Start remote: experiences from those who’ve done it successfully

Debunking the myths that start-ups can't scale as fast if their team isn't all located in the same place, at the same time.

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Remoter
4 minute read

Start your company... remote?

With the rise of remote work and increasing buzz about this lifestyle, a lot more founders are beginning to incorporate the question of “should we start our company remotely” into their long list of decisions to make. 

“Remote work is at an all-time high, unprecedented access to global talent, startup investment keeps increasing, paid advertising channels are becoming more effective, and the list goes on.”

- How to Launch a Profitable Start-Up in 2020 - Ab Doriani

Sure, the benefits are scattered across the web, with articles that mention the same keywords over and over- productivity! Global talent! No overheads! All this and more has made the notion quite appealing but the hesitation still exists because the roadblocks standing in the path of scalability in remote-first companies is a topic in limbo. Remoter spoke with two start-ups who’ve been able to get over these hurdles, have been remote from the get-go, and are scaling successfully. 

Communication

A primary concern for remote-first leaders is the communication between them and their employees, between teams, etc. to make sure everyone is on the same page, aligned, not feeling lonely/isolated, and so on... it’s a lot to balance and to take into account. However, we think it's about being a proactive leader and prioritizing this. You need to set the expectation yourself that this is either going to succeed or fail based on how the company foundation is laid.

SafetyWing is a start-up that offers travel medical insurance for location-independent people. They simplify the once-complicated process and most importantly, make it affordable and flexible for their buyers. Remote since day one, they now have 30 team members, both contractors and employees, from 18 different countries. They’ve created some ways to maintain frequent, open communications, says CEO Sondre Rasch.

“We have weekly Monday meetings at lunch with no agenda. We have core team hours where everyone on the team is available (overlap work hours). We have Thursday meetings where we creatively build the company together, and we have 3-4 in-person team gatherings per year.” 

All-in-all, if the leader prioritizes the importance of communication and lays the foundation from the get-go, implementing initiatives to have the team talking and participating, it's problem solved. There’s no difference between sending a message to your colleague two floors up via Slack, or sending it to a colleague who lives on another continent.

Structure

As a leader, structuring how you manage your team is crucial. A potential remote-work challenge is the development of processes and workflow. Issues can delay product shipment and halt further progress. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to think problems like these are better handled in person; it simply ain’t so.

C-Minds, a women-led organization that self-descriptively “designs and deploys bold initiatives for social change,” has their CEO based in San Francisco and operations handled in Mexico City, with more operations opening in the State of Jalisco. 

“Working remotely and organizing with tech tools allows us to work with agility, iterate and deliver. We move very fast with deliverables and goals, are always learning and have a diverse international team from different backgrounds.”

Remote work allows them to coordinate seamlessly, become self-accountable with objectives set by different teams, and save time from commuting to an office everyday.

Their lab lead Cristina Martínez detailed out their processes and workflow that they've built to work for them.

  1. Zoom for meetings
  2. Slack channels to separate out different projects
  3. Asana to follow-up on milestones and tasks
  4. Google Docs to work in real time on research and work-related documents
  5. Online design tools for communications and public engagement measurement

Importance of improvement

But as a remote-first start-up, C-Minds is also aware that there is a need to constantly iterate and improve their structure. They didn't get to their clockwork performance without the hard work. 

"We are always looking out for new tools that can help us be more productive and communicate with each other better. We have been testing different solutions and have had a learning curve to understand how to use them. We discuss potential new applications as a team and work on internal pilots to see if these are useful or not, prior to deploying with everyone.  Working remotely has been a trial and error experience where we keep learning from our personalities, discussing how to manage work-life balance and understanding that it all comes down to getting things done." 

Know Yourself

You can read as many opinion pieces as you want but as a leader, it’s important to know yourself and what you can handle first. What's one way to do that? Remote Work Movement's founder Gonçalo Hall stated that he prioritizes the Myers-Briggs test with his clients before doing anything else. He thinks it is very important for people to know themselves and understand where they personally stand. For instance, are they extroverted or introverted? Are they more outspoken, or do they prefer to take a backseat and listen carefully? The benefits of being able to take those learnings and adapt it day to day is priceless.

A personal perspective

As someone working for a remote-first company, I definitely went through my own struggles and learning curves, but I was able to adjust. Some people find it harder, and some just can’t; it is not their working style. So whether or not you actually start your company remote-first, do yourself a favour and figure out how you work best before dragging other people along for the ride. The last thing you need is to realize you can’t handle this lifestyle and already have 5 people onboard and working with you.

As long as you remember it’s not going to be easy and smooth sailing, you’ll be mentally prepared to take on the challenge and see the benefits in the long run. It’s always better to start off remote than to have to transition in the middle of your journey. 

What are your thoughts about this topic? Let us know in the comments below!