Our guest today is Andrew Alexander who manages a remote team of employees on 3 continents (United States, South America, Europe). Andrew has been a serial entrepreneur since 2011, first building a digital magazine publishing company up to 1.3 million readers. He has experience in the iOS app space, book publishing, pet products, natural foods, and is currently the Founder & CEO of the educational training platform LimitlessAcademy.com
Andrew, lots of businesses consider going remote but most of them are not courageous enough to embrace remote working as managing a remote team is not for everyone. Why did you introduce remote work/ work from home policy at your company?
In an ever-expanding global economy, the ability to find the best talent should not be limited by geographic location. One of the most vital employees to our company (our Director of Marketing) was recruited from thousands of miles away, began working with us for six months in our home office, and has been working remotely ever since. We would have never attracted him to join our team if the requirement was to relocate where we were for the long term. Since then, it became our mission to find people where they are and work around their individual needs.
We further believe that in order to attract some of the best entrepreneurial-spirited and creative talent, we should create a work-culture that fits the lifestyle needs of what people desire: freedom to choose their workspace.
Attracting diverse talent is a side benefit. Different people from different cultures have unique experiences in their lives. When a marketing campaign is not resonating with one part of the country, somebody who has been living there is able to point out things we are missing. Whether it's the local jargon or something else that we won't know from afar. As an online business, this is especially important.
Having someone local who knows the culture and can steer you in the right direction is invaluable. However, due to distance and different time zones, it may not be easy to communicate and agree on goals and priorities. Are remote workers as loyal as in-office employees?
I'm not sure loyalty is the right word, but when people work from an environment, they are comfortable in, which also balances the needs of their personal lives outside the 9-5 traditional workday - this increases employee happiness and ultimately retention. We've had one married couple who interned for us during a three-month period, only to withdraw from the company because they desired to work from elsewhere (this is before we proposed a long-distance working relationship).
Work-life balance is important, especially for employees having young children. At the same time, working from home where they are constantly distracted by other family members may lower productivity. Are remote workers more or less productive than their peers working 9 to 5?
Productivity has been one of the greatest challenges we've experienced as a remote team. We were all born into a world where someone was always standing over our shoulders to make sure we hit deadlines and to keep us accountable. From parents who make sure we do our homework every night, teachers who walk up and down the aisles while we finish a writing assignment, to the traditional 9-5 work environment; what happens when you take the accountability away?
The accountability system that was in place our entire lives is gone. It becomes easy to slip up and let things fall behind. Just like students in college who begin writing their final essay three days before the end of the semester, it is easy for many employees to do the bare minimum right before something needs to get done while taking it easy for most of the week.
In order to combat this attitude, there are tools and project management software that allow us to keep everything on track, which leads us into the next question...
Is it easier or harder to manage remote teams?
With the right systems in place, it's easy. Without them, it's very difficult.
There are many online applications we use to build out an effective remote workforce. The very first tool we have is Slack. This is a messaging app for chat, phone calls, video calls, screen shares, and different channels to communicate between different teams and on different topics. We use Asana as a task-management program that organizes all the major and sub-tasks that need to get done. There is a calendar and due-date feature attached to that. Along with weekly team meetings and visibility the management has on which tasks the team is currently working on, managing a remote team becomes a lot easier.
All-remote companies are usually ahead of the game as they need to have structure and processes earlier than traditional businesses to be efficient. Do remote working arrangements allow you to tap into a diverse talent pool?
I mentioned before that diversity has been one of the greatest assets for us. For one of our product lines, there are various trade shows across the United States. We have team members located in three cities that have grown up there and 'speak the language' of different cultures.
I was born and raised in New York. But I lived in the South, Arizona, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest. I’ve spent a great deal of time building the early stages of my business out of Europe, and I've now spent the past 14 months of my life working alongside manufacturers in a Spanish-speaking country in South America. The one thing I learned is that there are so many subtitles of different cultures and regions that a male New Yorker in his 30's couldn't understand.
By having people from all different regions on our team, we can now resonate with our customers at a whole new level than if we were all serving them from one region alone.
The final piece I want to add is that having a remote workforce is 100% completely worth it and will help take your business to a whole new level, as long as you have the communication, organization, productivity, and management systems in place to make sure it runs effectively and smoothly. Maybe not your whole team should be there, but at least open the doors for some.