No Excuses: The Definitive Guide to Managing a Remote Team

No Excuses: The Definitive Guide to Managing a Remote Team

I decided to write this book for several reasons. First, it’s my passion. Online and remote business has been my life for over 15 years now. I’ve built several businesses to several million annually, and in order to do that, you simply can’t do it all yourself.

So I realized very quickly that I needed help if I was going to remain sane.

But there are several problems that arise once you get “help.”

In many cases, it’s actually the beginning of the downfall of the business.

This book is going to help you avoid that, by teaching you exactly what you need to do to successfully manage a remote team.

Takeaway 1: When running a business, you can’t do everything yourself.

Why I chose remote and never looked back

I’ll never have an office again and I am proud of it. I can absolutely do everything virtually that a company can do in an office.

That includes running a leaner business that is more profitable, and enjoying my life more without an “office.”

Hubstaff is not alone in this. According to a workplace survey, only 30% of those surveyed rely completely on local talent.

The remaining companies surveyed rely on virtual and remote talent to get more done. This is a good indicator of the productivity benefits of remote teams.

Since starting my first remote business, I’ve developed a ton of systems and processes for managing teams online and increasing productivity. This book is going to share them with you, and the theories behind them. I’m going to outline a step-by-step process that will not always be easy to follow, but it will save your business from many tough situations.

There are several times in this book, that you will probably disagree with me. There are several times where I’ll probably sound too harsh or uncaring, but what you are getting is my raw, uncut experiences.

Welcome to the world of outsourcing and virtual teams. Prepare to toughen up… This is not an easy gig. No excuses. That goes for everyone on the team.

Table of Contents:

  1. Part 1 – Why Build a Remote Team
  2. Part 2 – Hiring virtual teams
  3. Part 3 – Outsourcing
  4. Part 4 – Successful remote team management
  5. Part 5 – Creating business process blueprints
  6. Resources and tools

Keep scrolling to preview the ebook before you download

 

Part 1 – Why you should build a remote team

Starting a business: Finding your “why”

There are some questions you need to ask yourself when setting up a business: Why are you in business? Why are you doing it and what drives you? Why are you really in business? Why are you spending every day of your life sitting in front of a computer screen? Are you living your passion? You only live once, after all.

Is your “why” the money? If yes, then prepare to fail.

Business is about much more than money, and these days customers will see right through your BS if all you can think about is profit.

Your business has got to have depth in order to survive more than a few years. More importantly, you need a “why” in order to create a product or service that people even care to buy.

The idea of “why” first hit me during an Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) retreat that I was a part of. EO is a group of over 7,000 Entrepreneurs across the globe, and the keynote speaker was Simon Sinek, who talks about this very topic of “why” and explains it very elegantly. You can watch his TED talk on the subject here – Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

golden circle examples simon sinek

Image from SmartInsights

Building a team

Have you ever been to a retail chain that it’s severely obvious that the employees couldn’t care less? It’s the same thing.

Now, what’s the point of all this and how the hell is it related to building a successful virtual team and business?

Here’s the deal.

Your “why” lays a foundation for decisions across your organization.

And your team makes decisions every second of every day they are working for you. We want to make those decisions focused and correct.

The logic revolves around building a team that has like-minded goals. It’ll lower your stress, it will help your team work towards goals so much faster, and you’ll totally avoid the scenario mentioned above with the employee who couldn’t care less.

Virtual businesses are inherently harder to run because as a leader, you have fewer touchpoints with your team.

person sitting and working remotely at a desk

Developing a deeply rooted reason for existence and hiring employees that agree with that “why” is the very first step to building a successful virtual team.

You simply have to be on the same page without speaking at all hours of the workday, and this will get you 50% of the way there.

You need your team to make the same decisions you would make, not on your next strategic move, but in the trenches of your business. That’s where they operate. They are the foundation.

the essentials of remote management infographic

The fundamentals of team management

If you can follow these six pieces of advice, you’re on the right path to successfully managing remote teams:

      • Don’t be a jerk
      • Lead by example
      • Self-evaluate
      • You can’t change people
      • Everyone is accountable for their own actions

Keep these in mind as we explore the common challenges and solutions for remote management. You’ll see why each one matters in the following sections.

The challenges of managing a remote team

Remote teams are awesome for speed and running a lean business, and I fully believe that they are the “future” of work.

