Agency Framework: Managing a Remote Team
The daily life of the average American worker is changing. Advancements in digital technology and shifting priorities of the workforce have encouraged a growing trend towards more people opting to work remotely. For some, it’s a matter of necessity while for others it’s a nice perk of their career. Either way, the number of people who work remotely at least part of the time account for more than 40% of the workforce in the United States.
The reasons that employees enjoy working remotely are obvious – flexibility, time and money saved on lengthy commutes, escape from the stress that an office environment supplies and the opportunity to seek out career opportunities that would otherwise be out of their reach geographically are a few that top the list.
But what about for the agencies that employ remote workers? What are the benefits for them and is it feasible to operate effectively with a remote team in the marketing industry? What we’ve discovered is that agencies that opt to afford their team members the opportunity to work remotely benefit from increased productivity, a larger employment pool and lower overall costs of operation. With the help of some insights from our agency partners, we’ve put together this agency framework to help agencies just like yours understand what it takes to more effectively manage a remote team and overcome the challenges that can arise along the way.
How Prevalent Are Remote Work Opportunities?
In the past, there were obvious barriers that made remote employment impossible in many industries. Today, those barriers have been removed and replaced with technology and tools that enable more businesses to offer their teams the ability to work from someplace other than a stuffy office or cubicle. Also, as tech savvy millennials have settled into their careers, the idea that it’s necessary to report to an office to work efficiently and be productive has become outdated. Workforce demands have changed, and businesses have adapted.
These adaptations have come with a multitude of benefits for businesses also, and top employers are quickly recognizing what can be gained by allowing team members to work from their home, the road or their favorite coffee shop down the street.
When we asked our agency partners if they employed a remote team, the answers were all over the board. Some said no way, while others were completely remote operated. Overall, the majority of agencies responded that at least 50% of their team worked remotely. Here’s what a few of them had to say.
“About 50% of our employees work remotely. We’re headquartered in Los Angeles, but have remote offices all over the country, which is important for us in order to maintain that personal attention and care with each and every one of our clients.” – Hope Horner, Founder and CEO of Lemonlight Media
“We have a free-attendance policy – you can work whatever hours at the office or remote, as long as work gets done.” – Dmitrii Kustov, Internet Marketing Director of Regex SEO
“We have a small sales office, so 90% of our employees work remotely. It actually gives our agency a significant competitive advantage when hiring because most employees consider working remotely as a huge advantage.” – Mikel Bruce, CEO of Tiny Frog Technologies
The Ups and Downs of Working with a Remote Team
Of course, there are advantages to having your entire team in one place at the same time, which means there are some unique challenges to working with a remote team. For agencies that are in the beginning stages of offering remote work opportunities, understanding these challenges and learning how to navigate them is key to avoiding a few of the common pitfalls experienced by some businesses.
We asked our agency partners if their experience with a remote team presented any difficulties, and what their strategy was for overcoming them.
For a few of our agency partners, overcoming the challenges of remote teamwork involved adapting their own approach and redefining their talent acquisition goals.
“Quality. When I first started using remote workers several years ago I fell into the trap of looking for the cheapest hourly labor and that resulted in some very sloppy, rushed deliverables. It seemed no one was taking the time to learn about my clients and their businesses. I even lost a couple of them as a result. Thus, I quickly learned that quality is commensurate with good pay. I also learned that frequency and loyalty are huge factors — if you are using the same remote worker month after month, they can and will become a member of your team.” – Carlton Smith, President of Flagstone Search Marketing
Then, there are the more practical issues of standard daily operations that can become exponentially more challenging when your team isn’t working in a shared office space.
“The main difficulty I’ve experienced while working with remote team members is communication. Although no longer much of an issue, communication remains the most challenging issue due to the variables of software uptime and internet connectivity problems.” – Chris Kirksey, CEO of Direction Inc.
“In the beginning, the main difficulties we had with remote employees are the potential security risks and losing the general interaction effect that teams have. Security is important in our agency and it is very much instilled in our work culture. We had to plan and execute some extra security measure to ensure that our remote employees have the same network safety measures in place as the employees in our main offices. Our remote employees do not get the same benefits as our in-house employees do from an interaction standpoint. In the office, we many times have complex back and forth meetings and brainstorming sessions on the fly. This is something that we cannot always get our remote employees involved in, so advanced scheduling is needed in order to involve them.” – Andrew Ruditser, Co-Founder & Lead Technology Coordinator at Maxburst
Even with the challenges, most agencies that have tested the waters of working with a remote team are not only happy with results but have determined that it’s absolutely the best fit for their growing business. Offering remote employment opens up opportunities for agencies that might not otherwise be available.
For example, giving team members the opportunity to work remotely removes geographical boundaries in the hiring process. No longer are agencies limited to the talent pool of their home base radius. For agencies that are looking for very specialized talent, this can be key.
Some of our partners had quite a bit to say about the benefits they’ve received as a successful remote employer. Here are just a few of the highlights.
“We’re a 100% remote work agency. The main benefit is cost and flexibility – we have much lower overhead as all our people are remote and work from anywhere. We take the rent and overhead savings and pass it along to our clients. Another benefit is that each person can chose for herself / himself what is the most ideal work environment and schedule” plus, “many of our team members are younger and used to digital messaging systems like Slack and Trello. It’s amazing what can happen when you let go of the notion that communication needs to happen on certain channels and let people communicate in the way that works best for them. In the end, the work gets done, overhead is lower, and our team members are freer to construct the work environment that works for them.” – Alex Wright, Agency Lead at Alex Wright Web Design and SEO
“Remote team members have helped our agency be more agile in an increasingly competitive world. In our 15 years of business it became clear that the best team member for a particular job wasn’t necessarily one who was able to be in our office during business hours. Branching out to remote team members helped us find better matches for the kinds of roles we needed to fill.” – Chris Simental, Co-Founder of Ripe Media
When an agency is considering remote work opportunities, one of their first questions is always about productivity. When your entire team is in the same place at the same time, it’s relatively easy to manage productivity and keep everyone on track. But what happens when you’ve got team members in multiple locations, working independently – sometimes on modified schedules.
