Keeping track of time: Seeing where time is spent and how long projects are taking is crucial for effective remote team management. Without accurate time tracking, it’s easier to go over budget or go down the wrong path for too long before realizing how much time was wasted. This is especially important if you’re working with remote freelancers or contractors, and need to pay them accurately for their time.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Nevogt, co-founder and the CEO of Hubstaff where he leads marketing and growth. Dave has founded several multi-million dollar businesses and writes about growing startups on the Hubstaff blog. Together with Jared Brown, he leads the 100% remote team that builds time tracking and Agile project management software called Hubstaff Tasks.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
My career started in a way I think a lot of people can relate to: a cubicle, a long commute, and a corporate job that I was struggling to find meaning in.
I didn’t last long there before I started my own online golf training business in my off hours. That company took off, reaching 900k dollars in annual revenue. By the time I sold it, I was ready to move on to my first remote job.
I saw the challenges remote teams faced firsthand and knew I needed a better way to manage work and teams. Things like accurate time tracking, payments, and knowing what your team is working on were a source of frustration for me.
The idea behind Hubstaff was to make the difficult parts of remote work easier to manage, so that everyone can focus on the work itself.
Today, we’ve grown the business beyond a platform for better remote work. Hubstaff supports many different types of businesses, including those with field teams who want location-based and geofenced time tracking, or any company that wants to improve its efficiency.
We’ve been remote-first from day one and are now over 60 members strong. The business is generating close to 10mm dollars in ARR.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would say to give them freedom to be creative. When people are challenged, they perform better. What you want to do is find the people who accept the challenge, think through how to solve problems, and provide solutions. All of that takes creativity, and benefits the business in the long run.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?
I started my first business in 2003 but the first time I managed a fully remote team was in 2009. Hubstaff has been remote-first since we started it in 2012, which has allowed us to create an ideal remote work environment over the last 8 years.
Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?
To me, there are three main areas that can be a challenge for remote teams.
- Communication: Keeping others updated on progress and communicating feedback in the right way can be a challenge. Remote teams should embrace asynchronous work, which requires a heightened level of communication. The idea here is to include all relevant details in your communication so that anyone can pick up a project and run with it when they’re up.
- Keeping track of time: Seeing where time is spent and how long projects are taking is crucial for effective remote team management. Without accurate time tracking, it’s easier to go over budget or go down the wrong path for too long before realizing how much time was wasted. This is especially important if you’re working with remote freelancers or contractors, and need to pay them accurately for their time.
- Not being able to discuss projects in-person: You’ll need a default method of communicating that mimics in-person discussions. Embrace the idea of recording a video or jumping on a call after two much back and forth.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
I’ve found that there are 6 essential principles for managing remote teams:
- Don’t be a jerk
- Lead by example
- You can’t change people
- Everyone is accountable for their own actions
- No excuses
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?
It’s a lot easier to give feedback when you’re clear upfront about your goals and priorities with the project. We create detailed specifications documents for every project, and encourage discussion to help clarify the idea.
If you need to give a lot of feedback or redirect the project, a phone or video call is probably best. You can list the bullet points in a document or comment, but then create an accompanying video that walks through why you’re recommending a change or what is unclear to you.
Finally, embracing transparency can help create a culture of continuous input and improvement. We’ve created a list of Hubstaff behaviors that help our team know what to value and work toward. When it comes to feedback, two key behaviors stand out:
- # Mean it — Share opinions honestly and respectfully. Don’t be afraid to pick a side and defend it.
- # Feel it — Start with empathy. Not an assembly line. Take initiative and think with the customer in mind.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
We avoid email at all costs. Hate it.
To us, it’s not an effective medium for internal communication, nor is it a place to manage work from. Unfortunately many companies use it for both.
We use our own Agile project management tool, Hubstaff Tasks, to keep all task-related communication in one place. Rarely should you have to leave the task to find answers; everything should live within the description, attachments, and comments.
However, we follow the same advice for any communication, which is to default to a call should we have too much feedback for a comment or marked up document.
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
Over-communicate. That doesn’t mean you need to be on calls all day, or have daily check-ins. In fact, software can often replicate this without eating up your work time.
It just means to be as transparent and clear in your communication as possible. Document processes and best practices so that any team member can reference them.
Finally, you need project management software. When you’re moving from an office where you can have whiteboards or walls to pin work up, spreadsheets or physical lists just won’t cut it. Invest in a good PM tool and outline how you will use it as a team.
What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?
Celebrate the work. Dedicate a Slack channel to sharing recently launched projects and company news.
Be clear but flexible. Before you hire, make sure everyone knows the expectations for when they need to be online so that there’s overlap with other time zones. Then, understand that people might work at other hours of the day when they can be their most productive.
Encourage ownership. Give team members their own key performance metrics (KPIs) so that they can see the impact of their work, and can prioritize based on what’s going to allow them to reach their goals.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe that most roles can be performed remotely, and that remote work provides more happiness to people and families in many ways. We are working to enable people to work remotely away from offices and commutes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” I think that deep relationships are very key to happiness. You cannot be close to everyone, but you can choose several people that you are very close with and you can impact them deeply.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!