Things will continue moving more and more in the direction of distributed teams in the coming years because of advances in technology, increased access to skilled workers, and more technology-based businesses.

However, there are a few challenges when managing a remote team to consider.

The most obvious problem is that you have fewer touchpoints and less control over what is actually happening with them on an hour-to-hour basis.

This includes everything from driving projects forward to making sure that they are not trying to pull one over on you by reporting more hours than are actually worked to communication issues.

But for every problem, there is a solution.

I am providing this very brief list, in the beginning, to make it clear that YOU CAN DO IT. THERE IS A SOLUTION.

So don’t be afraid of it, instead, embrace it. Challenges of managing remote team and solutions go as follows.

      • Problem 1. Communication challenges

Establishing good team dynamics and communication is crucial with distributed teams. It differs highly from office culture in the traditional sense. After finding remote workers with the appropriate skills, you have to make sure they function well in your distributed team and fit into your remote company culture.

Solution – Get Slack, Basecamp and other tools going and actually improve communication (even with a team that is physically right next to you). Plus, you get the added benefit of documentation on the cloud.

It also helps to be aware of the most common team communication challenges so you can spot them before they derail your team.

      • Problem 2. The challenge of keeping track of time

It’s hard to keep track of the time that an employee has worked and pay them on an hourly/contractor basis.

hubstaff employee monitoring example screen

Solution – Try Hubstaff, which will allow you to see screenshots, track activity levels, pay employees, and more.

Again, this is massively beneficial even if the employee is sitting right next to you. While tools like Slack and Basecamp help improve the quality of your communication, Hubstaff actually works in a different direction.

It reduces the time you spend following up with employees and trying to figure out exactly what your people are doing. This app tracks the time your team is working for you down to the exact minute so you pay only for what you get.

      • Problem 3. The challenge of discussing individual projects in-person

SolutionTop video conferencing platforms allow you to see video of the other person and communicate directly with them. You can even share screens and “look over their shoulder.” Google hangouts are now equipped with remote desktop, which you can use for customer support.

You probably picked up on the trend here.

For every problem, there is a technology solution popping up that can make your team even more productive.

Simple virtual team and time management

Features built for remote teams. Try it free for 14 days.

It’s now possible to almost do everything “in the cloud” that you can do in person. Not every individual is willing to accept this, but the world is changing and it’s changing quickly.

The “push”

If you are going to create a virtual team, be prepared to develop some thick skin.

Firing someone over email isn’t quite as hard as firing them in person, but it’s still not easy. Especially if they are trying hard and you’ve gotten to know them personally.

You’ve got to develop a mindset of “No Excuses” (the title of the book came from this mindset). The people who can help you make your business a success are out there, you just have to find them, no excuses.

The right models are in existence that can lower your stress and reduce your management time. You just have to implement them.

What does “No Excuses” mean?

It means that you have proactively created a situation where everyone on your team is in agreement on what a finished product looks like and the deadlines are clear.

In addition, it’s clear that upper management is always available, and will answer very quickly if questions exist.

Your job as a manager or owner of an organization is to leave absolutely no room for excuses from your people.

There’s a super quick process that I use to manage my business.

To keep reading, download the full ebook for free

Part 1 continues in the full ebook with:

  • The five-step process for applying a “No Excuses” mindset
  • How to virtually guarantee success
  • What’s the secret to successful virtual teams?
    • Always be building a better team
    • Do what you love and outsource the rest
    • Hiring specialists
      • Interchangeable work
  • Why accountability is the most important word in business
    • When your employees become accountable – What to expect
  • Your life, your business, your terms

Part 2 – The principles and processes of hiring virtual teams

In the first section, we laid the foundation. Now it’s time to start focusing on some specifics, starting with your hiring processes. But first, I want to take a minute to introduce you to the overall goal of hiring virtual teams.

Developing your personal “A-team”

Why you are doing all this, what your team looks like after a few months of focus, and some general theories.

12 months from today, I want you to have developed an “A-team” of around 7 -10 contractors that you trust with your life (or your business). These are people who have been through thick and thin with you, and have enriched their lives in more ways than one.

You know their family members by name, important dates in their lives, their religious beliefs. You follow them on Twitter, and they follow you. You respect them, and they respect you.

These are the kind of relationships you need in business.