At first glance, it seems like a productivity disaster, however many agencies with remote team members have discovered that productivity actually increased in some surprising ways. In one survey, respondents said that distractions like loud coworkers, office gossip and spur of the moment meetings that interfered with their productivity at the office are no longer an issue working remotely. With these distractions removed, 86% of the respondents said they could reach maximum productivity when working alone remotely, and the majority of their managers agreed.
Remote work environments increase work productivity in other ways too. For example, agencies can focus on finding the best talent to fit the position rather than being tied down to local candidates. The right addition to the team can easily boost overall productivity. Plus, working offsite affords team members the ability to work in whatever way encourages their own maximum performance.
“They’re not different than non-remote employees. If you try to micromanage their time and don’t treat them like adults, then you won’t get the high level of quality needed. At the same time, if you don’t do your due diligence and hire people who are good and fit the culture then you’re not going to get good work. It’s a matter of hiring the right people and then treating them like adults to get their work done and do an awesome job.” Nick Leffler, Owner of Exprance
The flipside of this is that working with a remote team can hamper productivity in some ways if an agency is too lackadaisical in their approach. Most agencies find that leveraging tools to track and measure productivity, along with open communication are key for keeping everyone on track and accountable for their own work.
“Occasionally, there will be a productivity issue with someone who’s working remotely, but we’re lucky to have a team that’s as dedicated and passionate about what we do as everyone in the office. And honestly, productivity issues arise whether you’re working in the office or not. The key is providing incentives, communicating openly as often as possible, and checking in regularly with everyone outside of the office to ensure they’re happy and motivated to do the best job they can. “- Hope Horner, Founder and CEO of Lemonlight Media
“By leveraging some key SAS base services, we are able to manage our remote employees much more effectively and hold them accountable for their time and work. We use Time Doctor, Asana, and Harvest together to keep track of how long they spend on certain projects/tasks and review their work in real-time when needed.” – Andrew Ruditser, Co-Founder & Lead Technology Coordinator at Maxburst
Staying in the Loop with Effective Communication Strategies
Speaking of productivity and communication, how on earth do you manage to keep everyone on the same page when you’re working with a remote team? This is especially a challenge for agencies that are accustomed to working close together in office spaces. When you’re constantly within earshot of each other, it’s easy to bounce ideas off of one another and keep track of updates.
Does this all go out the window with a remote team? The answer to that question is a resounding “no”. Open communication and keeping everyone updated and working in a forward projection are necessities. Agencies that employ remote team members need to be smart and proactive about encouraging regular communication. Thankfully, today agencies have some great tools at their disposal that makes this easy.
“Slack has been an amazing tool for this. It really changed the entire remote team dynamic. With Slack, it’s like we’re all involved in team conversations just as we would be if we were all in the office. As the owner of the business, I find it really useful to have alerts set on important projects so I can stay involved in the conversations.” – Chris Simental, Co-Founder of Ripe Media
“Our #general channel on Slack is like the water cooler, and no one is left out. The notion that everyone needs to be in the same room at the same time is based on expectations formed during work styles of a certain generation. Younger generations don’t have those same expectations. Watch people communicate and work how they want and you will quickly see that if you let go of expectations, great things can happen.” – Alex Wright, Agency Lead at Alex Wright Web Design and SEO
“We keep employees in the loop by doing weekly meetings on Google Hangouts using live video. We also do regular check-ins twice a day and also fly the employees to HQ a few times a year for training and teambuilding.” – Rick, Hogan, CEO & Co-Founder of Bleevit Interactive
Keeping Up Morale with Remote Teams
Finally, we come to an area that sometimes gets neglected in remote work environments – morale. When you’re working with a remote team, it’s important to remember that even with all its perks, a remote work opportunity can be extremely isolating for your team members. They can go hours, sometimes days, without any outside professional contact – leaving them to feel as though they are alone, floating out to sea.
When working with remote team members, it’s absolutely crucial to make inclusion a priority. You need to take actions to ensure that everyone feels as though they are part of the same team, working towards the same goals. Regular check-ins and an open door communication policy regarding questions and concerns are key to keeping happy, productive team members.
“I make it clear that team members know they can always reach out to me if they are feeling stuck, or even having personal issues. Once a team member told me he felt isolated, so I scheduled bi-weekly 15 minute check-ins. A company is only as strong as the team, so it’s important to make people feel cared for, even if they are thousands of miles away.” – Anna Colibri, CEO of Colibri Digital Marketing
“Give everyone the same tools no matter where they are. Meetings should facilitate the whole team and not make any type of teammate left out. That sometimes means it’s OK to have team meetings as if everyone’s remote even if some are in an office.” – Nick Leffler, Owner of Exprance
The Future of Your Digital Agency
Digital marketing is an industry that’s very well suited for supporting remote working environments. There’s no reason to limit yourself based on outdated standards of practice. Many of our agency partners have had great success with their remote teams, and we encourage you to discover more about how remote work opportunities can help expand the boundaries of your business. We’d here to answer all your questions and introduce you to a network of agency professionals. Contact UpCity today to learn more.