Running the Show Remotely: How to Manage Employees from All over the World and Stay Sane
This material is about building an international data-driven copywriting agency with employees who live in different time zones, come from different cultures, and have never met in person.
By 2021, our team has evolved into a large remote editorial board with 80 people in staff (apart from experts invited specifically for certain tasks).
The main tasks of our team:
- We develop comprehensive content strategies, mostly for IT and FinTech companies, write expert blogs articles and social media posts in English, Spanish, German, and other languages;
- We translate content into many languages and adapt it;
- We work with Digital Marketing & SEO agencies and write texts based on briefing materials.
- We produce expert content that is clear to any reader regardless of where they are (our editorial board has professionals in creating country-specific texts that help clients make sense of their target audience and write in a language they understand).
In this article, we will share seven tips that help dozens of perfect strangers from different parts of the world work as a remote content writing agency. And our employees will let you in on their productivity hacks.
CRM is foundational for high-quality remote work. It is the main platform for communicating with clients, accounting, analytics, and assigning tasks. We use the system called Planfix.
Provide new employees with clear step-by-step instructions for working in CRM right away
Our instructions outline how to use the system, where to find tasks and the payment report, what information they need to enter first. For us, apart from first and last name, the most important pieces of information are payment details, timezone, and work schedule. The instruction we provide allows the person to adapt to a virtual office quicker.
Adapt the CRM interface to the employee’s native language and make it user-friendly
By adapting the interface, we avoid tons of questions from newcomers during onboarding. We customize all processes as much as possible for the assignee, translate the terms into the language they understand and simplify the descriptions.
Don’t overcrowd the workspace
We divide the workspace into several main areas for employees. They look different for chief editors, editors, authors, experts, and proofreaders: each project participant has a clear overview of the tools they need and nothing else.
The central part of the workspace is the scheduler (an interactive task manager, similar to Trello). Here, the employee sees what tasks need to be completed right now and if they are high-priority. It’s also important to note that at any time, the employee can see which projects have already been completed and their payment for them. This is a visual solution for displaying operations, and this information doesn’t need to be discussed again in meetings.
2. Work Schedule and Time Zones
Here is what we learn from experience: when a remote worker indicates a certain schedule in CRM, it’s only approximate. Therefore, we always discuss the individual schedule with the person in private, learn if they have any problems or plans, what work format they’re used to, and if they know how to relax and rest.
This step is very important. Firstly, it establishes good communication with the person. And secondly, it allows you to assess risks of missed deadlines and warn the project’s editor-in-chief about them.
Take into account the timezones of all project participants
Optimal solution: to create a Telegram chat, describe each participant’s responsibilities for the project, make a note of the time zone where each of them resides (in GMT format), and pin this information in the chat along with other project details.
Assign tasks for the project in a way that doesn’t waste time
For example, the author and expert for the project live in the USA, and the editor — in Australia (this project is meant for the Australian target audience). We need to build the chain of operations in the following way: while it’s the nighttime for Australia and the previous day’s morning for the USA, the finished text from the author is checked by the expert, and all edits are made. By the time the editor starts their workday, the material is already ready for final editing and proofreading.
If the expert is in Europe, they receive the text after the editor, and the final adjustments are made by the editor rather than the author. This helps you avoid wasting time on an additional round of editing.
3. How to Pay Employees
After trying various methods and combinations, we came up with the most effective setup: weekly payments to authors, editors, and experts on Fridays. This format instantly motivates assignees to submit their work on time or even a bit ahead of schedule to make it in time for the weekly payment.
Clearly communicate (write in the contract) the format of piecework payment
We have projects where authors and editors are paid based on the volume of written text (simple SEO texts). We also have projects where we create long-term comprehensive marketing strategies. As for the latter, the format is standard — each employee is sent a fixed payment as stated in the contract twice a month.
Choose payment options that work for both parties
You don’t need to force all employees into the same e-wallet service or send payments to everyone through banks. The optimal list of e-wallets for paying an international team consists of Paypal, Payoneer, and WMZ.
