Managing a remote workforce has huge challenges. Removing the physical oversight of an employee sitting at a desk tapping away means managers have to shift the way they measure output and deal with team dynamics.
Design prototyping app InVision has grown to a team of about 30 people and a valuation in the tens of millions of dollars (based on their last capital raising) in just three years, but it doesn’t have a physical office, instead employees are scattered around the globe – connected by an internet connection and a headset.
Company CEO Clark Valberg said running a remote workforce has allowed the startup to overcome a few hurdles and was a big part of its growth path. So far it’s working, with the collaborative design tool already boasting customers like Adobe, PayPal, Salesforce, Airbnb and Atlassian.
While the task of getting a distributed team to work cohesively hasn’t been easy it sure has been valuable for the startup, here’s why:
1. You’re not fighting the war for talent in a particular city
Opting for a remote workforce has enabled InVision to hire the best person for the job – no matter where they live.
Valberg said there was great talent all over the world and by running a distributed team you could tap into different labour pools.
“I’m a firm believer in finding the best talent wherever they’re located,” Valberg said.
“Inefficiencies of the talent market mean startups are competing with companies with more resources and it’s difficult to attract world class talent.
“Inefficiencies are leveraged by going globally by finding people that find remote working a benefit.”
With a distributed team you can hire the smartest people no matter where they life and you don’t get hit with relocation costs.
The four person marketing team is distributed across three continents: Australia, Europe and the US.
“It has allowed us to hire the best people in the world for the job, not just who’s available in a 50 kilometre radius,” InVision Marketing Director Aaron Beashel said.
Virtualising its workforce has also allowed the company to scale up quicker and by having all its processes online Valberg said the company can recruit more rigorously.
“We’ve been able to hire better and more quickly,” Valberg said.
2. A flexible workforce is happier and more productive
Remote employees have the opportunity to give up stressful daily commutes and instil a work-life balance.
Valberg said the early days of a startup are hectic and for a company to succeed it’s going to need more than the average working week from its employees.
He said running a remote workforce makes it easier to extract those extra hours.
“You’re requiring a lot more than full time amount of effort, to expect that from people when they’re locked in their office 50 hours a week it’s hard,” he said.
“When you work remotely you don’t have to live your life around your job, they can be integrated.
“Work/life balance is much more sustainable.”
Valberg said remote working structures are much more flexible, employees can live closer to families or travel when they want – as long as they’ve got a good internet connection and a laptop.
“Remote work doesn’t mean work from home,” he said.
“When work isn’t a place you have to go you have a whole lot more opportunities.
“A change of location can change your energy.”
Allowing employees to work where they want, when they want means they’re more productive, Valberg said.
“In the morning there’s no settling in they’ve already checked their emails, had a coffee, and are in the right frame of mind,” he said.
Beashel agreed adding remote working is as much about lifestyle as it is about business.
“It allows you to build a work day that works for you and the way you operate rather than being forced into these arbitrary 9 to 5 constraints,” he said.
3. There are no office politics
Not having an office can cut out the petty gossip which sometimes erode productivity and boosts staff turnover.
“Not being in the same location prevents some of the petty bickering which can happen inside of offices,” Valberg said.
“There’s no physical dimensions, we’re all equal in terms of access.”
Working in an environment you’re comfortable with allows employees to manage when they can be contacted by team members.
“People can focus in their own space and aren’t interrupted by team members,” Valberg said.
4. Managers can measure output objectively
You can’t manage a distributed team the same way you would if they were all sitting in an office.
When you take away the physicality of an employee sitting at a desk, managers have to rely on actual output metrics rather than ‘time spent in the office’.
“When you go remote you don’t have the ability to hover over people and see if they’re working,” Valberg said.
“Shoulder tapping people isn’t going to help.
“Productivity has to be objective.”
Measuring productivity objectively allows managers to focus on what matters, Beashel said.
“Rather than having the number of hours an employee is sitting in a seat affecting your judgement on whether that person is doing a good job or not, you’re forced to base your judgment on the quality and speed of their work which at the end of the day is what moves the needle on key business objectives and growth,” he said.
5. Meetings are quick, agile and not a time suck
Being remote means meetings happen with a click of a button.
“There’s more opportunity for intimacy in a remote setting,” Valberg said.
“I can have more access to people in remote situations.
“Meetings can happen more efficiently.”
Valberg said InVision has regular standup meetings for each department at least twice a week to keep everyone on the same page and abreast with what’s going on across the company.
“Standups are heartbeats or check points where people can show what they’re working on and sync up,” he said.
By dividing meetings into divisions you can keep the catchups brief and keep employees engaged, Valberg said.
“That rhythm allows us to check up and keeps the group cohesive,” he said.
6. Remote working forces staff to develop strong routines
Running a distributed team forces companies to follow more rituals and document organisational processes compared to an office centric operation, Valberg said.
“Because we don’t have the inefficiencies that are afforded by being in person we can create processes,” he said.
Having strong processes in place also makes it easier to scale the workforce.
7. Just because you don’t have a central base doesn’t mean you don’t have a strong team culture
Not having an office hasn’t dampened the company culture at InVision, Valberg explained.
He said it’s been important to make sure there’s still a “watercooler experience”, even if it is virtual.
InVision uses Skype and has set up both team wide and division specific chat rooms so employees have a place they can hang out and learn from each other.
“In a company where everyone is excited, [we have] a culture where everyone respects talent and shows off what they’re doing, they admire their colleagues,” Valberg said.
“Instead of a managing motivating a team, the team does that job.”