Of course, it depends on your business model, but here’s what my team looks like currently:

hubstaff team on annual retreat in front of tower belem

      • 1 CEO/CMO and 1 CTO/CPO
      • 1 director of marketing
      • Blog and writing team of three plus freelancer writers who all work on:
        • Blog strategy and content
        • Social media
        • Copywriting
          • This is a much different skill set than research-based writing
      • Dedicated video producer, but others on the team with video skills
        • Long-form instructional video
        • Web-based demo and marketing videos
      • 3 marketers who contribute the following skills:
        • PPC and paid advertising
        • Email marketing
        • SEO (two specialists)
        • Outreach and promotions
        • Industry verticals
        • Project management and process
      • 1 graphic designer
        • Infographics, logos, layouts
      • 10 support team members
      • 1 lead developer
      • 4 front-end designer and developers
        • Web design and CSS
      • 13 programmers
        • PHP
        • Ruby on Rails
        • Perl
        • MySQL
      • 2 on the product team
      • 3 Hubstaff Tasks team members
        • Dedicated to design and development of this product
      • Three utility players
        • These are my “jack of all trades” people. They can pick up just about any task that doesn’t require hardcore programming or design. This section is listed last, but really I rely on them more than anyone else in the org.

It’s very important to test a potential employee/contractor out before getting them too involved in your business or becoming too reliant on them.

You should give them a good 3-4 week test to fully understand their personality and work ethic before really starting to plan your business around them.

You can, of course, have them working on projects that move your business forward. Just make sure that they are not an integral part of these projects until they have been fully tested.

Manage contractor hours and payments

Time tracking, invoicing, payments, and more

This is because, in the world of outsourcing, there is a good chance they will not fit the bill, no matter how well they interview or pass the first few steps of your process.

This is important when deciding on a partner, as well. Never decide on a partner before working with them for at least a few months.

This is the worst thing that you can do, as they are the person that you will rely on most.

It can cause all kinds of issues when one partner is willing to work more than the other, or if one partner has more projects than the other, etc.

We’ll get into more specifics on the tactical ways to do this in the coming chapters.

Part 2 continues in the full ebook with:

  • Posting a job
  • Where to find remote talent
  • A sample post that I would make on Hubstaff Talen
  • My process for reviewing applications
    • Weeding through
    • Assigning test tasks
  • What is the first project description supposed to look like?
  • Fire fast
  • Hiring virtual teams based on constraints
    • Matching up the results
  • Payments
    • Pay in arrears
    • Retainers
    • Prepayment

Part 3 – Outsourcing

What is outsourcing?

Outsourcing is the idea of having someone else complete your business processes for you. The actual processes can be a huge range of things, and the outsourcing can happen from any location in the world. Many people confuse off-shoring with outsourcing.

You don’t have to outsource your email to another country. You can outsource your graphic design to Chicago, if you want. The idea is not to necessarily take work overseas, it is about getting work off your desk. Period.

You do this for one of two reasons.

      1. You have too much going on and you need to focus your time on the most productive tasks in order to truly move your business forward.
      2. The person that you are outsourcing to is actually better at the desired task than yourself or your internal team.

In this section, you’re going to get my raw and uncut experiences of outsourcing (over $3MM spent) and how you can use these experiences to become more productive.

The benefits and downfalls of outsourcing

Outsourcing is, above all else, a mindset shift.

It’s about not having to control everything anymore.

It’s about learning to manage people and processes instead of doing all the work yourself.

Scary thought, I know, but once you start you’ll never look back.

It’s actually a great thing for your career and your life in general. It’s a great personal skill to have.

Outsourcing is really nothing more than becoming a great manager of people and personalities.

If done right, you end up with lower stress, more work done, and a better business. See the infographic for more benefits.

outsourcing infographic

Done incorrectly, it can cost you tons in not only hard cost but more importantly, opportunity cost. It can also add a huge amount of stress to your work life. There’s nothing worse than working with a remote team that is not capable.

I’m going to teach you how to do it right. In this guide, you’re going to learn what it takes to be a great outsourcer (and manager).

You’ll learn both the tactical side and the strategic side. These are two drastically different things.

You’ll also learn what you can outsource, where to outsource, tools for outsourcing and managing, and how to effectively conduct business online.

Manage outsourced teams with ease

Automate payroll based on time tracked and set rates

The outsourcing mindset

Let’s start with the most basic lesson; the one you must understand before you can grow an online business.

