Startups — A Remote Team is Successful for My Company

I know that there are some that say a remote team cannot work or be successful , but I disagree. Maybe it’s not as good as everyone being physically present in the same room, but it’s a very close second. Here are my reasons why I endorse remote work or teams. I will also list some drawbacks.

First, a little background on my company. We are a fledgling startup, and I have written about the challenges we have faced in funding our expenses, being a “non-traditional” entrepreneur (i.e., not a 20-something entrepreneur living in SF Bay or similar scenario) , and needing to be creative to build my vision. I am working on transitioning from my comfy full time day job to an unstable risky unknown venture. In the meantime, there is no need to be leasing office space and creating a burn rate for little-no occupancy. For now I have a 14' x 14' climate controlled office/lab in my barn located in Virginia. After all, my business is farming related, so a barn office makes sense. My team is dispersed from CA, OH, NC, VA, IN, WA, MD, but currently we also have team members from China, Iceland, and Ghana. To date, I’ve only met a couple “in person” because they were relatively close geographically.

The Main Advantages

These are not the only perks — just the ones that came to mind first.

I am not saying that my company will always operate as a 100% remote team, but right now we are “fledglings.” We did a soft launch, then went back to our nest, and recently we fledged again (www.livestockcity.com). Right now we are at a fragile time as we try to get established, and extra expenses such as office space rent, office furniture, electric bills, internet expenses, etc. would kill the company.

I live in an area that’s not that populated and local talent is hard to find. When I recruit help for my company, I am not limited by geography, which allows me to find the best talent I can. We are based in the U.S., so my preference is for the team members to also be in the U.S. But sometimes I’ve made exceptions for really talented people. Sometimes a team member is in the U.S. normally but out of the country for months, and that has worked out too.

With today’s technology it is possible to have a meeting online where everyone is present. Tools like Google Hangouts allow us to make presentations using screen share, and is free to use. Our team also uses Skype, Slack, and Trello for communicating, even at crazy late night hours. We also use email, but not as much as the other tools.

People are sometimes happy where they live, but maybe the job they want isn’t where they are. A remote job would be ideal for them, and everyone wins since having happy team members means they are likely to be more engaged and hard working. If your company is in an expensive area to live, such as San Francisco or New York City, the cost of living expenses for your team member might be much lower for them to remain where they are, which will save them even more money.

The Main Drawbacks

There may be other minuses, but these are the ones that came to mind first.

Sometimes during a meeting, one person’s internet connection could be so bad that the video breaks up, and it becomes difficult to understand what they are saying. If any team member is experiencing internet issues or disruption, it may become impossible for them to attend a meeting, and that could lead to stalling. This has rarely been an issue.

There are people on my team that I have not met in person (yet). Yet, I feel like I really know them from all of the online video conferences. In a work environment, it is healthy to do some “fun” non work-related activities from time to time, but this can be difficult to do as a remote team. It’s possible that without these types of activities, some bonds may never form. Although it may be tougher to organize a retreat, it is still possible to do, and it would be no different than attending a conference somewhere where a plane ticket would be required.

As a remote team member, you may be working a lot on your own. This can be a good thing or bad thing depending on your personality and preference. For me personally, as an introvert, I tend to work better in this type of environment, so I do not consider it a drawback for me. However, others may hate it, and you should realize that remote work isn’t for everyone.

If you are a distributed team with team members in various time zones, that can make it difficult for everyone to meet at a time that isn’t, for example, 2am for at least one person. For this reason, as alluded to above, the reason we prefer the team to reside in the U.S. is because of time zone differences. A 3 hour time zone difference isn’t too difficult, but 5–6 hours can be bad. It is important for any prospective team member to understand they may be required to attend meetings at 2AM, like our example.

Conclusion

What can I say — A remote team works for me, and maybe it is a good solution for your company too. Without it, there would be no LivestockCity. We have survived without investors up to this point. I have never wanted to be dependent on investors, so we have always operated with the assumption that investors were not an option, and we will succeed with or without them. But without them, for us it means we need to be a remote team. Yes, eventually we will have a “real” headquarters that we lease. I assume that will coincide with our growth, and it will make sense at that time to have an office. But I think we will always have remote employees since we plan to operate all over the world and will need teams in certain places.

Biologist, entrepreneur, marathon runner, farmer, tech geek. Co - founder of LivestockCity. http://www.livestockcity.com.