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Making remote work and virtual teams effective for your startup

Startups looking to raise capital and boost productivity are increasingly moving toward nontraditional models of work as they search for a streamlined approach to business.

Methods like remote work and virtual teams provide myriad benefits for both startups and established businesses: they provide the freedom to work from anywhere, lower business costs, and assist geographically diverse teams to collaborate on projects.

Startups have the potential to use both remote work and virtual teams simultaneously as both methods aim to achieve separate goals.

Remote work gives teams the ability to work from anywhere, and virtual teams enable companies to resource projects or fill skills gaps outside their geographic base.

The proportion of the workforce with the ability to work remotely is growing with businesses of varying structures and sizes establishing the infrastructure to transition from on-premise working environments.

Chris Milligan, Founder and Managing Director of Brisbane-based startup Adepto, says his business has embraced the idea of virtual teams.

“I have a team of developers in Colombia, marketing people on the Sunshine Coast, another development team in Brisbane and my own staff working all over the place,” Mr Milligan said.

“Realising that we can access the right people, look at a global market and deliver services anywhere in the world has made us more confident in our promises to the market.

“Being able to engage the right professionals virtually, both at home and abroad, meant that we didn’t have to make such a big commitment to full-time employment and could use the skills we needed, when we needed them.

“This translated into a lower barrier to entry for us to get into the market by having reduced costs and access to the right people.

“We could effectively set up a team and new business or offering within a week given the limited overheads.”

Having the ability to engage virtual workers and teams has opened up opportunities for startups, offering an easier path to putting together a skilled team, earlier scalability and a more dynamic workforce.

Increased access to global labour markets through engaging virtual workers—whether on a project basis or a permanent full-time basis—is decreasing the risk and initial capital investment a traditional employment model would require.

While decreased risk and smaller capital investment is attractive, the importance of effectively managing virtual teams and setting expectations is fundamental to ensure a return on investment.

Although the initial onboarding stage with virtual teams can be a huge time investment, Mr Milligan says setting up effective systems and processes has made Adepto’s onboarding process for virtual workers more effective.

“At first we had assumed virtual employees could ramp up as quickly as local employees, [but] that was just not the case,” he said.

“In order to have virtual workers successfully integrated with the company you have to be able to invest the time to set up the systems and processes for their understanding and eventual productivity.

“Assuming that language and cultural barriers are dealt with or overcome through alignment and relationships, then the best way to keep workers on task is regular communication and check ins.

“For me this means two Skype meetings with everyone present each week, another stand up just with [developers] three times a week and another business meeting with the managers once a week.”

With the dynamic shifting toward virtual teams and remote work, behavioural change is the biggest requirement for the business environment to understand how this way of working is positively altering traditional work and payment models.

“There are a number behavioural changes that need to happen for the potential of a global [virtual] workforce to be realised,” Mr Milligan said.

“Things like deliverable based engagements, removal of expected contact and hours, payment models to shift from time-based to output-based or even return on investment are some examples.”

But as startups continue to grapple with this relatively new phenomenon, Founder of Brisbane startup MiVirtual, Mia McIntyre, says many companies have unknowingly been working remotely for years. Activities which are taken for granted nowadays, such as remote sign-in to a work server, or transferring documents electronically in order to work from across multiple devices are now seamless due to developments in technology.

“Some of the individuals and businesses that I help, without even realising it, have been working remotely, or virtually, for a long time,” Ms McIntyre said.

“However, they don’t understand that with changes in technology the dynamics of virtual work have changed.

“We live in disruptive times and the ability for businesses to be able to deal with some of these issues means that resources are focused where they should be.”

While many industries are still adapting and transitioning into these new models, opportunities for businesses are likely to keep presenting themselves provided that change and people management remains central to all stages of the process, as it would in traditional working environments.

Image credit: Startup Stock Photos

About Nicola Smith

Nicola Smith is a research and policy analyst with experience in the property and technology industries. She also founded NSConsulting to ensure her clients' professional branding is effectively articulated through cover letter and resume writing services. With a strong corporate grounding, Nicola’s interest in Brisbane start-ups was sparked through her work in the technology industry and creative arts background. In her spare time, Nicola attends ballet class and dreams of her next travel destinations.