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Four tips to help startup founders develop a high performance remote team

Monday, 20 July 2015 | By Kyri Theos

The world of work is changing.


According to the ACMA, almost 40% of SMEs now allow staff to work remotely.


Flexible work options have become an important tool for startups wishing to attract high quality candidates, and retain them over the long term.


But business leaders still struggle to adapt traditional management practices to this new way of working. So how do you manage your remote workforce in a way that delivers results?


My team at Upwork is distributed in five locations across Australia. I’ve learnt that with the right techniques, a remote team can be just as effective as an on-site operation.


Here are four strategies that are essential to developing a high performance remote team:


Find the right people

Remote work isn’t for everyone. It usually means working alone without the social aspects of an office environment. Your team will need to deliver results without direct guidance or oversight from managers.


This means you need people who are self-motivated and can manage their own workflow. You’ll largely be communicating online and primarily over e-mail or chat. Without the non-verbal cues that exist in face-to-face interaction, it’s important that your team has strong writing skills and can express themselves clearly.


Work to outcomes

Getting results with a remote workforce requires an emphasis on outcomes. Rather than tracking daily activities and tasks, agree on project milestones and deadlines with your team. Give your staff the flexibility to manage their own time to achieve those results.


At Upwork we set monthly, quarterly and yearly performance goals linked to measurable business metrics. The team submits a weekly report every Friday, including highlights of the week, challenges they are facing and how they are tracking on KPIs. This means we can identify issues early and provide support when it’s needed.


Communicate consistently

When managing a remote team, communication should be scheduled in advance. It’s important to establish clear rules for how and when interaction will take place. This provides a sense of stability and structure for your team. Remote staff should know how quickly they must respond to e-mails and phone calls. This builds a standard of professionalism and encourages reliability.


At Upwork we schedule team video calls every week and one-on-one calls every fortnight. Here are a few of the tools we use to stay connected:

  • Flow and Trello: for task management and tracking
  • Google apps: for document collaboration and shared calendars
  • Skype or Google hangouts: for video calls and team chat
  • Receiptbank: for receipt tracking
  • Jing: for screen recording and sharing instructions


Build a team culture

Working remotely can leave people feeling invisible and unappreciated. It’s important to give regular feedback and recognise good work. Constructive criticism is equally important. It ensures your relationship is focused on progressing, learning and achieving your goals together. However the truth is, the quickest way to build a relationship is in person. At Upwork we arrange team get-togethers every year and meet in person at least twice a year.


With some smart planning and simple strategies, you can build a remote team that delivers strong results and provides the flexibility to stay competitive.


Kyri Theos is Country Manager at Upwork in Australia

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