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The benefits and challenges of building your remote team

Stack Overflow recently published a report that found nearly half of developers (44 per cent) value the opportunity to work remotely. It’s well known that developers value the perk of remote working but these days geographically disparate teams can be found in all sectors.

Companies with a remote workforce are among some of the most successful in the world - WordPress, AirBnB, and Buzzfeed allow at least 50 per cent of their workforce to operate remotely. For a decade or so, remote working has been for most an aspiration rather than a reality, and despite the availability of fast internet, laptops and smartphones, it’s never become the norm for most businesses and employees.

The recent popularity of hot-desking and co-work spaces in major cities across the globe, including in holiday destinations like Bali, has made it easier for those working remotely or abroad to feel less isolated, and has also gone some way to counteracting the suspicion or reluctance some bosses felt about allowing employees to work outside of the office.

Provided internet is fast and reliable, it has provided everything both the employee and employer need to make remote working a reality. Collaboration tools like Google drive, Trello for managing team workflow, Skype, and our very own developers’ chat platform, Gitter mean that you can keep up to date and collaborate on projects from wherever you like. Want to work in a warehouse in New York? Fine. Beach in Thailand? No worries.

I have personally found that working from outside of the stuffy confines of an office can do wonders for creativity.

I started Gitter after leaving Skype when I took time off to not only recharge, but also to start fleshing out ideas for the business. I did so in the French Alps where I rented a chalet for a season with my wife; it had an amazing study with views over the snow-capped mountains and the level of freedom I felt there with the constant ability to just pop out for a quick early morning snowboard then spend the rest of the day into the night working was quite liberating.

The fresh air combined with getting away from the intensity of the city stimulated my creativity and productivity and the goal was to create a company where being able to balance a personal passion and desire with a traditional and professional career was truly possible. We now have two thirds of our total staff (6 out of 9) working remotely.

Remote working is empowering for both the employee who is trusted to work hard and with minimum supervision as well as the employer. Factors that often lead to the loss of staff such as the job impinging on other factors outside of work disappear when you give your team the freedom to work remotely. It also of course has the handy benefit of saving the business money on office space and utility costs, and allows people in different time zones to work meaning the business can keep going 24/7 if necessary.

However, there are some challenges that need to be thought about long and hard. Working up a mountain or on a beach can be great, but the effect that being isolated from your colleagues can have on morale is sometimes sharply felt. When a team has a success, usually they might go to the pub after work or have a meal or a party. If your team is split all over the world the same kind of celebration obviously doesn’t work.

This is when face time becomes important. Even if just for weekly or monthly project check-ins a bit of sociable video chat over Skype can perk the whole team up and keep everyone focused and happy. At Gitter we try to have a video chat whenever possible, but this may not be necessary for others. Of course there are strategies for managing these issues, but it is something that needs to be considered.

Your employees should be well aware of the company culture (something which can easily get forgotten with remote workers, particularly if they begin as remote workers), and be kept aligned to the same bigger goals when communication is not as constant or natural as it would be in an office. Often messaging can be a great substitute for a face to face, but sometimes email and more structured forms of communication may be more suitable. Equally, people can spend too much time back and forth on chat or email where a 10 minute video call can sometimes resolve things faster and more amicably.

Great communication among an external group of remote employees is even more important than if you were all in the same office together. The benefits of remote working and structuring your business in this way are prodigious.

If both employees and employers are committed to the process and some structures are in place, there’s no reason why you can’t find success, happiness and new found levels of creative ambition with a remote workforce.

Mike Bartlett, CEO and Co-Founder, Gitter (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/bikeriderlondon