Our team is fully remote. How does that work?

In February 2018 SmartNinja will be 3 years old. For the last 2 years our team has been working remotely and we LOVE it!

Coworking in Tallinn, Estonia where I stayed for two months.

What is a remote team?

A remote team is a group of people brought together for the same purpose or project/company. While they all work for the same company they may physically be in different offices, cities, or even countries.

How did we become a remote team

For us working remotely was a necessity. When we did our first expansion to a new market in 2016 both Matej and I (SmartNinja founders) moved to Vienna, Austria. We had a fully working company in Slovenia so we had to figure out how to manage the operations remotely.

Two other team members stayed in Slovenia and we had only a couple of weeks to go from a typical company to a fully remote one. But the best motivator is always a deadline, right? :)

SmartNinjaHQ meeting in Vienna, Austria (from left to right: Miha CEO, Irena CMO, Matej CTO).

We have spent a whole month defining and writing down our internal processes. What came out was a sort of a manual to run a local coding school.

We implemented the processes into our task management tool (Asana) and assigned tasks to each team member. We kept an eye to the tasks so all the tasks were done in time. There were some issues and questions at the beginning but within the next 1–2 months all the processes were running smoothly and every team member became more and more independent. We now call this manual a “SmartNinja White Book” and we constantly improve it.

Tools that we use every day

Currently we have 10 people working full-time or part-time at “SmartNinjaHQ” (which is what we call our remote team) and 40+ people who are working at the local SmartNinja units (franchises). There are 3 tools which we consider the most important part of our daily operations.

  • Slack is our virtual office. We use it for our daily communications between teams and colleagues.
  • Asana is our project management tool where we keep track of the work progress.
  • Google Drive is our documentation system which we use instead of MS Office or similar products.

The PROs and CONs of a remote team

PROs: Freedom

Our whole team really appreciates freedom that comes with a remote working system. Everyone is free to live and work from wherever they prefer and set their own working hours.

But it’s important that all team members have good self management skills. At the end of the day the tasks have to be done. Relationship between team members and the management has to be built on trust.

CONs: Organisation and communication

The tricky part is keeping everybody on the same page so the management needs a good communication strategy. We implemented weekly video calls with all key team members and quarterly calls with everyone else. Also major announcements are being published on our Slack channel.

Weekly Hangouts Call print screen: left Matej (CTO) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, right Miha (CEO) from Tallinn, Estonia.

Conclusion

For us being a remote team was a necessity but now we see a lot of the benefits that come with it. We have spent a lot of time optimising our internal processes. We have had to find team members who can be independent and have good self management skills.

But the effort paid off. Now that our team is fully remote we no longer have any location barriers and while we plan a big expansion in 2018 using a franchising business model we have no limitations on where to be located next.

TIP: If you are a manager or a founder…

I know it can be hard to imagine managing a remote team. There are definitely big organisational changes that you have to address. But in my opinion any team can become a remote team. I think this is the future of work and why not taking the most out of it now.

If you are a manager or a founder and you are thinking about setting up a fully remote team here is a great article from the Zapier team. I wish I have found it earlier. :) Link: How to Run a Remote Team.

If you like this blog post let me know and I can write more about my experience as a CEO of a fully remote team.