Here’s what you do:

      1. Calculate the amount of money that you want to make in a year, the amount that you make in a year, or the amount your business makes in profit. Let’s say that you’re at $150,000 a year just as an example.
      2. Now divide $150,000 by the number of days that you work in a year. Let’s say 250. So, $150,000 divided by 250 = $600 a day. That’s what you are worth. That’s the exact dollar amount that you are trading your time for. Now divide that $600 by a typical 8-hour day. That equals $75 an hour.

If you are spending your time doing work that can be outsourced for $10, then there is a big problem.

person working remotely in coworking space

Whether this is occurring in your own business or your day job or wherever, it’s not right, and it’s not going to get you where you need to be.

No matter how you analyze it, doing work for $10 an hour when you are getting paid $75 an hour is not the right thing to do.

You need to be doing work for $150 an hour in order to move along in your career.

What ends up happening, believe it or not, is that the $10 an hour assignment is almost always more demanding. Getting the accounting done, and answering your inbox are often more demanding than designing the sales strategy for the next calendar year or designing a split test.

No one is knocking down your door about becoming more profitable.

The important task continually gets pushed back and soon your schedule is filled with these $10 an hour tasks.

So how do you get away from this?

Part 3 continues in the full ebook with:

  • What your business should outsource
    • Don’t hold yourself back by handling everything
  • Getting started with outsourcing
    • What to outsource
  • Where to find a team
  • Why the company with the best team wins
    • Online communities
    • Virtual staffing companies
    • Freelance sites
    • Classified sites and job boards
  • Less expensive is not always better
  • The best outcomes from outsourcing work

Part 4 – Successful Remote Team Management

Managing tasks and projects

As a successful leader in your organization, you need to be able, willing, and excited to take the responsibility of moving projects and tasks forward and meeting deadlines.

This is a huge part of virtual team management, and it’s what separates you from the rest of the organization.

In every organization, there are pushers and those who are pushed.

Ideally, you would have employees and contractors who always move forward no matter what, and sometimes it’s possible to make that happen.

This is one of the reasons you want to constantly work on building your team. In general, it doesn’t happen that way. This cartoon illustrates what a lot of managers feel.

dilbert comic strip about management

You’ve got to accept this and expect to follow up constantly in order to get your organization to move forward as fast as possible.

8 steps toward a more efficient process for your remote team

Here are some general rules to follow when it comes to getting teams to deliver on time.

1. Limit assignments and set clear deadlines.

Make expectations clear and easy to understand so the entire team is on the same page and knows how work will be evaluated.

Never assign someone more than two or three projects at a time. Two or three is a good number because people sometimes get sick of working on one thing and burn out. If you assign 20 projects then you are going to totally confuse them and leave room for excuses.

At the same time, state how much time to spend on a project and a task. Is it a quick project or do you want more in-depth analysis? Clarifying the deadline and estimated work hours it should take to complete will help.

2. Clearly define priorities.

It’s important for the contractors to know what are the most important projects to work on and the most important tasks within a project. Do not leave this up to the contractor.

We’ll get into the importance of priorities later on.

3. Follow up, follow up, and follow up.

You want to constantly be ahead of the game. That means that you do not want to ever have the ball in your court.

No one should ever be waiting on you. You should always be waiting on them.

This means that you are asking your contractors where projects are and when you can expect an update. You want to do this in some kind of a system so there is documentation for this and everyone can see when you asked for an update. You need to push your people, especially if deadlines are missed or communication is lacking.

4. Don’t use email.

Email is slow, unreliable, and hard to search. You need to use a good project management system for tracking projects through to completion (see resources section).

The best part about project management software is that the tools are often web-based (nothing is on a local computer) so that everyone can see what they need to do at all times. Secondly, communication is documented automatically. This way, there are no excuses.

5. Always explain why.

Explain what your goals are and what metrics you’ll monitor so that each team member knows what to track.

The explicit statement of key performance metrics (KPIs) will guide each team member’s activities on a quarterly, monthly, and weekly basis.

Further, your contractors will do a much better job for you and you’ll get better results if your people understand why they are doing what they are doing. Help them understand the big picture. You’ll be surprised how much they can contribute when they understand the reason that they are doing the task.

6. Use examples.

Are there other websites doing what you want to do? If so, show your contractors this. It makes everything easier as the contractors are clear on what you want done. It gives them a reference point.

