Tackle remote works biggest obstacle

What is remote works biggest obstacle? Viable internet connection? Video conferencing hardware? Collaboration software? Recruiting? No, it is trust in employees and team members!

Normally we blame managers that they are not allowing remote work because their lack of trust. But please try to turn your perspective around. I did, as I became a project manager some years ago and as becoming head of project management with a small team of project managers later on.

You can read more in my older post at: Trust is the key for successful remote work

It is really not easy letting your team members go out of sight if your are used to work in the same office. Even if you know their competencies and all the advantages of the home office and all the disadvantages of the office work. Read about the Pros and Cons here: The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons

People are used to collaborate in the personal way. We are just not trained to work and trust over the distance. And this is not a miracle, because we all grew up in a world without real time video conferencing around the world for free. But even in the future kids will be raised by personal interaction – for good reasons. So we all have to learn trusting our remote collegues and team members first.

How to build trust with remote workers

This is a collection of methods and ideas to gain that trust and overcome this major obstacle of remote working:

  • do a lot of communication, i.e. short daily video conferencing
  • do video conferencing instead of phone or written communication as often as possible
  • set up regular work demonstrations, a great possibility to show your appreciation
  • even interesting is, that this enhances trust in the team, because most of the technical people rank their peers on their work results
  • if communication and demonstrations are frequently, it feels less like monitoring
  • try to avoid changes of the team members in a project and even over similar projects, because the team members are getting used to each other
  • plan enough time at the projects start for newly mixed teams that they have the possibility to get to know each other
  • do regular team retreats if you are fully remote, because having fun together is building easily good connections
  • do off work activities even if you are co-located, to connect better to each other
  • provide pictures of your home office or home stories in your employees magazin or collaboration tool
  • talk about family and hobbies – it is always surprising what off work talents you have in your team

Conclusion

All our business ventures, companies and other undertakings could be so much more successful if we can strengthen the partnerships to our remote collegues which is possible with the above mentioned methods.

What is your experience? Missing trust is not the biggest obstacle? What else helps you in your daily work? Please let us know in the comment section!

Trust is the key for successful remote work

You can read a lot about the factors for remote work that actually succeeds. It is mostly about tools and technics, good remote management and the right setting at your working location. You can also read about that in my other blog posts, e.g. ‘How to prepare your company for remote workers‘ or ‘What a remote project manager needs to know‘.

But the most important point is trust!

Level of trust

I will explain the importance of trust with the help of the different levels of trust, which you can find at your corporate environment (Zero, medium or full trust). The trust is needed between employers and employees, contractors and customers, team members and project managers, so basically everyone, who is involved. It is important to note, that it is needed in both directions and everytime (not only in the good times).

Think about yourself. If you trust your boss, that he or she will treat you in a fair way and that your work is for a good purpose, you will do everything for him or her.

No trust at all

Without any trust on each side, you cannot work remotely. You cannot work in an office without trusting eachother either, but it stands out there not this fast.

I led many projects with well established trust between customers and my project teams. But there was a big one where the customer didn’t trusted us until the end of the project. This frustrated many team members and resulted in extra time and extra cost. The project has been fullfilled in this case, but this can cause project crashes with severe losses, particularly if it is a complete remote environment.

Medium trust

I think this is the common status in our corporate world. You can see it as a ‘more or less trust’, that your collegues and business partners are doing mostly a good job and are not trying to fool you. So the situation is not too bad, but most people have doubts about the work of others. This increases a lot if the workers are not colocated and includes the hords of middle managers, who still thinks they can only manage people if they see them permanently – which is however a flaw of their skills.

High portion of trust

This is the ideal situation for a successful business, project, team and remote work setting. If all participants are trusting each other deeply, you need less often and shorter discussions, you have less misunderstandings, less overhead in people and money and a much faster result – the normally needed short time-to-market.

What helps to create that:

  • give working packages with full responsibility to team members instead of small tasks
  • measure work results not worked hours
  • inform everyone about everything they need to know (better too much than not enough)
  • make decisions transparent
  • create a culture of liability
  • be fair and ethically correct
  • make sure that remotely working people get to know each other, even face-to-face if possible
  • organize off-work team activities, like outdoor events, cooking classes, attending concerts together
  • empower all participants to self-reliant and self dependent team members
  • a clear formulated business target including the general good is the best motivation

Traditional companies are often jealous of startups, because of their highly bonded, motivated teams, which are trusting each other very well (mostly). In this case it comes mainly from the companies purpose, every employee is identifying much with and rarely from morally great leaders.

While trust is needed in every work setting, it is very critical at remote work. So if you see a problem related to the remote work setting, please ask yourself if it is not rather a trust problem!

