Forget Command And Control: 7 Secrets To Collaborating Remotely
Over the last couple of months, many of us have been introduced, overnight, to the concept of working remotely from home. For some of us, the challenge has been around using new technology; for others, it has been the discipline required to focus.
Launched in 2010 with just $300 in starting capital, from a Beach in Bali, .Coach (dot coach) has grown to become a consulting firm with a reported turnover last year of $11million. The company is 100% virtual. No offices, 34 employees spread from the US to Australia all working remotely, serving clients in 37 countries. I spoke with Sai Blackbyrn, the company’s Head Coach via Zoom from London about what it takes to build and grow a virtual business.
1. Trust Your Team
Virtual businesses are tough. You don’t know if your staff is working flat out, or just scrolling through Instagram. Sai tried everything. He even had the staff install a piece of software that monitored their screen during working hours. He eventually realized that 9 – 5 doesn’t work in a virtual setting.
“Since .Coach began, we’ve tried everything under the sun, in terms of virtual team management. We even set up a program on every staff member’s computer, that took a screenshot every hour of the working day, so we could monitor their actions, that didn’t work either. People just appeared to be working, but they were mostly just doing fluff. “
It may sound obvious, but the kind of person that wants to work virtually is tired of the corporate minutia, they’re tired of just showing up to work and sitting there until the day is done, even if they have nothing to do. They want to work effectively. This is exactly what Sai discovered.
“They want to have a balanced life, especially if they have a family. So the kind of person that you would love to have on your team as you build your business remotely, you’ll repel by keeping the traditional or expected ways of running an office. “
Keeping this in mind, as the company grew Sai settled on a counterintuitive method of management: No management whatsoever.
Staff members have a set of daily tasks and non-daily tasks (the stuff that comes at random times) that they need to accomplish. Some duties are too broad to be broken down directly into tasks.
“Things like customer service are more about responsibility and a person’s ability to self-manage. All we ask from them is excellence. How they achieve that, is entirely up to them. They can manage their own time to complete their tasks and complete them in a way that they can be proud of their work. Whether that takes them 2 hours or 20 hours, that is on them. What we started to see after implementing this system of non-management was that people became infinitely more productive.”
Tasks that would have taken 4 hours, now got finished in 2, Sai recalls. The most interesting outcome of this experiment was the sheer creativity with which the team responded to it. Left to themselves, everyone started to innovate on tasks so that they became more efficient and effective, which meant that every time a future employee was given a set of tasks, it had already been systemized and turned into efficient processes.
“Because we incentivize efficient processes and because their work performance is measured by the amount of work done versus the number of hours spent in an office, all of our employees try to find creative ways to get their work done at the quality that we like, but done most efficiently so they have to spend the least amount of time.”
A very surprising chain of events started to unfold. Sai reports that people were able to skill-up faster, take on more responsibility, get more work automated, and all of this was being done by people who reported greater levels of satisfaction at work and were able to grow with the company.
“So instead of hiring more and more people and designing unwieldy management systems, we invested in our best performers, we trained them to perform in multiple departments, serve multiple roles, all the while making sure that they were able to have the balance that they desire. This is only possible if you trust your team, and you believe in their ability to grow .”
Doesn’t this system still allow some people to be lazy and not do what was assigned?
“What we found was that they typically get routed out in about 30 days. You can very clearly see the gap between what they say they’re doing and what they’ve accomplished.
In a team full of very efficient and very hardworking employees, it is easy to spot the person who is not performing. There is nowhere to hide.”
2. Setup Your Workspace And Have a Routine
When Sai first started to work virtually in 2010 he did it from a villa in Bali, by the beach.
“I would think to myself that this was the best, that I was working in paradise while making my friends jealous.”
After a month it hit him, how ineffective he had become. “I was constantly distracted, and I couldn’t focus on what I needed to achieve at all.” The breakthrough happened when he decided to set up a routine for himself and created a workspace that would inspire him to be productive.
”No more working from cafes off the beach; I was going to be in an air-conditioned room with lightning-fast internet, and nobody else was allowed to be there with me unless we were working on something together. It often happens that productivity dips considerably when people start working virtually; this mostly comes down to people failing to set up effective workspaces and routines.”
