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Are remote teams the future of business?

“The future we imagined for 2030 has been pulled forward to the present, with everything going digital by default. It won’t be the biggest companies or the strongest brands that survive, but the ones most adaptable to change.”
— Tobias Lütke, CEO of Shopify.
 
There was basically no warning before ‘normal’ life just stopped abruptly back in March (though I’m not sure a “Heads up, everything is about to change!” would have actually prepared anyone for how drastic it’s been). As we’ve collectively done damage control in the months since, companies with the privilege of continuing to operate during shelter-in-place restrictions have had to negotiate the new parameters almost overnight, and likely with no previous experience to lean on for guidance. Here at UrbanBCN Worldwide, it’s been a lot of thinking on our feet, and adjusting as quickly as we can to what feels like ever-changing circumstances. 
 
Not sure if I’ve been influenced by all our start-up neighbors here in San Francisco, but I’ve always operated UrbanBCN Worldwide as a pretty lean organization. As you might imagine with a transportation service, there are (literally) a lot of moving parts, but that hasn’t required me to ever commit to a brick-and-mortar location, and I’ve never asked anyone to ‘come to the office’ for a meeting. My management staff has only ever been 100% remote, and today they operate globally with our network of chauffeurs and affiliates. Distilling down to maximum efficiency has definitely required a decent amount of trial-and-error over the years, but I’m grateful to say we’ve pretty much gotten it to a science. Not only is our system working, but it’s supporting continued growth and expansion, with strong numbers to prove it.
 
As restrictions are tentatively starting to lift around the country, there have been a lot of conversations about next steps for businesses facing yet another period of transition — this time into whatever the ambiguous ‘new normal’ will look like. Notably, CEO’s from several major companies are pointing to the ways the pandemic has accelerated the shift to a more digital work environment, something everyone probably always assumed was inevitable, but perhaps wasn’t expecting to see quite so soon. On the heels of Business Insider proclaiming ‘your job is never going to be the same again,’ and Facebook confirming that their employees will continue to work from home post-pandemic (despite their notoriously luxe company workspaces), it’s beginning to become increasingly obvious that the economy, and how it operates, is changing dramatically in the wake of this historic contraction and subsequent reckoning. 
 
With that in mind, I wanted to share my top 3 tips for managing a team of remote employees. Obviously I’m not operating on the level of Facebook and Shopify, and I’d never claim to be an expert — in anything, really — but I am a guy who’s built a thriving business from the ground up, and I’ve dedicated a lot of energy and thought to the internal structure here at UrbanBCN Worldwide. Maybe something I’ve learned will resonate with you? Either way, flexibility in business is clearly more of a critical strength than ever, so what the hell, let’s chat for a minute. 
 
TIP 1:  Hiring is EVERYTHING. 
Initially this is obvious — you need employees you can trust to not waste your time and your money, and who will be self-sufficient enough to work from home, or at least out of your direct sight, and actually get something done. Great. But of course it’s not that simple. And this is the part where I’m going to say something a little controversial: I truly believe that if you’re looking for reliable staff, and you have the opportunity to keep things kind of close to home, hiring someone who already has a relationship with you can be a huge advantage. So many people will say that it’s risky to work with friends, and I guess it does depend on who your friends are, but in my experience, bringing people on who already have a vested interest in you as an individual and, by extension, in the success of your company, can be one of the more impactful decisions you make in support of building a strong foundation. And before you go all worse-case-scenario, this ties in to Tip 3, so just keep an open mind for a second. But speaking specifically with regard to what has benefited my company, word-of-mouth recommendations and enterprising on existing connections has been critical in building the insanely talented and loyal team I feel so grateful to be working with.
 
TIP 2:  Don’t skimp on your software. 
There are so many different ‘office management’ interfaces, and their usefulness is often industry-specific, or really just determined by how you personally want to run your business. Unlike basically every other transportation company I know of — and I get feedback all the time that I’m insane for doing it this way — but UrbanBCN Worldwide does not ever take reservations over the phone. It’s via our website form, by email or text only. So I do not play around with my software: the continued success of my business literally depends on an organized and comprehensive digital system. I would encourage you to take the time to research what option is best designed for your needs. Before you commit to something, ask everyone you know in your industry if they have a suggestion. Get advice, and then get a second opinion. It is so much easier to make one fully informed decision, rather than getting two months in on a system you spent significant money setting up only to realize that it doesn’t work for you at all. Trust me, I learned this one the hard way. I personally like Front App for email management, Slack for internal office communication, Ring Central (VOIP) and Sneek for video meetings with remote employees. You can listen to a more in-depth explanation of my software trials here
 
TIP 3:  Create a strong company culture, and bring everyone in.
Give your employees the information they need for success. If you have people scattered across states and timezones, it’s important to make sure they are all brought up to speed on the values and work flow of whatever you’d consider to be your ‘core’ team, or ‘home base.’ When UrbanBCN Worldwide experienced its biggest expansion moment, and we went from having 5 to 26 vehicles overnight, we also absorbed a lot of existing staff from the company I’d acquired. I immediately transitioned them all from an office environment to remote positions. So it can be done, with the right strategy. Establishing strong training and protocols right from the beginning can prevent so many bottlenecks and misunderstandings later on. The other benefit of this is that the people who aren’t willing or able to get on board will become almost immediately obvious, and then you can address that as you see fit. Time management, deadlines, expectations — all of these things require a little extra communication when you aren’t actually physically there to check up on your employee’s progress. Developing your own style of management and inviting everyone into that culture is key for cultivating a streamlined — and happy — team who knows exactly what is expected of them. 
 
Helpful? Let me know. I’m always available for feedback, or for going deeper (this is obvious if you ever listen to my podcast, The Blind Spot).
 
In the end, yes, these are ‘unprecedented’ times, but also a great opportunity to flex your adaptability muscles and see what you’re capable of … I think we all might surprise ourselves if we try. 
 
Until next time,
Dave
 
The opening quote was excerpted from a recent Business Insider article.

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