Getting your business off the ground is expensive. According to a study conducted by the Kauffmann Foundation, startup costs average around $30,000. If you’re looking to significantly decrease your operating costs, you’ve probably already considered going remote.
There are so many questions to answer before making the digital leap. How will communication work? What will the hiring process look like? You may be intimidated by the process of creating a fully distributed workforce. Indeed, making your office entirely virtual can be daunting if you feel unprepared.
If you learn to properly deal with the manifold challenges presented by a remote startup, however, you could be rewarded with extremely productive and efficient workers. You need only to identify the challenges you’ll likely face and deal with them to the best of your ability. Luckily, thanks to this digital age, there have never before been so many wonderful resources at your disposal.
Here are the 5 biggest challenges faced by fully distributed startups (and how to address them):
Scaling, by far, is the most difficult aspect of running a fully distributed team (and any team, for that matter). It can be hard to assess where your team is lacking or to scale as fluidly as traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.
How to address it: Spend the time to hire exceptional workers, ones that you can fully trust to deliver consistently. They’ll need to be the best at what they do and not require a superior to micromanage them in order for them to do it. When you find these individuals, act swiftly and scoop them up before you lose them. They are the lifeblood of any distributed company. “Growth is hard, but it’s much easier to navigate change if you know you can trust the people you’re hiring,” GitHub asserts.
Communication is often asynchronous for remote startups. You may have people in different time zones collaborating on a single project together. Emails can easily get lost due to conflicting schedules, which can adversely affect timelines.
How to address it: There is a plethora of resources waiting to be utilized. Apps designed for distributed teams like the chat room messenger Slack can help keep your team connected, pare down on email clutter and ameliorate time zone differences. Additionally, it’s important to hire those with expert written communication skills. This will greatly reduce the rate of incidence of miscommunication.
3. Lack of engagement
Connecting with coworkers can be difficult, even in a traditional office setting. Things are complicated even further when dealing with the digital barrier that so effectively keeps us communicating with each other while maintaining a certain impersonal affect. This can feel, at worst, very isolating to your employees, and may prompt them to search for another, more inclusive company.
How to address it: Organize get-togethers. Make a point of having your team meet with each other, in person. Schedule video conferences often and interact as genuinely as possible. According to Harvard Business Review research study, 87% of remote workers feel they are connected to their employers through video conferencing. When miscommunication occurs, pick up the phone and speak with them, instead of relying on all-too-easy but all-too-impersonal email.
4. Creating a cohesive culture
Expressing the values and goals of your company is always a challenge, regardless of whether you happen to be a distributed company or a traditional business. This can be even more difficult for remote startups, however. Nuances can easily be lost in the digital noise. Remote companies have to share their goals, their ideals and their culture even more vehemently and excitedly than non-distributed startups.
How to address it: Invest in schooling your new hires in your company’s values. This may slow onboarding, but you’ll be glad you spent the extra time. Your culture is the glue that holds your workforce together and allows them to work alongside each other in harmony as opposed to discord.
5. Explaining how your company will work
To the uninitiated, remote companies may sound like utter nonsense. How on earth can you expect work to get accomplished if there is no place of work? Despite the very tangible benefits of working remotely (as it cut costs for both employee and employer, reduces turnover, results in fewer sick days, higher productivity and job satisfaction), many are still hesitant to join a fully distributed workforce because of these unanswered questions.
How to address it: Spend time educating your new employees about the way you work and the values underpinning your products or services. Beyond that, you should train your new hires extensively, exposing them to the tools you employ to keep projects humming. Communication is key, and it is much better to err on the side of caution and overcommunicate. With a little guidance, they’ll get the hang of things rather quickly.
Fully distributed companies are more than likely the future of work. Saving on office space is just the beginning of the (seemingly endless) advantages of instituting an entirely remote work culture. Employees enjoy boosted morale and lowered stress, employers enjoy lowered costs and immediate access to the best talent. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, if you can appropriately navigate the unique challenges concomitant with operating a virtual office.
Growing as a team, and as a company, is an arduous task. Communication is incredibly difficult. Isolation, weak company culture, lack of engagement and general confusion about what the business does and how it operates are big threats to remote startups. Building trust, hiring good people and training them well form the foundation of a healthy workforce. Open the lines of communication with tools like Slack and do simple things to keep in touch, like scheduled video conferences, phone calls and meetups. Ultimately, making your remote startup successful is about responding to difficulties as quickly and effectively as possible. Keep these five challenges in mind as you charge forward -- but don’t forget to pivot to the problems unique to your business. Continually research, refine and reprise the way you operate your startup and you’ll surely be able to face any and every challenge that awaits you.
Ellie Martin is business and marketing writer. Her works have been featured on Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Girls in Tech, among others. She currently splits her time between her home office in New York and Israel. You may connect with her on Twitter.