We are in a new age of rapidly transforming technology, economic uncertainty, and market demand.
So why are so many companies still structuring their core teams like it was 1975?
Instead of decreasing resource strain and increasing access to talent by taking advantage of non-traditional working arrangements (i.e., remote, seasonal, or part-time staffing), CEOs continue to build their core leadership and support teams as full-time, office-bound, employees. The result is an artificially limited labor pool, unnecessarily high overhead and an inflexible work burden that impedes an organization’s agility in a turbulent market.
Knowing when (and how) to restructure your inner circle can feel daunting — even radical. When I make this recommendation to fellow business owners, I invariably get a flurry of initial questions: How will my team stay engaged? How will they stay committed? How will they stay loyal?
But the real question you should be asking yourself is this: How can I ensure access to and retention of the best talent while increasing my startup’s nimble factor?
When to restructure your organization
The best way to organize your team is to structure it right the first time: if you are in the early phases of a startup, you can utilize non-traditional work arrangements from the beginning. If your startup is already off the ground, take a look at your team, your current project list and ask:
Who has expressed a desire for flexibility?
When is there a lull in your projects or activities — even a brief one — to initiate a transition?
What I have found time and again is that non-traditional work arrangements are a win-win: they provide me with resource relief and a way to attract talent. The also give employees a freedom they typically haven’t experienced before.
The team at my company, Yesware, evaluates people on the amount and quality of the work we get done, not on the location from which we do it. And we see that flexibility, even in core positions, correlates to increased buy-in and productivity.
I have found the fears associated with offering more flexible arrangements—lost productivity, distracted employees, workers who take advantage of the company’s trust—are generally unfounded. Professionals engaging in non-traditional work arrangements understand that the entire reason they are able to do so is their trustworthiness, integrity, and ability to deliver.
But of course, not every member of your team (or future team) will be a right fit for this.
How to find the right people
While many future or current team members may express an interest in such an arrangement, some just aren’t suited for this kind of set up.
To test who might be ready, I recommend two methods: One approach is to work closely with the new team member for the first month in a traditional working arrangement. As you help them get settled, you’re also observing their work style, habits, and tendencies.
The other tactic that I’ve found very successful is hiring someone as a contractor and letting them work remotely. At the end of the trial contract period, you can continue the arrangement as is, shift the relationship to a more traditional arrangement, opt for a hybrid option, or part ways.
This strategy can also work well with current members of your core team; offer a trial for those who want to work remotely for a period of 2 months. If it’s a good fit, keep it going, if not, make alternative plans.
How to make it work
Once you have the right people in the right spots, the challenge shifts to making your hybrid team work.
Here are a few tactics for keeping your core team members connected, in sync, and involved:
1. Utilize Video Conferencing: At Yesware, we do daily standups at 10am that everyone joins via videoconference no matter where they are located. Our CTO lives in Brazil, so that's a big way he stays connected to the activities of the team.
He also flies up to Boston every two weeks and works out of the office here.
Naveen Dittakavi, founding consultant at iMLogical in Atlanta, uses Skype to communicate regularly and clearly with his worldwide team: “Explicit direction from me and understanding by them is how we are able to work together effectively across time zones and asynchronously.”
2. Learn to Love Texting: We use the awesomely amazing program Hipchat for daily ongoing inter-company text chat. With Hipchat going, we can all stay in touch no matter where we happen to be. Other options are Google’s Gchat (built into Gmail) or 37 Signal’s Camp Fire product.
3. Digitize Project Management: With easy to use — and inexpensive — cloud-based products like FogBugz and Asana, Pivotal Tracker or BaseCamp, moving all aspects of project management — from assigning, milestone mapping, cost analysis, and general accountability — can be done effectively and efficiently all online.
These tools, combined with inspired product management provide a great way to stay up to date on what the team has completed, is working, and is planning.
While making the leap from a traditional core team arrangement to a more flexible model can feel like a step backward, it is really a step forward for your startup. Once you restructure your team, you are opening your company up to more talent, more resources, and more employee satisfaction. And that is a basic formula for success in our modern business world.
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