Please let us know, if trust has for you the same important meaning and write a comment. Good and bad experiences are also highly appreciated.

Why Remote Work has Not Exploded yet

All the requirements are given since several years. The hardware with phone, internet, video chat and collaboration software is ready since years and the work, which is possible to accomplish remotely is there since decades.

So, why is remote work still niche instead of normal?

1. Fear of managers

Liz Ryan wrote a great article for Forbes this March: The Real Reason You’re Not Allowed To Work From Home.

The best statement of the post is: “The real reason you’re not allowed to work from home is that managers at all levels are fearful of change and especially fearful of change that requires them to step out of their comfort zone.”

She explains further, that fearful management is the key problem in organisations. To not allow staff to work from home is one action that exposes this fear. The managers are often talking of trusting people, but who’s actions are reflecting that? I know middle manager which even fuel the rumors that the remote working collegues are not really working at home.

2. Missing leadership skills

So, the first major blocking point is the managers fear and their trustless behaviour. The second point is the need to rate team members with looking at the work results instead of counting hours at work which is indeed much easier. This type of measurement needs more time and knowledge, what the managers do not want or even are not able to spend.

Commonly that worker, who made technically a good job and was nice to his boss, will be promoted as team leader in the companies I attended so far. That lack of leadership skills is a big problem, but it is logical if the ability to lead is no part of managers selection process.

Key solution: Select managers with good leadership skills and train them on managing remote teams!

3. Companies struggle with organizational changes

All companies I know, are struggling hard with organizational changes. And it is no surprise that it is even harder if the company is big. But also companies with a few dozens employees and a few years in the market have lots of written rules and processes and many unwritten ones in addition.

It is easy for workers to follow these rules and it gives them security even if the rule is stupid. After realising that, the company will start an organizational project to fix that glitch – enabling remote work is only one example of many. The main problem of such projects (next to the workers fear of change) is, that always the operational / customer projects are winning over the strategic ones in the everyday competition about resources.

We have many organizational projects in our 780-people-middle-sized company right now, because lots of processes should be adjusted, after the company tripled in the last 10 years. As the head of project management I’m involved into a lot of them and believe me – you need month or years to change even smallest things in a middle-sized company.

Is the change coming nonetheless?

My hope is, that the situation will change when more millennials are reaching C-level positions. The remote work possibilities seams to be much better at startups – probably because of the younger executives. The risk with millennials climbing the corporate ladder at bigger companies is, that they have learned the ‘benefits’ of onsite working and collecting teams in cubicals from their mentors.

But the circumstances for the big companies are changing recently, too. Years before, there were only the remote work benefits of saved money on offices and more productive employees. Now they have to deal with exploding housing prices in every metropolitan area worldwide.

What I am experiencing in southern Germany, where we have a very low unemployment rate, is, that so many vacant jobs cannot be staffed over month. This huge financial loss due to open positions and the cost of recruiting would justify every effort into remote working. Even with this highly different employment situations in Europe, the workforce is not so flexible to bring enough workers to my region.

Short example: the district office hold a small job fair in my next town Lindau 4 days ago. Attendees were representatives of 13 local companies and only 30 (!) students of two German universities.

Exploding cost of living in cities and skill shortage will drive the movement to remote work drastically. A major factor of success of companies is already the adaptability to the future of work!

What do you think? Are there other reasons? Let us know in the comment section below!

Is remote work just possible for software and marketing companies?

Let’s resume at first the difference between partly and fully remote companies (read also that blog post: What is remote work, a digital nomad or even a remote-first company?). The partly remote company has offices with co-located workers on one hand and remote workers on the other hand. The fully remote company consists only of remote workers, also if some are co-working. The term ‘remote worker’ includes permanent employees, freelancers or contractors and is independent of their location (remote office, home, co-working or travelling).

Partly remote company

You can imagine every traditional company here, because a lot of them are enabling their workers to work from home partially. Needless to say, that this is not possible for people who are using tools or other equipment which is located at the companies property. So remote work is possible for everyone who needs only internet, laptop and phone for work. There are also positions where you need equipment only at some days. Imagine a tester, who is setting up a test jig at some days and programming test sequences and running tests with online access to its already functioning test rack on other days.

The companies are sending all their workers home these days, may it be engineers, accountants, lawyers, purchasers, managers, marketers and authors for sure. But is it even possible to have a fully remote company beyond software, marketing and journalism? My optinion is clearly yes!

Fully remote company

We said before, that everyone who just needs internet, laptop and phone can work remotely. So every company which employs more than 80% of those workers can go fully remote. Why are still so many people co-located at offices? The biggest point is, that the manager (middle and top management) are not used to it and are afraid of losing power over their staff.

