Running a remote business part 4: Breaking down barriers

By Guy Anderson

The Berlin Wall

In the latest installment of our remote-business mini-series, Guy discusses his favourite strategies for bringing together digital teams and clients from around the world.

This post picks up where our Running a remote business blog series left off. It includes both my personal insights since the previous posts were published, and my notes from WordCamp Europe 2019 where I attended a talk on remote working by Human Made. If you’ve never been to WordCamp Europe then do check out Ehron’s post A first timer’s experience of WordCamp Europe Berlin 2019.

Gathering the team

In the ‘Running a remote business’ blog series I wrote about how Wildheart was born, growing a team of Wildhearts and how we productized our services to make it easier for customers to buy from us. During 2019 was also the first time we made a conscious effort to gather together as a team in one physical location. We decided to head to WordCamp Europe and spent a week together in Berlin attending the conference, exploring the city, and working of course!

The challenges of remote working

WordCamp Europe is hosted in a different European city each year and is very affordably priced for a two day conference. In Berlin one of my favourite talks was the remote working talk. A quick show of hands by the audience revealed that around 50% of the audience worked remotely and around 15% worked in their second language.

The talk focused on the social, emotional and even spiritual challenges of remote work, rather than the tools or practices of doing remote work. Here are a few tips from the talk:

Making the world smaller

Two key points were made here, as to how to keep the team connected by making your working world smaller:

  1. Take every opportunity to meet in person, and prioritise this.
  2. Use video calls, e.g. Zoom or Skype, and leave the video running.

The interesting thing about the first point is it’s actually an admission of the biggest weakness of working remotely: namely, that it’s hard to form deep team bonds from a distance. This is especially difficult when getting to know potential new team members. When we started working with Dan, the newest member of our team, we all met up for a week in Brighton and ended the week at the WordCamp Brighton conference. This was a great way to really get to know Dan and for him to get to know us.

We’ve also decided to get the team together at least once a year for a week around the time of WordCamp Europe, combining social, work and conference time. In 2020 we were planning to head to Porto, but due to a certain virus we’ll have to postpone that till 2021 now…

Making yourself bigger

The speaker offered the following tips for making yourself bigger:

  • Be always willing to change
  • Listen in order to hear, not to plan, i.e. don’t ‘endgame’
  • Ask questions
  • Speak and write in straightforward language
  • Slow down, simplify and pause

My takeaway for the points above is to stay curious about each other. I’m always interested in what’s going on with people on a more personal level, rather than staying purely task focused. It feels important to balance both the relational and transactional sides of our team work.

Embracing the differences

It’s important to embrace all the potential differences within your remote working team, so:

  • Recognise cultural events, heritage and rituals
  • Don’t be afraid to ask

While we don’t have a big, multicultural team at Wildheart, we are spread across 4 different cities in 3 different countries and there’s always something going on for all of us. If I don’t ask the questions, we’ll miss out on each others’ life changes, no matter how big or small. That’s why I have a short regular catch-up with all team members just to check-in, even if there are no external projects on the go. These informal catch-ups have been important to keep the lines of communication open and build our relationships.

Closing the gap

The idea of prioritising quality time together as a team has also got me thinking about how we can spend more quality time with our clients. I realised in November last year that most of our clients travel to Goa each year to teach on yoga workshops and retreats and it struck me that we should be there too!

So, in 2020 we’re planning to spend 6 weeks working in Goa. Instead of separating my work and personal life, I’ll be taking my 5-year-old son along too, and our team’s partners will also be welcome to join us. Of course, in the current climate, this may no longer be possible. Or, we may need to delay these plans until we can safely travel again – but that’s just the kind of flexibility we’re used to with remote working!

Find out more

If you’d like to read more about my experiences with remote working, check out the full series Running a remote business.

Running a remote business

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