How to Work Together When You Don’t Work Together: A Guide to Winning in the Remote Workplace

Now that smart phones, bandwidth and processor speeds have effectively closed the physical space between us by providing instant connections to just about anyone in the world, our “work spaces” will never be the same. Distributed work arrangements are so smart, efficient and effective, there is no reason to suppose they will ever be centralized again.

More than 3 million workers in the US don’t report to an office, and it’s estimated that over 20 times more workers could leave the office for good, and fulfill their duties just as well or better than they do now. That’s some 60 million people in the US alone. As part of a successful “virtual” workforce, I’ve got some answers about how to make the leap from bricks-and-mortar to work-anywhere, without losing a step.

Our small company has employees in seven locations across the US, in four states and three different time zones. We do have a “central office” for the physical work that must be conducted with some of our clients, but only three employees regularly report there and only about 4 hours each day. Our vendors, partners and consultants, with whom we work on a daily basis are located in an additional dozen or so locations in six more states and three additional countries.

Form Follows Function

We never set out to build a global workforce, but it’s happening that way. It’s just as easy (or easier) to find great help when you forget about where they live and focus on what they can do, and how well you work together. We love our web master who lives in New Zealand, and we love the fact that he delivers work for us overnight. A skype call in the afternoon often delivers results when we wake up the next day!

Since we have a lot of client interactions on nights and weekends, having employees and contractors who work from home simply makes more sense. Why force them to be at an office when home in jammies would be so much nicer? Additionally, using contractors makes it easy to fashion the kinds of business relationships that work for us. More employees right now would force us to make decisions that aren’t right for the company at this point.

Keeping Your Culture Strong

Many employers’ concerns about remote workers immediately focus on worker productivity and how to maintain accountability, but that’s an easy issue. Creating a great culture is the harder one to get right.

Jim Collins, in his now-famous book Good to Great, outlined the characteristics that truly separate the great companies from all the rest. Among the many important concepts he uncovered was the principle of “First Who… Then What.” In other words, get the right people on the bus! If you don’t have the right people, your chances of getting where you want to go are greatly diminished.

Do you imagine that the “right” people are the ones you could trust to work remotely? Of course they are. Having the right people on board simply eliminates many of the issues that employers hate, and it creates the kinds of problems we all want to have: new and innovative ideas, a team that insists we perform at our very best, and faster evolution of the business. A culture doesn’t start from the bottom up, however. It comes from the top down. Having confidence in your leadership, and holding tight to the mission of building a great company is vastly more important than your ego. As Jim Collins also pointed out, “Level 5 Leaders” put the company first, and get out of the way. Being a resource for your talented team will always go further than trying to dictate their actions. Showing good manners, consideration and respect goes a long way to team cohesion.

And finally, focus on output, not input. Many employers get hung up on whether someone shows up late, or surfs the internet when they shouldn’t. Working remotely is for the big kids, and bosses need to remember that. If you get it done for me on time and budget, I could care less how long it actually took to do. Results are results, the rest is a distraction. To my mind, working in a central office is the biggest source of distraction I could imagine!

Using Technology that Works

The real challenge in finding the right technology to enable a distributed work force is not in whether it’s available, it’s in what to choose. We cycled through numerous platforms to settle on the solutions that work best for us, the way we like to do business, and the ways we service our clients.

Forget about operating system compatibility, document versions, software licenses and all that – our work is done in the cloud. Your own requirements will likely be very different than ours, but to give you a sample of a good small business package, we use:

  • Google Apps for email, shared docs, calendar. Simple. Love It.
  • Solve360 for CRM and light, flexible project management, works with Google apps.
  • Fonality is a voip phone system with call center management features. Great for training.
  • Skype has excellent call quality, chat and attachment sharing. Connect with anyone for free.
  • Hardware. We make sure that everyone’s computer has a recent OS, a 3GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, a fast internet connection and a good headset and camera. That’s it!

Staying in Communication

A good culture and the right technology make communication easy, but if you don’t make regular communication a habit, it doesn’t matter if you can click one button and start video chatting – people will feel frustrated, left out and start working on other things for someone else.

Make a point to catch up on a daily basis, use a project management tool to keep track of tasks that everyone can see, and be available when you say you are. Being in a conventional office, people can see when you’re busy or out to lunch. Working remotely, no one knows if you’re in or out, busy or just ignoring them. Publishing schedules for each other may be a good idea to help know when you’re available, and to set expectations for when you want to disconnect. You may also set a protocol for using skype or google statuses to let people know who’s doing what.

Working remotely with the best team you can find makes so much sense, the advantages far out weigh the challenges – if you could call them that. In truth, managing remote workers encourages you to find better workers, communicate more effectively, and focus on results. Isn’t that what you wanted anyway?

Ripley Daniels works for Without The Stress, a passport, travel visa, and immigration advisory firm located in Los Angeles.