7. Work toward your goals.

Once you have the system clearly communicated to your team, everyone can start working toward set goals. It will take some time to get everyone used to the new process, but the only way to get it baked in your culture is to apply it.

8. Iterate on the process.

Are there certain organizational tools that work better for your team? Workflows that need refinement? Reflect and develop your process each quarter.

Now that you understand these basic principles, you’ll have everything needed to be a better manager. I want to get into exactly how I manage my people.

Part 4 continues in the full ebook with:

  • The “No Excuses” management flow chart
  • The crucial task of prioritizing work
  • Embrace technology
  • Global workforce trends via FlexJobs
  • Remote communication
  • Documentation
  • Hubstaff Tasks
  • Best software for remote communication
  • Remote time tracking and monitoring helps with virtual team management
  • A few options that you have regarding time tracking and monitoring solutions

Part 5 – Creating Documentation and Processes

Blueprinting your tasks

Blueprinting is a skill that you definitely need to implement in your business.

I blueprint everything in my business: customer service templates, online marketing plans, processes, conversion funnels, releases, hosting setups, and much more.

If you don’t already, you need to start thinking in terms of process maps, flow charts, and blueprints.

It’s a very effective method of scaling your business.

Outsourced contractors and employees need this documentation in order to get up to speed in your business when they are hired.

You can develop a process for everything that is done in your business.

Yes, it’s a little bit of a pain to do at first, but the great thing is that once a repetitive task is blueprinted, it’s done forever. Then you can effectively hand it off to an outsourced employee with minimal communication. The more details you can include, the better.

blueprinting remote business on a whiteboard

Every outsourced worker needs to understand:

      • WHY they are doing the task
      • HOW to do the task
      • WHAT you want them to do with the end result
      • FREQUENCY, which tells the worker how often to perform the task
      • SAMPLE of what the task should look like

Part 5 continues in the full ebook with:

  • A sample project blueprint
  • Different types of blueprints
  • Internal business processes
  • Tasks
  • Blueprinting formats
    • Flowcharts
    • Text/written
    • Mindmaps
    • Video
  • Blueprinting tools
    • Google documents
    • Google Drawing
    • Smartdraw
    • Mindjet
    • Dropbox
    • Hubstaff Tasks
    • Camtasia
  • Building your blueprint library
  • Move your business forward one outsourced task at a time
    • How to measure “Knowledge Worker” production
  • How project management keeps production on track
    • The first step is assessing performance

Create detailed project plans in Hubstaff Tasks

The visual, automated project management platform

Resources and Tools to Manage Virtual Teams

The following list features our most recommended resources and tools for managing virtual teams.

  • Hubstaff.com – Integrates with over 30+ project management, bookkeeping and business software to help you get more details on the exact tasks your contractors are working on and the time these tasks are taking. You can track time, see screenshots, pay remote team members, and invoice clients. Everything ties out to the exact tasks your people are working on, no matter which project management suite you choose. Hubstaff offers a comprehensive 14-day free trial.
  • Dave Nevogt on Linkedin – I’d love to have you as part of my community, so send me a message if you’d like to connect on remote work, team management, and more.  I try to respond to every email personally.
  • Hubstaff Tasks – An Agile, visual project management tool that allows you to track remote projects easily. Assign tasks, create sprints, and see where a project is at any time. Keep your entire team in the loop and focused on the most important work. Free for up to five team members and only $5/user per month after that.
  • Dropbox – Dropbox allows you to store all of your files to the cloud automatically and sync between several machines.
  • LastPass – This is how I manage all of my passwords in order to login as fast as possible. This also syncs across all of my machines.
  • Zoom – Reliable video and call conferencing tool that we utilize on a regular basis. You can schedule recurring calls and record meetings.
  • Skype – I record calls here and chat with people across the world with ease.
  • Google Apps – Google Apps allows your team to easily upload documents, files and work on wikis. They have a totally free version and an option to upgrade if you have a need for more space and other professional features.
  • Jing – Jing lets you take screen captures (images and video) of your screen. It’s an extremely effective way to communicate to your team and document processes.
  • Google Drawing – This is what I use to create flowcharts. It’s a Google Drive service and completely free. I’ve tried several other systems as well, but I am moving more and more towards “cloud” based services because they are accessible on all of my machines through a browser. Google drawing has a lot of features, but not enough to become confusing.

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