Challenges with building a distributed/remote business

This post is an excerpt from my book DISTRIBUTED.

Building a business is not a piece of cake and a great entrepreneur grows after each failure. Every business, every company setup, and every industry have their own challenges. Some of these challenges are shared and literally, everyone has to face them. Some of them are unique to the type of the business. If we take sales and marketing out of the picture and we strictly focus on business management, most businesses have 5 key areas where they face challenges: communication, motivation, integration, retention, and transformation. Let’s inspect each of these challenges separately. 

Challenges with communication

Almost every challenge a remote entrepreneur faces is somehow connected with communication. The manager lost the tracking of several projects because employees are not reporting back. A project has stopped because of an underlying problem which hasn’t been flagged and communicated to the team. Conversations get lost – important information is on the company chat but not in the mailbox or cloud drive. Video meetings are inefficient because people don’t know how to do them properly. There are many other issues and flaws where communication is the root of the problem.

Communication also affects mostly all the other challenges. If communication doesn’t work, motivation will be the first to fall, then the integrity of the team. An alive and happy distributed collaborative team can quickly turn into an offshore outsourcing center, where the only communication that happens internally is sending out briefs on projects and then get reviews and revisions. A company that has bad communication policies has lower retention of their employees. It is also harder to transform or adapt to new challenges. 

You need to be more structured with your communication. The reason is simple and this is part of the unique concept of remote working: there is a little amount of room for ad-hoc watercooler office conversations where some important things, brainstorming and corporate engagements happen just ‘on-the-go’ and without any structure. 

You have to work proactively to implement, maintain and strengthen communication policies within your distributed business. 

Challenges with motivation

For employees, motivation is one of the biggest challenges. I can quote hundreds of studies on how huge percentages of employees don’t feel they are motivated at work and how many hours per day are just wasted on unmotivated meaningless imitation of work. However, remote employees are always a bit more motivated to do their job because they enjoy the benefits of being a remote employee, which we have already discussed previously. But entrepreneurs still have to find a way to keep the motivation flowing. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, motivation is different, and to know why we have to clarify what we mean by motivation. 

Motivation is being able to work on a job on your own terms, set goals to achieve and gain success by achieving them. Now, small words here matter: own terms, goals, and success. How can a business owner screw this up? 

For one, and this is way beyond the greatest issue: they don’t give space for their employees. We all know the C-level manager who does junior level tasks because he just “can’t let it go.” A micromanager boss is even more dangerous than an unpredictable boss. It instantly kills the motivation in everyone.This micromanagement is even more of an issue in remote working because while the entrepreneur had the physical office where all the employees worked, with remote work, there is no office. By not seeing how others are working, some entrepreneurs react with intense micromanagement. This is one of the biggest flaws – you have to provide autonomy for your people.

On goals-setting, the purpose is super important for everyone. Communicating a clear purpose to your employees is vital for the company. The more transparent your business, the easier will be for every employee to relate to. They see the company’s goals and they can integrate those goals into their own plans. Everyone needs a purpose to stay motivated, so share the business goals publicly and help your employees to identify their own goals. 

Finally, success. That is the easiest but sometimes forgotten part. Even the most introvert employee needs a hug when accomplishing a goal.That virtual hug can be anything, an email, a ‘nice one’ on the team call or even more. The higher the goal they achieved, the bigger the compensation should be. Share the joy of success with everyone. Entrepreneurs often forget to celebrate their employees. 

Challenges with integration

First day in office? Depending on the size of the company, but that first day or even days are spent in the same way for everyone. Getting familiar with new faces, new tools, new setups, new goals and new atmosphere. It is the same with remote work and distributed businesses, except that the things that occur in an office naturally, don’t happen online much. So again, being proactive and setting up very clear processes on onboarding a new employee or even a new client, is crucial for a distributed business.

What if you fail to do this? You have been working in a remote environment for weeks or even months, and you still don’t recognize some of the names cc-d on emails – that’s not a good sign. Most employees will feel that they are not part of the team, they are not valued, not integrated. Which leads to decreased motivation and lower employee retention. 

By having a clear and repeatable onboarding process in place, you can not only save time but also help your newcomers to integrate into the fabric of your company, to feel valued, and to become part of the team.

Challenges with retention

We have talked about communication, motivation, and integration. These are all leading to one single challenge: retaining your employees.

Companies that have lower retention rates are less successful. How could you be successful if the team around you changes constantly and you have to spend a valuable amount of time on hiring new people all-day-long?

People are leaving a company for several reasons but the main one would be valuation. More precisely, the lack of thereof. Being valued is not an individual perception or a matter of taste – everyone wants the same: satisfying work environment, achieved and respected goals and gracious compensation for all the hard work and effort. 

All of the above, communication, motivation and integration add to the company culture. If your company culture is a welcoming, transparent, collaborative, self-respecting culture, you have higher retention of your employees.If you are a micromanager who looks to their remote employees as offshore outsourcing bots that you can use to achieve your own goals for less money – you won’t be building a successful company.

Challenges with transformation

A distributed business is super flexible, as we have discussed this before. And… this is not everyone’s taste. Especially those who spent the majority of their career in the 90s and spent it in traditional offices – flexibility means something else. A distributed business can be scaled up pretty fast but also, scaled down instantly. As an entrepreneur, you have to make decisions in either way. You have to be comfortable with your decisions and the decisions shouldn’t be affected by urge, rage, panic or any hardcore emotion. You have to rely on your knowledge and logic. For those who tend to adapt more slowly to new environments, flexibility is one of the most fearful challenges. 

 

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At Anywhere Consulting, we help entrepreneurs to launch, build and grow their remote business. We provide support and consulting services as well as educational products to overcome the challenges of remote businesses. If you are a freelancer who wants to launch a distributed business or you already have an established business but want to grow remotely, we can help you.