3. Systems Are Key
“The great thing about a real office is that communication is taken for granted, and it is automatically figured out within the model. But, when you set up a virtual company, suddenly even basic task management becomes a nightmare.”
Sai tells of how people forgot what tasks had been assigned to them, managers forgot to follow up with staff, and at the end of the month, a mission-critical piece didn’t get completed because of a bottleneck in one of the tasks.
Over the years, Blackbyrn has experimented with about 40 different tools to get the virtual office working just right. He’s found the key elements at the core of any virtual workspace:
+ An effective way to communicate remotely. Blackbyrn uses Slack. built specifically for virtual teams to collaborate.
+ A system to virtually assign and monitor tasks. Trello is “simple, friendly, and easy to use” according to Blackbyrn
+ A reliable place to host virtual meetings. .Coach uses Zoom
4. Target Your Marketing
“Too often,” Blackbyrn says, “people try to do everything all at once, and they do it all badly. So, their marketing, which is the lifeblood of a business, just doesn’t deliver. The strategy of being everywhere for your clients, all the time, simply doesn’t work. It requires high investment, high maintenance, yet it delivers very low returns, and very rarely brings repeat business.”
Sai subscribed to a very simple, singular Philosophy: be an inch wide and a mile deep. “This is the strategy of focused quality and recurring business. We present multiple offers to the same audience, and we invest heavily in our clients; we ensure that with every product they buy with us, they feel satisfied and happy.”
.Coach’s most effective tool for generating business has been a single webinar that they run regularly, with the same content every time. Sai claims this webinar which took over a month to build, script, and perfect has been responsible for $7 million in income, over 3 years.
Similarly, instead of focusing on every social media outlet and marketing channel there, .coach focused their efforts on official Facebook groups, and as a result, they now have more than 4 million followers.
5. It Helps To Have A Unique Offer
An irresistible offer goes miles, Sai says. “In our market, almost everybody just sells information: how to build a coaching business, how to become a best-selling author, how to get more clients.
What we noticed is that it becomes harder and harder to compete on the offer of selling a ‘how-to’. We made a decision about 5 years ago that if someone came to us and wanted to become a best-selling author, we wouldn’t just teach them how to do it; we would do it for them.”
”If they came to us wanting to build a coaching business, we wouldn’t just teach them how to do it; we’d build their business systems, marketing, and sales funnels for them. And we’d guarantee a result or their money back.”
“By openly investing in our client’s success,” Blackbyrn confides,” we also ensure they come to depend on us.”
6. Be Selective About Who You Serve
When .coach launched, they took on anyone willing to for their products. Pretty soon, Sai realized that they were signing up people who had no intention of building a successful coaching business but just wanted to ‘appear’ as if they were doing something.
“Imagine an ‘entrepreneur’ who doesn’t want to be an entrepreneur, and that will give you the image of what 90% of our client base used to be. And when you do not have great clients, it’s hard to deliver great results. If Harvard accepted everyone who applied, what would happen to their success rates as a university?
“We have 29 authors who’ve become international #1 bestsellers. We have countless coaches who’ve created very successful businesses with our help.”
“If you can guarantee results, there’s no holding you back, but you can only guarantee results if you’re selective about which clients you take on
7 Treat Your Team Like Family
When we first started to grow, the business started to become anonymous. Distance was growing within the team. We didn’t feel connected to each other.”
What Sai realized was that a big part of loving your work is feeling loved by the people within it. In a physical office, you can speak to people directly, you can take them out for lunch, console them when they’re upset. But how do you do any of that in a virtual setup?
”I know the life goals and core desires of my core team, inside and out. They know the life goals and core desires of the people they manage. On birthdays and important events, we send personalized gifts to them, gifts that we already know they’d love. When a tragedy has happened in their life, we send them flowers and call them up. When they achieve something amazing in the business, we facilitate a life goal that they have.”
“For example, one of our team members had the dream of buying a large plot of land by the ocean and turning it into a self-sustaining off the grid farm. Our company helped him with the deposit on it a few months ago. When you care for those in your care, those people will care for those in their care.”
As a result of this, Sai says, a company, even one that is 100% virtual, becomes a lot more like a family.
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