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How to build a successful product with a small, remote team

No, you don't need to sit across your colleague to get sh*t done.

remote team

Remote work isn’t just a trend or the future of work anymore – it’s the reality of a modern workplace.

A recent survey by the Switzerland-based serviced office provider IWG found that nowadays, as much as 70% of people work remotely at least once per week.

For employees, home office day is a chance to change their work environment, save time on commuting and avoid office distractions that make them unproductive. For employers, on the other hand, hiring permanent remote workers means the ability to employ talents despite their location, as well as saving on administration expenses, such as rent, office supplies, and more.

I had the chance to talk to Karlis Blumentals, the co-founder and CEO of the website builder and e-commerce platform Mozello – a company that, similarly to some widely known companies like Buffer, Basecamp, and TeamGantt, has no office. Their team of six works from four different towns and cities in Europe.

The result?

The small and 100% remote team has proven to be extremely efficient and built a platform that in its functionality and usability can compete with similar solutions, created and managed by hundreds of people working 9 to 5.

”My goal was to build a platform that even my grandma could use, so that I could safely recommend it to non-tech-savvy friends. I assembled a team of three software engineers, and the rest is history,” says Karlis.

His story perfectly embodies the quote by Jason Fried, the founder of Basecamp: ”There’s nothing wrong with being small. You can do big things with a small team.”

Managing a remote team

Karlis says that for Mozello, having a remote team was a no-brainer.

”One of the founders lives in a remote village three-hour drive away from the city. While me – I’ve been working remotely for different employers since the early 2000s,” Karlis starts his story. ”There was no way I or my co-founder would sacrifice several hours a day commuting and sitting in a traffic jam. And besides that, we just didn’t have extra money to spend on things like rent, office furniture, etc.”

Today, every team member works from wherever they find to be most productive – some from home, others from coffee shops and libraries. The team communicates via Slack and uses other online tools for planning and task management.

Asked how to make the most of a remote team and assure that it’s efficient, Karlis has a few tips up his sleeve:

#1: Have clear daily, weekly and monthly goals.

Make sure everyone on the team knows their assignments and what’s expected from them.

”For instance, our customer service manager has a list of daily tasks to be done, as well as goals to be achieved during that particular month, eg., to improve response times,” Karlis explains.

Employees that know what’s expected of them are more likely to deliver the expected results. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, research shows that as much as 50% of employees don’t really know what’s expected of them at work. As a result, their performance suffers and neither they or employers are fully satisfied with the cooperation.

#2: Have a clear project management strategy and feedback process.

Following a specific project management strategy helps everyone plan their time and workload, and the entire team to move forward at the same pace.

For example, the Mozello product development team has adapted the ”Agile” approach: they follow 2-week-long task assignment batches called “sprints”, and structured weekly progress meetings.

This way, everyone knows when the task must be finished, while the weekly meetings are a great motivator not to leave everything for the last moment.

Weekly meetings are also used to give feedback, which besides progress updates is another important reason to hold meetings.

Here’s why:

In the office environment, feedback is given and received much more often than working remotely. A colleague can comment on a project over an afternoon cup of coffee, or ask a teammate’s opinion across the table. When working remotely, opinion exchange doesn’t happen that often.

#3: Have clear guidelines.

Karlis also highlights the importance of clear, put-on-paper guidelines of how things should be done and when.

”I’m talking about documented procedures, checklists, quality guidelines, etc. This minimizes the need to ask the same questions over and over again, which streamlines work process and improves the workflow,” he explains.

Again, when people know what’s expected from them, it is more likely that they will deliver it. For example, if there’s a checklist of how to tackle customer emails – e.g., answer all questions asked, add a link to more information, etc. – there’s a better chance employees won’t skip or forget the steps. That way, every answer from the support team will meet the company’s standards.

#4: Have clear security and data processing guidelines.

This should go without saying.

Make sure you have clear data processing rules, system protection, and asset safekeeping strategies in place. If you fail at this point, it can cost your company (and you!) a lot.

Think about it:

If your marketing team doesn’t handle your customer emails and other personal data right, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) can impose fines up to 20 million euro or 4% of the company’s yearly revenue, whichever is higher.

#5: Have team bonding events.

A study by Buffer, the social media account management app with a fully remote team, shows that loneliness and lack of collaborative communication are among the top two struggles that remote workers deal with regularly.

Karlis pays special attention to team building events and providing the team with the chance to socialize.

”This is especially important for team members that have to spend all day alone at the computer,” he says.

”Socialization is essential for the well-being of the team, so we have regular team dinners, occasional team events, such as sports games, as well as one off-topic employee chat channel where people can talk about whatever they want, not just work.”

Wrap up

”Essentially, when every team member knows what’s expected, what has to be done and how, clarity sets in. There are fewer questions and no misunderstandings, which allow us to work effectively, eliminating the need to be physically located in the same building,” Karlis points out.

And it’s difficult to disagree.


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