45 thoughts on “How to Work Together When You Don’t Work Together: A Guide to Winning in the Remote Workplace”

  1. Kate Kutny says:

    Great Post. I agree it’s important to be able to work well in the work place. I also agree that voip and Skype are great to have. They both help a lot. I love using Skype. I haven’t used that voip service yet. Maybe one of these days I will 🙂

    1. PPC Ian says:

      I agree! Awesome guest post. 🙂 These days, there’s so much opportunity in working remotely. It can save companies money while empowering employees!

      1. certainly time is changing and technology is the main reason of it.

        1. Very good and comprehensive guest post. Being able to work remotely without going to an office is a great time saver.

          One disadvantage to all the communication devices and means is that it’s hard to get away from things as one is expected to always be reachable and not to turn things off even for a minute.

  2. Can’t beat working at home whether it’s for someone else or better yet, for yourself.

    1. Agreed,working for yourself at home is the best.It is Paradise!

      1. Paradise is not necessarily at home and not necessarily working unless you are a workaholic.

        Not having to travel to work is of course very nice.

    2. Yes that’s right!! I really love working at home!! can’t compare with the other work

      1. and this is more amazing when you do your favourite work as well.

          1. design flyer says:

            every body loves the dot com lifestyle..

    3. PPC Ian says:

      Working at home is a great thing. When you cut out the commute and need to “get ready” in the morning, you can really power thru work and get so much done. For me, there are few distractions at home and I get so much work accomplished when I work at home.

      1. Working at home means no wating of time for wearing tie or coat or official shoes.

        Just have your track suit and you are ready for work.

        1. PPC Ian says:

          Yes, indeed! It’s nice to wear a track suit for the day!

          1. I prefer wearing a T-shirt while working at home. A track suite to me is more for going out for a walk or jogging.

  3. With technology that we have today it makes it extremely easy to build a work team from completely different locations. I’ve heard of many Internet Marketers that do just this- build a “virtual” team. This is definitely an advantage because who ever said that your “dream team” would all be located in the same town or close surrounding areas? Great post!

  4. Fazal Mayar says:

    I am unemployable, I prefer working at home and making money online, well who wouldn’t? A 9-5 Job is AWFUL!

    1. So more and more people are trying to avoid their 9 to 5 job.

      Yes Liberty from everything is the main reason of it.

  5. Haven’t looked back since I started working for myself, and not someone else. Now I can work from anywhere in the world, be it Atlanta or Buenos Aires. If you’re thinking about making the jump, Go For It!

    1. This is simply amazing, you just need laptop and internet connection.

      Most of your work can also be completed if you have smart phone or ipad.

      Amazing …

      1. Abhik says:

        Smartphones doesn’t help much in Blogging.
        Believe me, I already tried that. (also, this comment is made from my Nokia N97 Mini)

        1. Time to get Nokia E7.

          Android should also come up with some sliding Qwerty keyboard.

  6. I’m definitely working on becoming self employed. I hate the “9-5” daily grind and answering to someone else.

    1. yes answering, working under, freedom these are the words not applicable for bloggers.

  7. I know everyone has that feeling that working from home is great.
    Yes it is great if you are making a comfortable living…
    9-5 is not bad either if you are making a good income.
    It all depends on how much you are making and the position you are in (specially at 9-5)….

    1. there will be always an invisible shackles even if you have higher ranks.

      You wont be able to live and roam around freely like we blogger.

      1. Abhik says:

        lol!! look at John. He is doing great with both roaming and blogging.

  8. Allen Walker says:

    Working from home is getting to be the norm these days… 🙂

  9. Boy this one have’some great information which can be really useful.

    Saved in bookmark.

  10. Abhik says:

    awesome post.. I am sure people who are still thinking go virtual will learn a lot from this.

  11. Great post. One of the best business articles I have read for some time now. Staying in communication with a strong work culture will do the job even if we don’t work together.

  12. anitha says:

    its like unity is strength i like this post

  13. design flyer says:

    Yeah its really wonderful working.. and I think we can’t help to adopt it.

  14. fas says:

    Working together is the best way to utilise resource. TEAM – Together everyone achieves more.

    1. Fazal Mayar says:

      Yeah just one person cant do it all . For a hockey team to be successful it requires a captain but it also requires good group relationship.

  15. John Rampton says:

    Working remotly has been one of the best things that I have ever done…

    1. anitha says:

      yes i agree with your point

  16. christina says:

    not all can work together some might be interest in doing the work separately

    1. jasmine says:

      yup, doing the work alone, may be interesting, you will be feeling lonely and tired ness.

      1. johon says:

        jasmine,I very agree with you.Started feeling very interesting, but slowly, accompanied by only the computer, it is lonely and tired…no one to talk…

  17. Amit says:

    yes you are right john

  18. some like working alone as i love to prefer it

  19. singer divya says:

    yes, me too working as a free lancer from home, last 2 years

  20. anitha says:

    i am an free lancer too

  21. I believe the ability to adjust and adapt to different cultures plays a vital role on working on a remote workplace especially when you are dealing with cross-country employees.

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