Are you considering the benefits of remote work?
Our DevriX CEO Mario Peshev spoke at WordCamp Europe 2016 and shared his advice for anyone considering a remote team or those who already manage a remote WordPress team. Since a huge part of his experience is with WordPress, the examples he uses come from this industry, although his suggestions can be applied to a lot of different domains.
As he says, “if heart surgery can be performed remotely, no manager of an online business has an excuse for not going the distributed route.”
Mario started out as a code geek and IT professional before slowly getting involved in project management and marketing, all of which resulted in him starting up DevriX. DevriX is a distributed WordPress agency that has employees on three different continents.
We offer Software as a Service and large scale WordPress solutions, using retainers for ongoing development. At this time, we already have six WordPress contributors on the team and quite a few members, who are active, in the WordPress community.
Watch the video below or continue reading for a summary of the talk.
Business Direction and Leadership
Before considering remote employees, Mario recommends you take a close look at the direction your business is going. You need a plan for the next 3 months, 6 months, or perhaps even 3 years, in order to know what to do right now.
It is your job to first come up with a really clear plan and strategy and then find people who have the same values as you and understand your mission.
Your leadership must represent you as best as possible. As your team grows, you won’t be able to talk to everyone and it will be the managers on your team that will have to take over. Also, under no conditions should you allow toxic people near your employees or clients, because they can kill your business.
Next, identify the key positions that you need to hire for. Those will differ depending on your industry. Knowing what positions you need to fill will tell you what core hard (technical) skills your employees need to have.
Qualities of a Remote Employee
Apart from the hard skills, a remote employee needs to have certain qualities. In fact, hard skills are not that important since they can be learned. A remote employee needs to be accountable, a good team player who is self-driven and motivated. Remote employees often lack motivation because they do not feel part of the team due to distance.
The perfect candidate will also be a fast learner and will find solutions to problems on their own. Instead of being “taskers” they will be decision makers who take ownership of a problem or product. They should be able to wear multiple hats.
Wade Foster from Zapier gives the following advice:
- Hire doers.
- Hire people you can trust.
- Trust the people you hire.
- Hire people who can write.
- Hire people who are ok without a social workplace.
Mario mentioned the ROWE model: Results Only Working Environment. It differs from telework in two significant ways. One, the workday is not fixed and working from home or taking some time off does not require permission.
Two, what is being tracked and rewarded is efficiency and not face time. Mario recommends rewarding people, who perform well, by giving them more freedom or time off to recharge.
Of course, exceptions exist. Customer support and client calls require you to be available at a certain time. However, a lot of jobs are creative, including those of designers, developers, and marketers. These jobs require a certain attitude and motivation to do things well and thus, the ROWE model is well-suited for them.
How to Hire Remote Employees
When writing a job advertisement, make sure it is as detailed and descriptive as possible and that you put the focus on the interpersonal skills you are looking for. The qualities you should ideally be considering are communication, responsibility, logical thinking, etc.
Do trial projects and trial milestones. The guys at Modern Tribe say “Hire slow, fire fast”. Mario recommends giving everyone a chance with safe (usually internal) trial projects where there is no risk of ruining client work.
Give people work and measure their core interpersonal skills. You will find that some people are high performers (as coined by Chris Lema) although they didn’t look great on paper.
At DevriX, we only hire 2% of the people that apply. Too many people are just not built for remote work, even if they make great office workers.
Use the Agile Working Model
Communication within a remote WordPress team is key. Since the team cannot meet face to face and discuss the workflow, everything needs to be online and set up in such a way that even if someone misses a day of work, they can quickly be updated.
At DevriX, we have Monday Kick-off meetings where we discuss the weekly sprint of tasks we will be working on. The meeting is in Slack and leaves a written log, where anyone who missed the meeting, can read about it later.
We use Asana to schedule and assign all tasks and while everyone has their own, Asana helps us keep track of each other’s progress because there are always interdependencies within the team.
We have daily standups to direct and navigate, as well as weekly reviews every Friday to ensure there are no delays that need to be communicated to the client. This process ensures that everything is trackable and it is always clear what’s been done and what hasn’t.
Harness the Power of Tools
At DevriX, we use a lot of tools and we always try to automate as much as possible so that there are fewer things to think about on a daily basis. Everything you do more than twice or three times a day and lends itself to some sort of automation, scripting or standardization should be automated.
You can use GitHub for version control and Travis for continuous integration. Flow all tasks, commits, and projects into Slack or HipChat. We have all our tasks in Asana. We can then get work estimates which we convert into reports. We review the reports to see who’s on time and who’s slow and for what reason.
If someone is being slow, we communicate with them appropriately to see what’s going on. In the end, we use the information to generate invoices for our clients.
Mario initially thought he could build a horizontal working environment but quickly realized it was not for him. Instead, he opted for working in smaller teams on projects. As a distributed company, on three continents, DevriX’s employees work in different time zones and streamlining communication can get difficult. The fewer people working on a project, the easier said communication is.
This is why vertical hierarchy is a bit simpler, especially if you also have project managers to help with the organization of the team. In any case, make sure everyone has direct access to the CEO or main decision maker so that they can contact them if they feel silenced or mistreated by others for any reason.
- Ask Me Anything Session for ManageWP with Mario Peshev
- 10 Tips for Keeping Your Startup Business Growing
Employee Retention Tips
While our on-site team here at DevriX regularly meets for beer and hookah, this is not an experience that all our teammates can partake in. This is why we have offtopic and chill chats in Slack. Mario and the rest of the management also follow employee’s social media and share our personal wins in order to make the team feel like… well, a team.
Friday late afternoon – wrapping up remaining tasks and preparing sprints for the coming week 🕵️ pic.twitter.com/qhyTS8DACx
— Mario Peshev (@no_fear_inc) March 9, 2018
Mario takes time to note everyone’s top three life priorities and work on helping us accomplish them. This way, we are more satisfied and can handle some extra work whenever needed.
Alliance Virtual Offices suggest increasing team engagement by team building activities that boost socialization between remote employees. This way you can boost morale and help ignite each person’s creativity, which can be ultimately beneficial for the business.
Source: Alliance Virtual Offices.
Creating processes is useful for both new employees and established members of the team. It allows new employees to get up to speed significantly faster. Processes also make work more predictable and less disappointing when something goes wrong.
Use the DRY & KISS methods here: Don’t Repeat Yourself & Keep It Simple S… Dude. Automating and processizing as much as possible will leave you time to grow your business.
A very important note Mario makes here is about interruption science: the science on how interruptions in the office affect your team members. The very short version is: the fewer disruptions there are, the better your team’s work is.
Crisp Communication Is Key
Communication is awesome. When done right, it will save you a lot of time and effort. Effective communication improves project management and planning and reduces surprises. It also prevents drama, delays, and mistakes.
Not to mention that your team spirit will profit from all that drama-prevention. Crisp communication ultimately saves you both time and effort in the long run.
This applies to all kinds of teams, however distributed teams can profit a lot from constantly learning and improving. This means both developing as a team, improving the processes and growing as individuals. At DevriX, we do the following on a regular basis:
- Go to community events.
- Contribute to WordPress.
- Take courses.
- Do code reviews and peer programming.
- Try to learn new things every week, even and especially in different niches than our own.
- Try new tools.
- Always try to challenge and improve the process.
To conclude, Mario quotes Matt Mullenweg’s advice:
“We focus on two things when hiring. First, find the best people you can in the world. And second, let them do their work. Just get out of their way.”
Have you tried managing a remote team? Do you like it?
Leave a comment below.