Is It Possible To Run A Completely Remote Business?

Reduced overheads are just one of the benefits of remote work

25Jan

Office culture has changed. In the modern business, just about every interaction between members of staff can be made digitally. Files can be shared over email, meetings can be held over Skype, queries can be made on common office chat systems like Slack, and customer insight can be gleaned almost entirely from the likes of Salesforce and Marketo. For many, it’s impossible to fathom an office working environment in which the computer isn’t the thing you interact with most throughout a day.

The progress in connectivity comes at a time when, in areas like Silicon Valley in particular, ‘burn rate’ is an overwhelming cause of startup failure. Between a thriving VC community, popular crowd-funding sites, and the intangible yet entirely real ‘hype cycle’, initial investment is far from impossible if the product and business proposition are sound. It’s establishing the business as a sustainable entity that startups struggle with, with the slightest mismanagement of expensive overheads often fatal. This is only made more pronounced by the nature of startup hubs, with young companies desperate to have a foothold in the busy, and often expensive, parts of San Francisco and London, for example.

Running out of cash is the second most common reason cited for startup failure, behind only a lack of market need. And, so, it is reasonable that startups look to cut overhead costs wherever possible, with one of the key ones being office space. Communal working spaces are a popular option, giving companies a base without them having to commit to their own contracted office building, and naturally most commonly found within startup hubs. But, for the more cash-strapped entrepreneurs, it is a tempting prospect to do away with the office set-up altogether, embracing remote working in full to create a business free from expensive constraints.

Most startups will naturally have no office while they find their feet but, as a company expands and takes on more people, is it actually possible to run a business without an HQ? Well, the short answer is yes, but it requires impeccable planning and team management skills that are some way above your average manager. Communication is (naturally) one of the biggest challenges when it comes to working remotely, and you’ll want to establish regular meetings as well as a system of instant communication and constant availability if it’s going to work long-term. Processes will become a great degree more important in terms of team communication – the potential for a chaotic crossing of wires or people being left out of the loop is high.

Secondly, it’s vital that remote teams make good use of freelancers. If the whole team is remote, then it can, by definition, be stripped down to its bare bones, particularly in the early stages of a startup. If you need copy written for your site, for example, it makes more sense to hire a freelancer for the duration of the project than it does an equally remote writer full-time. This also applies to outsourcing elements of the business, like fulfilment, IT, or bookkeeping.

Which brings us on to the next important facet of managing a remote team: don’t try to micromanage everything. There is a temptation when employees are working remotely to assume that they’re either slacking off, or are veering off course without direct and in-person guidance. Hire good, hardworking people that you trust, and let them find their own working practices without attempting to dictate everything from the top down. Otherwise, being remote from your team can cause you to obsess about their focus and their efficiency.

Another vital consideration is the use of centralized systems. The need for all employees to be able to access data and files at the click of a button has never been greater, and remote work only increases that need. If your business isn’t fully transitioned to the cloud then it is time to make the shift, particularly if you’re planning on having a remote team. Dropbox, Salesforce, Marketo, Slack – there are a plethora of systems that your employees can use to work more effectively from a distance.

Finally, before you assume that remote working means that employees are rarely face-to-face, think again. Team meetings should be regular and extensive, either in person or over video call, as they can go a long way to smoothing out some of the problems that can arise through remote working. These are just a handful of the considerations you will need to make if you’re to make an entirely remote company a success, but the benefits of getting it right can be huge - fewer overheads, greater freedom for employees, a more objective look at each individual’s work, the opportunity to be more results driven, to name a few. Operating a business remotely doesn’t have to be a daunting experience – particularly in the early stages of a company’s development, it can be an ideal to solution.

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