- Skype: Starting with the most basic, we find Skype. As a highly efficient bargain video chat software, it can act as an essential communication tool for everyday communications (a good alternative for group calls is Google Hangouts).
- Dropbox: Another basic bargain software as indispensable as Skype. Dropbox is a file sharing technology that not only eliminates the need for paper, it promotes global information collaboration.
- Basecamp: Premium scheduling tool that allows entire teams to view and update projects. Basecamp is ideal for highly collaborative projects.
- Trello: Working in unison with Basecamp, Trello allows users from all over the world to identify tasks that have already been completed within a project, and plan for what outstanding tasks are ready to be completed next.
While it is true that the sheer number of digital age tech solutions can appear daunting at times, this list should serve as a good investigative starting point for your Remote Dream Team. For further resources on virtual tech solutions, check out this great guide by highly successful virtual entrepreneur Chris Ducker.
As we have seen, geographically dispersed teams can offer huge benefits. From overhead savings, to top talent acquisition, to speed of thought communications, telecommuting is the present and future work paradigm for the digital age.
To ensure success, focus your attention on the basics: choose the right talent, align company values, foster effective communications, and select efficient technology.
Complete these basic steps, and your Remote Dream Team will be one step closer to becoming a digital age success.
Greg Digneo writes for TimeDoctor.com, a time monitoring and productivity monitoring software designed for tracking hours and productivity of remote teams. If you would like to see where you and your team are spending your time during work, try Time Doctor free for 14 days.