Based on our history, we can see that unprecedented events have the potential to cause permanent mass changes. Remember the 9/11 attack? That attack changed the face of airport security forever. Suddenly, new transit rules were enforced and sophisticated surveillance gear became commonplace. Here is how remote startups are changing the game for everyone.
Likewise, the pandemic has forced businesses to embrace remote working. Like it or not, we have been forced into the largest work-from-home experiment possible, without any prior warning.
To be fair, many businesses had distributed teams even before COVID-19 blindsided us. In fact, according to Founders Forumâ€™s survey of 400+ startup owners, 94% of the respondents were already working from home before the pandemic.
Nonetheless, most respondents anticipated that theyâ€™d be back to their desks within a maximum of six months. But with the pandemic showing no signs of abating in the United States and elsewhere, theyâ€™ve been forced to rethink their business plans.
While many businesses have taken to remote working like fish to water, some are struggling to come to terms with the new normal. To help them make the transition, a new breed of â€œremote startupsâ€� has emerged.
These startups have innovative remote work solutions that help pandemic-prep other companies. Their solutions cover a wide spectrum â€” from meeting schedulers to gamified learning applications. Their goal is simple: help their tribe make the paradigm shift towards a brighter, remote-friendly future. And, to make a few bucks in the process.
Remote Startups: Turning Adversity into Opportunity
Virus or no virus, our business ecosystem is ripe for remote work. Itâ€™s just that startups are better poised than enterprises to capitalize on the remote opportunity.
Startups are uniquely positioned in the business landscape. Their constraints (budget, staffing, opportunities, etc.) compel them to look for out-of-the-box solutions. A startup needs to be on the top of its game to beat the big players and remain relevant. If they donâ€™t come to grips with new situations soon enough, they have a lot to lose.
Considering their flexible mindsets and dynamic states, startups can pivot more easily and adopt a remote culture. Thatâ€™s one reason why youâ€™ve likely seen an increase in the number of SaaS startups since the pandemic set in.
Newly-remote companies face more roadblocks than a startup will, which impacts both owners and workers.
1. Dip in Productivity
Mega brands like IBM and Google found that their productivity plummeted when they went all-remote. Yahoo, Aetna, and Best Buy reported similar trends. All of these businesses had to roll back their remote work policies and call employees back on-premises.
Upon closer inspection, I have identified a few factors that hamper productivity in remote settings:
- Less face-to-face supervision: Trust is an issue between remote cadres. Often, managers worry that their out-of-sight teams are not sincere about their working hours. They may be tempted to micromanage their teams, which adversely impacts performance and morale.
- Tons of distractions: In a Buffer survey of remote workers, 10% of respondents said they struggle to keep distractions at bay when working from home. They find it hard to focus on work in their â€œchilled outâ€� space. This is a friction point for most people who fail to create dedicated workspaces for themselves.
- Out-of-sync teams: The communication gap between co-workers can throw the entire team off-track. Although there are many collaboration tools (like Slack and Trello) available, they do have a learning curve that can be hard for non-technical folks. While teams take time to get up to speed, productivity can take a beating.
- Lag in information access: Remote employees spend more time and effort locating information pertinent to their tasks. This can delay time-sensitive projects and slow down the pipeline.
2. Unhealthy Employee Morale
Happy employees are more productive, satisfied, and loyal to their companies. Sadly, remote employees are more prone to pangs of loneliness and isolation, which can pull down their morale.
The funny thing is that 59% of remote managers are least concerned about their workersâ€™ emotional well-being, which has a cascading effect on team morale.
- Lack of team camaraderie: Remote workers often feel a sense of detachment from the rest of the team, according to a Harvard study. Thatâ€™s because they have fewer opportunities to bond informally with their colleagues.
Daily huddles are mostly about work. They just donâ€™t have the same de-stressing effect as random water cooler encounters with colleagues.
- Lower visibility: Employees in hybrid teams feel left out and mistreated, according to the Harvard report cited earlier. Being out-of-site, they feel managerial positions are out of their reach. If the scope for professional growth is limited, employee churn is inevitable.
They also complain about managers favoring in-office staff, even if they are less competent. Location disparity is a breeding ground for such negative sentiments.
- Difficulty to compartmentalize stuff: 22% of work-from-home employees struggle with unplugging, states the Buffer report. Donâ€™t believe the hyper-real pictures of people sipping piÃ±a coladas on a beach next to a laptop.
Remote work is not one long vacation. In fact, extended hours due to lack of discipline can play havoc with their personal lives. This is especially true for people who fail to draw clear lines between work and home.
3. Technical Challenges
Teams in different locations rely heavily on tools and technology to make their working seamless and easy. They need to use software for team communication, project management, training, and reporting.
Employees, as well as managers, need to be trained to use these new technologies. This way, all of the above fears about employee productivity, engagement, and focus can be assuaged to a great degree.
However, 38% of remote workers claim to have received no special training from their managers to help them get acquainted with these tools, according to the Owl Labs research stated earlier.
Thrust into a dark space with no light to guide them, employees often stumble. They are unable to give their 100% to work.
There have been instances where companies have lost business due to poor client communication. Being technologically challenged, they were unable to revamp their communication strategies. Had they transitioned from pushing files to email workflows, the scenario would probably be very different.
Huge problems are huge opportunities in disguise.
Just like the SARS outbreak, which drove innovation and research in diagnostics and health, the current pandemic is also producing many heroes.
For remote startups, all of the above glitches have acted as catalysts of change. Letâ€™s see how.
How Are Remote Startups Transforming Businesses? 4 Use Cases
Remote startups have a great ideology. They develop state-of-the-art solutions to help companies get used to remote working. By doing so, they help mitigate the aftermath of the pandemic and make the business world a better place.
Among the current crop of remote startups, these are my top four picks:
1. Eloops – Keeping Employees Engaged
In distributed teams, employee engagement is critical. The US-based remote startup, Eloops, keeps employees â€œin the loopâ€� by means of surveys, gamified learning, and virtual check-ins.
Using the platform, you can build custom apps for your employees to download. The apps offer social and engagement tools, personalized inboxes, gamified onboarding sessions, and a lot more.
To build rapport with your out-of-office teams, you can create contests, quizzes, and challenges. You also get access to effective team-building ideas and tools. In short, Eloops lets you align your internal and external teams in a fun, breezy way.
2. Plann3r: Scheduling Meetings Smartly
Meetings are an integral part of remote work. Depending on your role, you might need to schedule and attend meetings with your teams, prospects, and clients.
Plann3r, a remote startup from Belgium, helps you create slick-looking meeting pages in minutes. In this meeting scheduler, you can sync your calendar, import agendas from other apps, and customize your meeting interface.
You can plan your availability and highlight your â€œbusyâ€� slots. In short, you can achieve reasonable time management and stay on schedule.
3. Proficonf: Staying Connected in Real-Time
There are many prerequisites for hassle-free remote management. Staying connected with partners, teams, and clients is one of them. Video conferencing facilitates synchronous communication where participants can share screens, exchange files, and chat on the side.
In this space, the Ukrainian remote startup, Proficonf is doing wonders. Through this video conferencing platform, you can experience HD-level video quality, without dropped calls or data breaches.
Since the application is web-based, itâ€™s light-weight and can work in browsers. The auto-recording feature makes your meeting highlights available at all times. This can come in handy for repetitive training sessions and sales pitches.
The solution works on adaptive telecommunication technology. In simple terms, the video quality doesnâ€™t dip for participants with poor internet connectivity and low bandwidth.
4. Aubot: Cutting-Edge Surveillance
While youâ€™re working from home, who is keeping an eye on your office premises? Telepresence robots can.
Fitted with dual cameras and sensors, these nifty robots stalk your office and stream their footage to your phone, tablet, or PC. This way, you can ensure the safety and operability of your office space.
I know. One remote startup thatâ€™s been taking giant strides in this domain is Aubot. Their main product, Teleport, is a telepresence robot that lets you monitor your office from any part of the world.
The robot can adjust its height and change angles to bring objects into focus. From the comfort of your home, you can control the robot using a web-controlled interface.
Such solutions take the stress out of office supervision so you can focus on more productive chores.
Where Are Remote Startups Headed?
Itâ€™s obvious that remote startups have a great present. But what about their future prospects? Is there any scope for their survival when things return to some kind of normal?
Remote work is here to stay and so are remote startups. While the future is a blank page right now, Iâ€™m confident that remote work will become the norm.
Favorable stats about remote work from the Owl Labs survey:
- 71% of people actively seek out employers who let them work remotely.
- 51% of on-site workers are keen to work from home. 24% will take a pay cut if they are allowed to keep flexible schedules.
- On average, workers with remote experience draw $100K more than those who have never held a remote job.
All of these facts are a reflection of the popularity of remote culture and its viability in the future. From the employerâ€™s perspective, remote teams offer many advantages, including:
- Larger talent pool. Hirers can take advantage of top talent even if they are not in close proximity. Businesses that are open to expanding their team by removing geographical barriers have a better chance of finding people with the right skill sets.In fact, the above survey found that fully-distributed teams hire 33% faster than their local counterparts.
- Stronger diversity of thought. When you look outside your bubble, you can access people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. They bring varied perspectives that enrich your team.A McKinsey study found that diverse teams are 30% smarter than homogenous teams. And they are able to achieve their business goals more efficiently.
- Easier scaling. Itâ€™s easier to scale operations in remote set-ups. If you use software to help you scale up, itâ€™s just a matter of expanding your database and letting the algorithms recalibrate the logistics. You donâ€™t have to buy new furniture or office space to accommodate new members.
- Lower operational costs. For small businesses and startups, every penny counts. When you do away with brick-and-mortar offices, you save on rentals, equipment, and consumables.Most businesses donâ€™t foot their remote workersâ€™ internet bills or co-working space rents. Though the cost savings should not be your primary reason to go remote, itâ€™s certainly a big perk.
- Better retention rates. Remote employees tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. With proper time management, they are able to strike a work-life balance. Plus, commute-free jobs mean no stress of travel, which leaves them with more free time.Nestled in their homes, they donâ€™t bear the brunt of office politics (mostly). Overall, they are a happier lot, which is why they stay longer in their jobs.
For employers, this means lesser attrition and greater stability. Moreover, they donâ€™t have to go through the hassle and expenditure of hiring and retaining staff again and again.
Since remote work has so many obvious advantages, itâ€™s very likely that it will replace traditional offices altogether. And as more companies go remote, the demand for remote-friendly products will keep growing. Now you know why I said that the future of remote startups looks very bright.
What are your thoughts about remote work and startups? Share them in the comments below.
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