But it is possible nowadays – the famous examples are showing it: Basecamp, 99 designs, Buffer, Trello and others. That are all software companies? Is the headline right in the end? No! My theory goes like this: it is much easier to build a fully remote company from scratch than transform an existing one. And with that knowledge ask yourself, which industry is fast growing and creates lots of new firms?

Thought Experiment

We will soon see fully remote companies in every industry. Lets make a thought experiment with a company which develops and produces components for construction machines.

A sales person will maintain contacts to customers remotely and personally like in the past. He or she will make an offer after consulting engineering and production people. After getting the order, a remote project manager will clarify all the open points with engineering, production and the customer and will start the developing. Mechanical engineers have a 3D-printer for fast samples or will get printed parts overnight.

Electronical engineers are soldering easy parts by their own or get SMT assembled modules in a few days (to wherever they work). Software engineers are developing inside simulations and can get hardware in a few days, as well. The industrial engineer, who manages sourcing, the kinds of manufacturing steps and the grade of automation can also work remotely. The only one who is linked to a location is the assembly guy. He is the one who manages prototype assembly and organizes everything for series assembly, may it be manually or partly or fully automated.

If you make something completely new, it will help if you arrange face-to-face integration weeks, where mechanical parts, electronical modules and software will be integrated by the developers. It also helps to work closely with the test laboratory which conducts mechanical and electrical environmental tests to avoid extra loops.

And of course it is great to meet the customer with the key people of the team. All the rest of the work – and I am pretty sure here – is possible remotely.

Please question yourself: how many of your tasks can you do from home?

For sure everything I write needs proper remote project management and very good collaboration and has trade-offs on top – but the benefits are clear (Why your company has to go remote). You have simply not the best talents for your jobs next to your office. If you are an employer, deal with that and start the transition of your company (How to start the transition to a remote company) or start your own fully remote company now. If you like to be employed, look around for remote work opportunities.

Please use the comment section for any suggestions or objections. And if you need a remote project manager for the scenario above, please let me know.

 

The benefits of remote working for startups and small companies

There are so many general benefits of remote work, that it is hard to address them all. You can also have a look at this post: ‘Why your company has to go remote‘. This post here is about the special situation at a startup or a small company.

What characterices startups and small companies? You have a small number of permanent employees, you will have limited financial resources and a very dynamic environment relating to the market and the potentially growth of the company.

Employees

It is clear, that the best talent is spread over the entire planet. If you try to attract them as onsite employees to your small company you will fail, because they simply will not move into insecurity. That is the reason, why potential founders moved to Silicon Valley or other startup hubs before. With letting your staff work remotely, only your work and your team counts while hiring and not the location!

If you have spread your employees over different markets, you have the valuable possibility to get important information for your product management, i.e. if your product is likely to work in that market or not.

Budget

We said before, that small companies and startups have tiny budgets. How to save that liquidity – which is essential for your small company – with remote work:

We all know that the worldwide average salaries for your employees are not as high as in the few big startup hubs around the globe. Sound like ‘wage dumping’, but that is not a must. You can pay your employees according to their work and enable them a high living standard wherever they are located and be under the San Francisco wage anyway.

The other cost impact is the saving of offices, furniture, IT infrastructure, energy, janitor service and cleaning personnel. To rent conference rooms for your bi-annual project meetings is definetly the cheaper alternative. It comes with the great idea to change location with every meeting to ‘visit’ your employees at their locations with the entire team.

Efficiency

With a small number of people, you will experience that their level of efficiency will be directly visible at the companies results. You will boost the efficiency by letting your employees work remote, because ‘work doesn’t happen at work’ like lots of authors are explaining (i.e. Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson). The key points are less useless meetings, less distraction of crowded offices and collegues who work like ‘ask a collegue is better than think for myself’. Probably you know what I am talking of.

You should let your workforce not only work where they want, but also when they want, because only they know where and when they are most productive. For sure there is some overlap time needed for video calls, but the rest of the time should remain flexible.

Time Zones

Having workers in different time zones is first of all an obstacle. But imagine around the clock coding-testing-coding or overnight bug fixing for happy clients or even a 24/7 help desk with just a handful employees. That is a really big boost for the customer service.

If you work remotely just from the beginning, you are avoiding problems with turning your existing company to a remote one. That includes normally discussions about processes, tools, collaboration with and behaviour of single remote workers. See more in the post ‘How to start the transition to a remote company’.

Remote work has lots of advantages, especially for startups and small companies. What are your experiences? Let us know in the comment section.