4. Be On the Look-Out for Overworked Employees
We can’t stress this enough! Be watchful of employees who are new to remote work and monitor their working times. Traditional office culture makes people used to their working hours being controlled by superiors. Many remote workers find it difficult to set time for rest and work on their own. Unfortunately, these are the same people who risk quickly becoming completely burnt-out from overworking.
Keep report on employees’ workload in CRM
We offer people the freedom to manage their own schedule and income, but there can be peculiarities in the work ethic for authors and editors from different countries.
Our teammates from the USA and Canada, for example, don’t like to take on many small projects with tight deadlines. They are much more comfortable working on one big piece for a week. In contrast, authors from the Philippines, India, and South Africa tend to sign up for a bunch of small assignments and work 24/7. It’s important to monitor the quantity and quality of their work and avoid situations when they constantly overwork.
5. Motivation and Team Spirit
People tend to get sickened by repetitive tasks in remote projects more quickly than in an office. Ambitious employees need to be motivated so that they move up the career ladder. In our case, it can be an opportunity to improve their work quality, become an editor, an expert writer in their favorite niche, a chief editor (if they are ready to take full responsibility for a project and is competent at communicating with clients), a content marketer, or an SEO specialist.
Spot the most ambitious and quick-witted people on the team in time
Start discussing new prospects with them based on the results of their work. Offer them to participate in projects where they can learn, show trust, compliment their work regularly and openly (in chats with other employees!), and ensure constant support from the team on any issues.
Analyze employees’ work and offer them opportunities in niches that they find the easiest and where they perform best
This is how we expand our teams into full-fledged content departments in IT, trading, Fintech, content marketing, SEO, and other important niches.
Arrange video calls “just because”
This is essential for smooth communication within the team and relieving stress. During calls, we show our cats and dogs to each other, sometimes we go for online walks, talk about life in different cities, improve our conversational English, give each other advice, share our favorite recipes for any occasion, and learn a lot about each other’s habits.
6. Quality Control
When it comes to remote projects, the never-ending problem of balancing deadlines and maintaining quality becomes exacerbated. The vast majority of clients simply don’t have time to break down the project in great detail and gradually introduce the team to it. The client wants the material to be ready yesterday, the deadlines are getting closer and closer, and at the same time, high quality and expertise are the biggest priorities in our business. That is why we introduce quality control in several stages.
Look for and invite competent practicing experts
They are able to work quickly and professionally — check the texts for possible semantic errors, fact-check them, and point out imperfections to assignees.
Continually expand the “inspecting” staff
In our case, these are editors and proofreaders. Even the best author with a perfect command of the language and outstanding writing skills needs an editor and a proofreader. The proofreader adds final touches to expressions that can be improved grammatically and stylistically. And the editor ensures the text follows all SEO requirements so that the text appeals not only to readers but also to Google algorithms.
7. Brand Philosophy, Progress, Training
To make sure our employees are fully dedicated and treat all projects seriously (not just as a part-time gig), we select people who share our brand philosophy.
Remind employees of the company’s scale and ambitions
We are building a multinational brand, with no boundaries, as part of the Digital Nation — this is important to us. In 2020, our team became an e-resident of Estonia. This allowed us to make a significant expansion of our European partner network — both clients and experts.
Remind the remote team of the core values
These are horizontal connections, diverse perspectives, inclusivity, and equal opportunities for everyone who wants to grow inside the company. In 2020, we started actively encouraging our team members (and doing all necessary prep work) to take online courses in relevant niches on platforms like Hubspot, Skillshare, and Udemy.
Share and support the freedom of movement, coupled with decent income and fun, diverse work
Freelance and remote work aren’t suitable for everyone. Some people are looking for easy money, not aware that remote work requires you to show an unprecedented level of mindfulness, quickly get a grip of new situations, learn several unfamiliar digital tools for each new project, follow strict deadlines, and be one the same wave with the team (perhaps even finish each other’s sentences; -)).
It’s not easy to put together a remote team that you can rely on. Constantly monitoring how pieces of a virtual puzzle fall into place, distributing the workload between people across half the world, and never missing project deadlines — all of this seemed impossible a few years ago. But now we know for a fact: remote work is not as distant as it seems. How does your team work? Please share your story in the comments!