Remote CEOs agree: Communication and team interaction are key.
Some 37 percent of American workers have worked virtually at some point in their careers, according to Gallup – a number that has increased fourfold in the last 20 years. And that means that somewhere out there, remote CEOs are working hard to herd all those cats.
Ask any remote CEO about the keys to growth, profits and success when managing distributed teams, and thankfully, the job can be summed up in just a few words: communication and team interaction.
In fact, many CEOs use the word overcommunication, pointing out that it’s the only way to combat the problem of team members becoming invisible to each other, which is the first step to team breakdown and inefficiency.
“You have to communicate much more proactively, better and more than you’d think is enough to make up for the physical and psychological distance between everyone, advises Janet Choi, Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, a company that operates an email-based productivity log.
In addition, these CEOs stress the importance of periodic face-to-face casual get-togethers or, at the very least, chat at the virtual water cooler.
With these two primary considerations in mind, it’s easy to come up with the ultimate remote CEO checklist for growth and profit.
6 Tips any remote CEO can use to be more effective, efficient, and fruitful
1. Copious communication between team members
“Our company culture of 100 percent honest and open communication also makes it easier to not be physically present,” says David Hassell, CEO and founder of 15Five, which provides a team feedback platform used by more than 1,000 companies in 100 countries.
Adds Jeff Robins, CEO and Founder of Lullabot, a strategy, design, and development agency specializing in high-performance projects for clients such as MSNBC, Tesla Motors, and Harvard University: “If you don’t communicate well at a distributed company, you don’t exist.”
At Ecquire, whose product is a sales productivity tool that allows its users to transfer data to their CRM, team members have a 30-minute call every Tuesday morning to discuss any obstacles they’re facing and how to remove them. Other companies have standup meetings once a week to review the previous week and discuss the week ahead.
2. Replicate the personal interaction that same-location employees enjoy
CEOs stress the importance of occasional in-person communication, whether it’s for meetings or for fun. “We try to meet in person for a week in a cool part of the world as a team. Sometimes we rent a beach house or a cabin somewhere and it’s exciting for all of us to look forward to that,” says Paul DeJoe, CEO & Co-Founder at Ecquire.
At Lullabot, employees enjoy using Yammer as the company’s water-cooler – a social network for the company. “Baby pictures, cat videos, and venting about client work are all an important part of human connectedness and it’s important to make a place for that,” explains Robins.
There are hundreds of great ideas for encouraging virtual team members to bond, from group videos after work to “share” a drink, to hiking together up a real-world mountain.
3. Choose the right technology to accommodate communication
For both business-related and personal communication, there are many technologies to choose from. Many companies use project management programs such as Trello, Jira, Slack, GetFlow, and Basecamp whose CEO, Jason Fried, manages his company remotely, as do many other CEOs from companies who build remote work apps.
These programs help remote CEOs track projects, work completed, work yet to be done, who’s assigned to what and more. Most allow managers to see all of this at a glance, and to communicate about each project in a space that keeps these communications organized.
What’s more, these programs work for both business and personal communications, with features uniquely suited to personal communication.
4. Set up the right structure and expectations for your remote team
CEOs of remote teams stress the importance of setting up some frameworks for remote employees. For example, one thing that can make a remote CEO fretful is not knowing when he or she can expect to get in touch with employees in different time zones and/or working at home with flexible hours.
As much as possible, try to establish set hours when communication is always possible, even if you have to have several of these to accommodate different time zones around the world.
Wade Foster advises fellow CEOs to set expectations firmly for what will be accomplished. “Manage based on that, and not based on hours worked,” says Foster, who is CEO of Zapier, a web-based service that allows end users to integrate the web applications they use.
Above all, all remote CEOs agree that you must hire people you trust to get the work done. People who are self-starters, well-organized and experienced with remote work are your best assets.
5. Offer support to all team members, no matter how far away
It’s far too easy to let remote team members go under your radar. Be mindful of the trap of spending more time talking to clients than talking to your remote employees, and take full advantage of apps such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or Appear.in for face-to-face interaction. Establish regular meetings that are solely for discussing problems that might otherwise fester.
iDoneThis’ Choi stresses “being more up front about bringing up problems, taking time for informal chat, and even making sure that you’re relating emotional context and what you’re thinking about so that information exchange and transparency isn’t just about robotic reports and plain facts and figures.”
6. Resolve problems quickly and efficiently
This isn’t always easy for remote CEOs, but there are strategies that other CEOs have learned about the hard way. Some CEOs establish regular telephone meetings whose purpose is strictly limited to problem-solving.
Others, such as Ann Majchrzak, professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, suggests that CEOs rely on online discussion boards, in whatever program you’ve chosen as shared virtual workspace, to discuss problems. That way, you get a written record of the discussion; you don’t have to wait until the next live meeting while allowing the problem to get worse; and team members can jointly arrive at a solution without anyone feeling pressured by their peers in a live session.
Just be sure to protect the team’s privacy, says Majchrzak, and establish a “point person” for each conflict, whose job is to gather all suggestions and formulate a consensus.
Following these guidelines will help any remote CEO effectively keep teams working together towards the company’s growth and profit goals. By simply taking a little time to understand the pitfalls of remote teams and set up processes to avoid them, the remote CEO can be just as efficient and effective as any same-location colleague. And you don’t have to go it alone, because Sophaya.com offers convenient, cost-effective executive coaching exclusively for remote CEOs who need to learn more about these challenges.
CEOs and team members alike can learn all the skills they need to master working remotely with Sophaya’s convenient online courses. Register today, and start building the team you need to succeed.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters