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How Remote Startups are Changing the Game for Everyone


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.

Remote Startups are Changing the Game for Everyone
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To be fair, many businesses had distributed teams even before COVID-19 blindsided us. In fact, according to Founders Forum’s survey of 400+ startup owners, 94% of the respondents were already working from home before the pandemic.

Nonetheless, most respondents anticipated that they’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, they’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 “remote startups� has emerged.

These startups have innovative remote work solutions that help pandemic-prep other companies. Their solutions cover a wide spectrum — 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. It’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 don’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. That’s one reason why you’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 “chilled 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 workers’ 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. That’s because they have fewer opportunities to bond informally with their colleagues.

Daily huddles are mostly about work. They just don’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. Don’t believe the hyper-real pictures of people sipping piña 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. Let’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 “in the loop� 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 “busy� 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, it’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 doesn’t dip for participants with poor internet connectivity and low bandwidth.

4. Aubot: Cutting-Edge Surveillance

While you’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 that’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?

It’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, I’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 employer’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. It’s easier to scale operations in remote set-ups. If you use software to help you scale up, it’s just a matter of expanding your database and letting the algorithms recalibrate the logistics. You don’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 don’t foot their remote workers’ internet bills or co-working space rents. Though the cost savings should not be your primary reason to go remote, it’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 don’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 don’t have to go through the hassle and expenditure of hiring and retaining staff again and again.

Wrapping Up

Since remote work has so many obvious advantages, it’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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The post How Remote Startups are Changing the Game for Everyone appeared first on ReadWrite.

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Complete Guide to Remote Work Success

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The COVID-19 world has hastened remote work for many businesses and people. The shift pushed some companies into work-from-home support that would have otherwise never strayed from the office. That’s led to frustration, confusion, and a multitude of tests and suggestions for how to find remote work success.

In our experience, what seems to do the trick is being supportive of your team and yourself. Leaders need to craft their own space and habits, then help others find similar setups. There’s no silver bullet, unfortunately. You’re going to face trial and error, mistakes, and frustration as people not only deal with new working situations but the underlying causes that have forced them remote.

So, we’ve put together this quick guide to help you start thinking about your own remote workspace and what you can to help others as a team member, leader, or manager. When in doubt, rely on your instincts and look for opportunities to be helpful and respectful to your team. Offer them support you would want in this case.

Now, let’s begin with the most crucial aspect of success, finding the space to feel comfortable enough to be productive.

black female remote worker on phone and laptop at desk
Image Credit: Christina Morillo; Pexels

Find Your Best Time and Space To Work

You can find any number of articles, guides, podcasts, and LinkedIn posts that promise you the 100% best trick to work remotely. Pick a dozen, and you’ll have a broad range of advice that often directly contradicts itself. Don’t squeeze yourself into a shape defined by someone else. Find the work style and time that best fit your natural inclination and the tasks you have to do each day.

The unfortunate news is that remote work is different from your regular office work, so you’ll need to do some testing to determine the best fit. The great news is that you, generally, can tweak and customize a broader range of things to match what you need.

Two chief areas to start with are your surroundings and the time of day that you use to tackle different tasks.

The element you might have the most control over is your surroundings. Carve out a personal workspace and get it how you like, especially in terms of temperature and things like having a fan near you.

If you need white noise, grab a small machine, hit up a music app or YouTube channel to keep you engaged. There are plenty of options for mimicking the background noise of an office or coffee shop if that’s your jam, or a pair of noise-canceling headphones can give you silence even though the upstairs neighbors are home and running around.

Another thing to check is the amount of light in your work area. Natural, brighter light can help many people find the right motivation for getting tasks done on their to-do list. Creatives often report that dimmer lights make it easier to dive into work and avoid outside distractions. Play around with your space and find a comfortable spot.

Once you know where you’ll work, get in touch with that inner voice. Talk about when you are best able to focus. When does checking email make you feel good versus frustrated? When can you tackle a project and be most effective? When are you most prone to distraction?

Understanding yourself can help you carve out portions of the day to set aside for meetings, emails, small tasks, and those more significant projects that require your focus. As a remote worker, you may not be able to set your hours entirely, but you will likely have options to adapt your schedule to what feels best for you.

employee recruitment and retention
Remote work on your time with asynchronous communication

Mix Meetings With Asynchronous Communications

Remote work eliminates most of the visual cues we have about our coworkers. It’s much more challenging to learn who is free versus busy, engaged or struggling. The remote office makes it hard to know who needs a hand or who would be frustrated by an interruption. We often feel this most when pulled into a meeting that could have been a Slack note or email.

However, there’s also the risk that someone needs that real-time check-in to avoid becoming overwhelmed or taking the wrong track on a project. So, you’re going to want to have ways to check in with people that require real-time interactions and those that can happen at someone’s leisure — asynchronous communication channels like Slack and SMS messages, emails, and notes in your project management software.

Establish regular communication policies with your team members and leadership to keep everyone on task for the week or day. Give people a chance to share updates as they start their day, not necessarily at the same time.

Meetings are a widespread, useful practice to help everyone have a chance to ask questions or discuss roadblocks. Leaders can keep these short and sweet during crunch times but allow other meetings to be a little longer and more social. Team building activities have to take place during meetings now, so include at least some weekly time for engaging with everyone. Keep things positive and encourage a deeper connection.

For project management, ask everyone what they feel needs to be done “in-person� and set tasks accordingly. Feedback can often happen in your project management tools, with links and comments to give clarity, making them an excellent opportunity for asynchronous efforts instead of additional meetings. If you go that route, however, always clarify the feedback requirements from each team member.

Support people when they need to reach out for help through whatever channel they prefer. And reach out when you need a hand.

Get Your Tools Together

The blend of synchronous and asynchronous communications is a good jumping-off point for thinking about the tools you and your teams need.

Put together multiple communication elements and try to integrate them when possible. This helps people customize interactions and can ensure they don’t miss urgent requests. For example, linking email to Basecamp or Slack for direct mentions can ensure your team sees these critical messages. Make this even more effective by limiting when someone can be tagged directly so that you have a policy that backs up and supports what teams deem as necessary.

If you’re going to need new tools, start by looking at what you already use. Get recommendations based on what integrates well with your tools, especially your CRM, ERP, and mission-critical software. If your business revolves around a specific toolkit, expand with options that support it instead of duplicating or replacing it.

You may need individual adjustments to facilitate the changes in how you work. If you now use a desktop and laptop on different days, working from files on Google Drive or OneDrive can limit any data loss or accidentally working on an obsolete version. These can also be shared with team members, keeping everyone working on the right file.

The Rise of Video

The rise in video calls and conferences will also change the tools people need. Leadership should give teams webcams, microphones, headsets, or other required business equipment. Pair that with screen sharing and recording tools to make it easy for everyone to lead when it’s their turn. Services like CloudApp can roll many screen capture and sharing tools into one option, and integrating with your messaging services makes it easier to get this information to your entire team.

On a personal note, look at your new day as a remote worker. What is working, and what is getting in the way? Where do you need help?

There is a bevy of apps to help us focus or set aside time for email versus a more in-depth, more focused project. Many are tailored to specific work styles or needs, helping you meet a specific goal. Try many and see what works. There’s a growing trend of applying the Pomodoro Technique to remote work. That’s focusing on one task for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. Rinse and repeat.

Engage With Other Remote Workers

A core challenge with remote work is the feeling of isolation. Communication tools can help with this, but you’ve got to individually work to engage with people outside of traditional work channels or discussion points if you want to create a community that can help with the burden.

Think about your last office. People stopped by desks to share news, briefly chatted when getting a cup of coffee, tried a new lunch spot together, and much more. There were multiple opportunities to build rapport, and few were pre-planned.

Remote work demands some planning. For new members and managers, an introductory chat can help people get to know each other. Keep these brief and light so that people get used to each other. Ask questions about the other person on the line to help them open up and share something and resist the urge to interrupt or immediately jump to your own story.

For broader communication channels, think about ways to share non-work items on a group level. Many companies will use specific Slack channels to share about their lives, such as photos of kids or pets, favorite vacation spots, or other news. Yes, monitor these for appropriateness, but there’s a lot of opportunities to connect and share.

A favorite thing for staff is to rely on GIFs, emojis, and images to share ideas or celebrate things. They’re an opportunity for fun and can get people excited about news or events. They’re also eye-catching, helping people pay attention — making them great ways to respond to important team news, too. GIFs associated with a TV show can also help people find a common interest and connect, without having to play 20 questions to find the overlap.

Carve Out Time For Yourself

Remote teams often face a complex work environment. Work and home pressures blend, and different priorities crop up throughout the day. Add in the fact that many families may have children at home learning or face caregiving needs, and the workday can become a challenge to manage.

You and your coworkers and employees need time for yourselves on that day, where you don’t have any specific requirements or needs. You’ll all want a moment to stop and take a break. Build that into your day and encourage your team to do the same.

Set rules for remote work hours and ensure that this includes time to take a break. If employees like structured breaks, have them share this info on a team sheet or page. If people are expected to be available at specific times, help them find a way to fit their breaks into this schedule. Keep things flexible and support your teams how they prefer.

An essential part of this isn’t mandating what someone does for a break. You can set a time limit but avoid trying to restrict activities or actions. Specifying meditation or a wellness app, requiring physical activity, or trying to get everyone on a Zoom call for stretches isn’t going to feel like a break for a portion of your team. It may instead increase stress and hasten burnout.

Let people unplug during this time, too. Respect their boundaries and allow them to set up quiet hours or do-not-disturb settings on messaging apps. Help them step back and take this time.

If you’re a leader, create this time for yourself, too. Remote cultures require more leadership by example. So, not setting your own break or continually working during the time you list as your own will set the expectation that teams and employees should follow suit. You deserve a break, and so does your team — and they’re legally allowed it in most cases, too. Make it easy to take, and your team will reward you for it.

Follow an Updated Cybersecurity Plan

IT plays a significant role in keeping operations running smoothly during remote work. They need to update and manage a cybersecurity plan that covers every employee and everyday activities. Support people as they set passwords, help them understand tools, practice anti-phishing tactics and policies, and more.

This set of 10 security tips for your remote teams can be a great place to start.

The exact mix of new actions and protocols needs to come from your experts or consultants. No pre-defined handbook or guide can tell you everything you need to do because steps and requirements change based on your technology stack. Trust your experts and implement what they suggest.

For leaders of remote teams, your significant work here is to give employees a checklist to follow and verify. Mandate its completion and offer people help when they struggle with something. Technology can be challenging even for savvy users. If you’ve never updated router firmware and changed its password away from a default, you’ll likely face some jargon that can be hard to follow.

Prep your teams, use communication tools to guide people and simplify as much as you can. One thing that works wonders in our visual age is giving people video and screenshots of each step with clear annotations.

Trust the Adults

The last and most crucial piece of successful remote work — whether you’re on the team or leading it — is to trust others. Without trust, everything else falls apart. Your business was like this already in an office. The difference is that it can be a little more difficult to check up on people and get feedback. Tackle processes there to get to a place where you have a rhythm.

Employees need to feel trusted by managers. They want to accomplish their work and get through their lists. Few things are worse than feeling like they’re always in trouble or under the microscope.

Remote work in the age of COVID-19 is already stressful. Give people some breathing room to help alleviate some of that pressure. And remember that everyone is experiencing this as a collective burden. Some days are going to be hard for team members, and some will be hard for you. Prioritizing help instead of a taskmaster approach will get your team back to performing.

Trust that your team wants to be engaged and active. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it, and trust that they will. You may have some team members who struggle and need extra support or a reminder of their role. That’s normal, even without remote work in the equation.

You and your managers have chosen the best people for the work you need done. Trust them to be up to the challenge. Work to continually build that trusting and encouraging culture to get the most out of everyone and have people who want to be part of your journey for the long term.

Top Image Credit: rfstudio; Pexels

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