How to collaborate effectively with remote colleagues
Today’s workplace is global and virtual. More and more people are choosing to work remotely, especially in the U.S. and Europe. According to a Gallup report published last year, 43% of the 15,000 American workers who participated in the study spent at least some time working remotely. That represents a four percentage point increase since 2012. Remote work’s appeal is clear to employees: more flexibility, no long commutes and less distractions. But what about employers? If you’re thinking of starting a new company, you may have second thoughts about working with people at a distance. It’s a similar story if your company has always done things in a co-located way. I spoke to successful digital nomads and freelancers in the Squads community to dispel some myths about remote work and document best practices.
Remote work. Nomad life. What do they actually mean?
First, let’s get the definitions straight. Telecommuting, or working remotely, is working from somewhere other than a traditional office, co-located with colleagues. Not all remote workers are nomads. According to wikipedia, digital nomads use telecommunications to earn their living and conduct their life in a nomadic manner. You could say being a nomad is like doing remote work on steroids. With better internet speeds all over the world, the appeal of nomadism has grown among remote workers. Socio-economic factors like high rents at large cities have also driven many young people to consider this lifestyle. It’s important for companies to recognize this trend.
Digital nomadism and remote work are popular among freelance developers, designers and marketers.
How to work effectively with remote workers
In any remote work relationship, it’s important to establish trust. If your team is not primarily remote, it’s also important to properly integrate remote workers. A 2017 study found that a staggering amount of remote workers feel shunned and left out. To avoid this, make sure you follow these best practices:
Communication is everything
Use tools like Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp to stay in touch and check-in regularly. Ewoud Uphof, growth hacker and founder of Polaris Growth, uses WhatsApp to communicate with clients. This allows clients to follow-up on assignments using voice messages while they’re on the go, so meetings don’t take a toll on their schedule. Aside from WhatsApp, most of the freelancers I spoke to prefer Slack and email for ongoing communication.
Emma Delescolle, a developer based in Belgium, cautions clients to avoid imposing artificial schedules.
“One of the primary perks of working remotely is being able to better manage your schedule,” Emma says. “If your client tries to make sure you’re at your desk the whole day, it creates a bad vibe and neither the remote worker nor the client will gain from it.”
Keep timezones in mind
Being “always on” or available is difficult when you work from different time zones, so set up times when you communicate and assess what happens when you don’t make your appointments. As I’ve written before, respect each other’s time by being on time. A tool like Every Time Zone can help you figure out time differences for meetings.
Manage your expectations
Another key thing is to set the right expectations for the work or assignment.
“If there’s anything I would tell companies is to invest time in writing a briefing,” Ewoud states. “Have clarity on what you’re asking. Having a proper briefing makes sure that you manage your expectations. This sets the freelancer up for success. Let them know what’s ok and what isn’t.”
“The most important thing about remote work is that everything must have a URL “If it doesn’t have a url, it didn’t happen.”
Use tools like Trello to keep track of tasks. Keep a shared space for assignments and deliverables on services like Google Drive or Dropbox.
Allow for a learning curve
As a designer I know often says, “remote working is an acquired skill.” Don’t give up too easily. If you have a client and a supplier that are both new to it, it can take a few months to get the hang of it. Either take the time to find experienced remote workers, or take the time to learn and to teach your remote workers how to do it.
Other remote workers I’ve spoken to advise that you allow for a learning curve and possibly do a “test gig” before you sign off on a contract.
Make sure you hire the best
Needless to say, you should also look for professionals with good recommendations or people who have been vetted through a platform. Look for people that have invested to learn the tricks of the trade. If you’re getting started as a remote worker, look for communities that will help you learn these tricks quickly. Start by looking for clients in your immediate network.
“Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get clients quickly,” says Alice, a marketer and virtual assistant based in Romania. “Give it time and keep looking. And remember that building a good reputation is extremely important, most of your business will likely come from referrals, either through your own clients or from an existing community.”
“As a remote worker, you have to prove yourself,” says Ewoud. “That’s why we focus on client satisfaction. It’s the one metric that matters for our company. I’ve been working like this for 5 years. Sometimes we turn down clients if we can’t guarantee a satisfaction score of 8 or above.”
The bottom line, if you focus on quality, remote work will pay off for the employer and the freelancer.