Can your business succeed with a team that works remotely?

May 30, 2013


Hiring remote workers may seem like the Holy Grail for small business productivity at first glance. Your team can avoid the daily commute to work. You can reduce overhead costs such as office space and equipment. These are some obvious perks of doing business this way. But you’ve probably also heard about what happens when things seem too good to be true, right?

In truth, there are many benefits to managing a remote team, but there are also some unexpected challenges that you may not realize until much later on.

Here are 3 productivity pitfalls that plague remote team managers and how to avoid them:

Productivity plummets because your “team” doesn’t feel like a team.

It’s natural to think that productivity will increase when your workers are no longer sitting around the water cooler gossiping (celebrity dance show recap, anyone?). But personal relationships can enhance the overall work experience more than you might realize. Have you ever had a job you hated, but you couldn’t stand the thought of leaving your friends (also known as coworkers)? The office provides a place for you to make personal connections with your peers, employers and supervisors, providing a morale boost that can help increase productivity.

How to avoid this pitfall:

Set up a virtual water cooler; a place where your remote workers can go to chat with each other about current projects and get to know each other. Get it started with a casual meeting that everyone attends. Ask everyone to introduce themselves and to share something non-work-related with the group.

Communication breakdowns cause you to become a raging micromanager.

Picture this: You assign a super-important task to one of your remote workers and haven’t heard anything in a few hours. It’s crucial that the project is done right and done on time, so you call or email to find out whether she’s on track. A few hours before the deadline, you’re bursting at the seams. Will she be ready on time? So you call again, delaying the project further and communicating that you have little faith in this person’s ability to meet deadlines. Essentially, you’ve become a raging micromanager that no one wants to work with.

How to avoid this pitfall:

Let technology do the micromanaging for you. Set your team up to work through a project management program that will allow them to post updates, track time and keep you informed about every step of the process. This way, there’s no need to interrupt someone’s work unless you see there’s a problem.

Lack of trust leaves too much responsibility on your shoulders.

When you’re sitting face-to-face with someone every day, it’s a lot easier to build trust than with someone you’ve never even met in person. That’s why many people find it harder to delegate the things that really should be delegated to a remote team member. They end up holding on to too many tasks themselves, taking them away from what should be their key focus as business owner. Also, should there be an emergency or something unexpected that pops up, there is no one primed or ready to jump in and keep the ship afloat. Tasks critical to the business are left unfinished or they’re left to less-experienced team members, putting the business at risk.

How to avoid this pitfall:

Set up an effective succession plan. This means recognizing that everyone must be replaceable – even you. This is especially true if you’d like to continue growing your business. There are two possible paths with this that you may want to consider. First, you could bring on a management trainee who you can groom to take over your role eventually, but who offers support to you and your team in the mean time. Albeit, this strategy is much more difficult to accomplish remotely, it does provide a solid end-solution.  This type of planning also allows you to transfer knowledge and skills, in prioritized stages, increasing the chances of a best-fit successor down the line.

You may also wish to take another, much different route- one where you hire remotely located folks to focus only on key aspects of your business. Since your specialists can live pretty much anywhere, your pool of candidates is unlimited and you can truly source the best of the best. These specialists will, with time, come to know more about this area of the business or industry than even you- allowing for the team’s collaborative results to truly surpass your expectations for success.


about the author

This is a guest post for the FreshBooks blog. FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.