Managing uncertainty the most important part of building any remote team

Tyler Jordan
May 21, 2019

Remote teams are still not the norm, and there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety built into the decision to join a remote team.  People are taking a leap of faith when they come to work for any remote company, remember that in order to keep everything in perspective.  Work to manage that uncertainty and add clarity to the situation even in areas you don’t think you need it. Managing uncertainty is the most important aspect of building any remote team.  Most of our learning from our first hires come back to this core tenant.

Don’t cut corners in onboarding, instead take the scenic route

When hiring an experienced employee to work in your office, sometimes you can cut corners and have impromptu meetings to make up for knowledge gaps, but that’s more difficult in a remote setting.  Make sure you go into painstaking detail about all the projects the new hire is going to work on because they can’t stick their head up from their desk and ask you quick questions quite as easily

At first, we tried doing a general overview of all projects and ad accounts that new AMs work on, but since it’s harder to ask quick questions in a remote team, we had to go into greater depth on each account and project.

For each account or project that a new AM will be working on, we now do a comprehensive rundown meeting, typically 30-60 minutes per project or account.  This is extremely time-consuming up front, but not as time-consuming as finding out that your employee is working on things incorrectly or pulling in the wrong direction because you didn’t communicate enough up front.  Err on the side of over-explanation at first to help people get up to speed more quickly.

We also always do daily check-in meetings for the first 3-4 weeks until the employee is comfortable with the workload and expectations.  These are sometimes quick check-ins, sometimes they’re working sessions, think of these like office hours. This will help deal with the things that are normally questions and conversations that happen between monitors at a company where you share an office.  This is something we took for granted early on, but this is how things are learned when you’re new at a job, it starts with a shallow understanding that is deepened with question and answer or working sessions with peers and managers.

Feeling confused is normal when new on a job, but it’s much worse when you’re confused and isolated, so make sure that you have a way for them to ask questions and get feedback.  Once they are comfortable, move to a more normal weekly 1 on 1 schedule.

Slack channels are your friend.  Make slack rooms for specific projects so that there is a small group that new hires can go to for questions so that one person doesn’t act as the bottleneck for all learning.

The plan is the plan, but always have a plan

The biggest thing that helps all things run smoothly is having the proper plan in place.  Without that, the shallow sense of uncertainty that comes with any new job can become a deep well of fear and anxiety.  Make a plan for the business/team and make a plan for each individual employee.

Make sure everyone in any remote organization understands the following

  1. Where the business is and where it’s going

  2. What the employee’s role in that growth looks like

  3. What the company can do for the employee’s future, and market value

  4. What the employee can do for the company and how they can help elevate the company’s value

  5. What the career path for the employee is

Our business uses the EOS system and has a Vision/Traction Organizer document shared with all employees so that everyone knows what the plan is for the whole building (Yes, we share everything, even revenue goals, internally!).  This helps everyone know what they are working towards and helps everyone understand the direction of the company. If people are confident in the direction of the company, it helps them overcome new job uncertainties.  

We use our company’s 3-year goals to break down 1-year goals, then we break down quarterly rocks to help us meet our long term goals.  Each month we meet and go over what our individual “rocks” look like. The “rocks” are measurable tasks that allow us to chip away at the larger boulder that is our 1 and 3-year goals.

For individual employees, we use The Alliance Framework for individual employee management.  The basis of the alliance framework is that a company should not be thought of like a family but like a sports team.  If the team does well, it benefits the individual performers and raises their market value, and if the individual performs well, it helps to raise the overall value of the company, if at any point either party is not getting what it needs out of the other the relationship needs to be reworked or ended.  

We create “Tours of Duty” for each employee, in accordance with the alliance framework, the tour is a longer-term plan, typically 6 months to a year, for each employee and meet with them to work collaboratively to define what their path looks like; we need to make sure it’s something that works for both the individual and for the company.  We’ve all had jobs where the plan and promotion tracks are vague, and it leaves a feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, and frustration, in a remote environment those feelings can be massively inflated; mountains turn into molehills more quickly when you’re not in the same office.

I think having a long term plan for any employee in any business, remote or otherwise is a must. Anything else is disrespectful of the commitment the employee is making to the company and potentially exploitative of the employee, and as a remote team long terms plans and vision are even more important.  People need to believe in the vision for the company, and the vision for what it can do for their careers, anything less and they will start looking for more traditional employment rather quickly, and they probably should.

The plan should always be evolving

Once an employee is onboarded, fully ramped up, and has become a productive functioning member of your team, ask them what helped them get there.  Ask them what they would change if they had to do it again. Ask them what didn’t work. Ask them how to improve the process. Then change the process.

Document the process (like we’re doing here), even the parts that you think seem obvious, and like all your process docs, these should be living documents.  If something works today, there is no promise that they will still work in 6 months or even 3 months. Since these are documents that affect basically everyone in the organization, invite everyone to collaborate on them, and work to find something that works for everyone.

As with everything you do in business, you should invite criticism, keep your ego out of it, and work to improve the process for the betterment of the organization.

Bottom line of running any organization

Everyone in any organization achieves more when they achieve their goals together.  Hall Of Famer Allen Iverson never won a championship, 3 point shooting role-player Steve Kerr won 5 as a player.  

Clearly define roles for your employees, let them know how their roles impact the organization as a whole, then put them in positions that allow them to succeed in their roles, and the company as a whole will see greater success.