What Startups Should Know Before Considering Remote Work

Max Firsau is co-founder and CEO at Accel Club. He is a serial entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in eCommerce.

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The work culture at your company is everything. With the increased use of mobile devices, employees are now more willing to work from places other than an office, often preferring the comfort of their own homes. For people who enjoy a quiet environment or working in their pajamas, this is great news, but how can this work for a startup that has yet to solidify a work culture?

There are people who enjoy going to the office because they prefer to keep personal and professional lives separate, and benefit from the watercooler chats where they can get to know their co-workers personally and create a bond. Remote working is trendy, but it’s not suitable for everyone or every organization.

In fact, I think some organizations, especially those that are first starting out, should carefully consider whether remote work is right for them. Some of the benefits of remote work can be negated when implemented incorrectly.

With this in mind, how can you know if remote working would be beneficial for your team?

Why is remote work not a good idea for every company?

A young startup may be tempted to jump on the bandwagon of remote working from the get-go. Yes, it is seemingly the new norm. However, without a strong foundation in work culture, it is difficult (though not impossible) to share your values as a founder with your team and build a foundation that ensures everyone is aligned and adjusted to working with one another.

In a setting where everyone is new and processes are created on the fly, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of establishing working relationships. You can get to know your colleagues through video calls, but we are humans, and I find in-person interactions as irreplaceable in creating introductions and new bonds. Many a time, we may not realize this but conflicts and misalignments are often resolved outside of the meetings through coffee and quick catch-ups. These moments are precious and difficult to replicate in a remote setting. If you do look to utilize remote work, the following are factors you should consider.

The workforce should trust each other and have strong bonds.

In order to be successful, remote or not, team members need to have the same goals, work as a team, have a common language and know how to solve problems as a group. Otherwise, they might work in silos and have little to no communication with each other, which can lead to missed expectations, confusion and missed deadlines.

Teams need to be very flexible and efficient.

Teams that work remotely must be extremely flexible and efficient, with everyone on board being fully aware of their role in the process. This can only happen if everyone knows what to do, how to do it and has the authority to get things done.

If teams are siloed and work in their own area, they might not feel invested in each other’s success. Remote teams must be cross-functional, with each member being able to take on multiple roles as needed.

There should be an effective collaboration platform in place.

If you allow teams to work remotely, you should make sure there’s an effective collaboration platform in place. This can include an online collaboration platform such as an online meeting room, chat applications or virtual whiteboards. Otherwise, you risk losing productivity due to communication issues.

The work environment should promote productivity.

Remote working is more effective in certain work environments. If the work requires a highly collaborative environment, your team would do better when they are together in the same location. If you have employees who work with highly confidential data, those individuals might not be able to work remotely. Remote work requires an excellent internet connection, reliable computers and secure servers. Otherwise, your employees might have their work interrupted or even compromised.

A remote working environment can help with diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

One of the benefits of a remote working environment is that it can help with diversity and inclusion in the workplace. If you have employees in different parts of the world, chances are that there will be a good mix of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

This can lead to greater creativity and innovation because people from different cultures bring their perspectives to the table. Remote working can also help with inclusion in the workplace. For example, people with disabilities who might not otherwise be able to work from an office might be able to work remotely.

There’s no absence of hierarchy when you work remotely.

One misconception is that remote working means there’s no hierarchy. But that’s not true. The hierarchy just changes. There’s no face-to-face communication, so the main way to communicate is often through written messages. If there’s a problem, team members need to be able to use written communication to bring it to someone’s attention.

They can’t just go up to a colleague and say, “Hey, can you look at this and see if it’s correct?” This written communication can lead to hierarchical structures that are just as rigid as they would be in the office. In fact, they might be more rigid because it’s harder to soften the blow of criticism when it’s delivered in written form.

The Bottom Line

Remote working can be an effective way to increase productivity and create a more flexible and inclusive workplace. However, if you are just starting out and yet to establish a cohesive work culture, your team will not get to enjoy the benefits of remote working. It can take years for a company culture to seep into every layer of the organization. Work culture is everything. It should not be compromised or neglected just to fulfill a trend.

If you choose to go 100% remote, it’s important to make sure that all team members are autonomous and motivated, that they can communicate and collaborate effectively with each other and that they have the right equipment and work environment to do their jobs well.

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