How Should You Think About Building A Remote Work Environment?
Well, it totally depends. Based on the world events of Q1 2020, the workplace will never be the same. You need to decide what kind of company you have been, and what kind of company you're going to be. Seriously. We understand that not all companies and industries easily allow for remote work and the idea can be daunting. But now is the time to start thinking about what this looks like going forward.
I'm not being dramatic. The world was already headed towards fully remote companies being the new norm, even before COVID-19 made workplaces (including businesses, schools and universities) send everyone home and go fully remote due to the health risks. But I'm not just talking about health risks here. I'm talking about increasing efficiency, flexibility, quality of life, retention, reducing overhead costs, and increasing your value proposition to your target audiences.
Is your business prepared to go fully remote when necessary?
There's a ton of data available that says going remote increases productivity when done correctly.
But do you know how to do it correctly? Do you know the tools? Do you know how to implement the tools? Even more importantly, do you know what Remote Workplace Culture is? I didn't until I started a fully remote company in 2016.
Data Driven Design is a fully distributed remote workplace with NO OFFICE, and with full time employees in Nashville, Thompsons Station, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, Miami, Florida and Valencia, Spain.
Why Do We Do It?
I worked in an office every day for the first 12 years of my career. Sometimes my commute was five minutes; other times it was 30 minutes, some years it was 1.5 hours both ways. For the first 7 years, I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT. I loved being around people, face-to-face communication and interaction was everything to me at that time. It was 2001-2007. There were no iPhones (I had one of the first blackberry phones), there was really no social media yet (MySpace was the top social media site), we were definitely still using copy machines, fax machines and desk phones.
At the end of 2007, I started a side hustle, creating content, doing digital marketing and building websites. I quickly realized that entire businesses could be built without any face-to-face communications at all. Living in Michigan at the time, and about to move to Tennessee, I started doing business with people in New York, Denver, and all over the US, never even talking to them, let alone being in front of them physically.
I could create content, post it, distribute it, sell advertising, sell digital products, etc. without any real overhead cost or need to travel or do any real communication other than email and posting on message boards / forums.
That was a 2007-2011 side hustle business. My full time job during those years always required me to come into an office and be face-to-face. Sitting in meetings, getting interrupted by people asking about lunch, or even just wanting to come talk - it always irked me - and I'm NOT anti-social. I found myself blocking out time to work during the day, so that I could actually get work done and not have to take it home. Through 2015 I was required to be in an office, when a company based out of Michigan hired me and allowed me to work remotely from my home in Tennessee.
For the first time in my life, I was free. I didn't have to drive anywhere, I could set my own schedule, and I could absolutely crank without any interruptions! It was amazing.
I'm not going to lie though, every once in a while, I'd get distracted by the thought of cleaning the house, folding the laundry, or getting dinner started early before the family got home. I'd sometimes want to workout a little longer, too. But when I acted on these temptations or got distracted, I'd pay the price later in the week or month by having to work more hours or on weekends to make up for the work I'd missed.
I quickly learned how to stay very disciplined in a work-from-home environment to maximize my productivity and my quality of life. My time management skills became impeccable, because I saw just how productive I could make every minute of every day.
So, when I decided to start Data Driven Design in October of 2016, I knew that it would be a fully remote workplace from Day 1. And not only because I would be the only employee for the first year, but because I knew I needed to hire self motivated, efficient, experienced people anyway, that wanted to work like me (i.e. not wasting time).
How Do We Do It?
It's not easy to pull off. It takes a special brand of discipline and time management. But tactically, it takes finding the right tools for your business to communicate and track progress, while doing the most important thing: executing.
Your business will need the following, in order to go remote (whether fully remote 100% of the year, or partially remote in certain situations or on certain days):
- A video conferencing tool. Finding the right one isn't hard, there are many solid options, but only a few that are truly reliable, cost effective and easy for anyone (even people outside your company) to access.
- A project management software application. There are a ridiculous amount of PM software apps out there, and one of the most common things I've seen is companies fighting over which one to use. Whether you go into an office every day or not, chances are you've heard of them or used them. Don't worry about which tool, pick one and worry about making sure everyone knows how to use it.
- A messaging software application. Same with this, for sure.
- A bank with lockbox, check cashing services, or "managed treasury" services. If you're going fully remote, or building in an emergency remote preparedness plan for crisis situations, this is a must. You have to get paid, and while online payments are ideal for a remote company, the reality is that a lot of clients will still insist on cutting and mailing checks. Eye roll. But it's money, so looking into these services that allow you to have a bank cash your check for you is legit. 'Cause, you know, mobile apps have limits on the dollar amount you can deposit digitally on a per check and per month basis.
Why Do We Like It?
How we do it and why we like it are two completely different things. You do not have an office to hide behind. You have to be productive and you have to love productivity. Otherwise, you're exposed. But more than that, you have to REALLY understand how to build a strong workplace culture. And it takes everyone. You have to get creative and use true ingenuity. It sounds fun, but it is NOT easy, and there's a lot working against us.
What are the reasons people LOVE going into work every day? There is a lot of data that suggests the very things we - as a remote company - do NOT have: human contact, water-cooler conversations, catered lunches in the break room, and impromptu happy hours, and for some of our competition, fancy offices with craft beer on tap and expensive coffee and treats.
We have none of that. But we do have virtual happy hours, the ability to gift each other online through fun Amazon deliveries, instant reimbursements when co-workers do get together for lunches, and 1-2 annual face-to-face meetings that are even more special than they would be if we saw each other all the time - because we have to make them count.
But the most important thing we have, you can't put a price tag on: each other's backs. We are productive, senior level professionals, and now that we've had it fully remote, we wouldn't have it any other way.
If you're interested in building a company culture like ours, that allows you to be remote when you need to be (like in emergency situations) or when you want to be (like more and more companies are seeing the benefits in), we can help you get there.
Start by emailing me to learn more about our Remote Workplace Set-Up Packages at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading, watching and listening, and have a great day!
Paul Hickey, Founder / CEO / Lead Strategist at Data Driven Design, LLC and founder of Nashville Voice Conference, has created and grown businesses via digital strategy and internet marketing for more than 15 years. His sweet spot is using analytics to design and build websites and grow the audience and revenue of businesses via SEO/Blogging, Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Facebook and Instagram Ads, Social Media Content Marketing, Email Marketing and most recently, Voice App Design and Development - Alexa Skills and Google Actions. The part that he’s most passionate about is quantifying next marketing actions based on real data.