Remote teams - worthy or wearisome?

As technology increasingly enables workers to step away from their desks, more agencies are embracing the efficiencies and benefits of working with remote teams. Whether your gun employee moved away or you’ve found numerous cost savings from outsourcing overseas, the benefits of working with remote teams are numerous.

“You can cherry pick the best people, irrespective of location. I work with an Australian developer, an English online retailer, a South African writer, a Canadian marketer and an American web host,” says Chris Hunter, founder of popular motorbike website, Bike EXIF, and its sister site, Cycle EXIF.

“Working with remote teams gives agencies access to a greater pool of talented, creative people than can be found in just one city,” says Philippines-based Ray Velez, creative director for digital studio The Level.

However there are downsides and risks, which should be considered before engaging remote staff. As an ex-agency Creative Director, Hunter believes that not all elements of creative work are suitable to outsource: “For ad agencies, using remote creative teams is not a good idea. In that case, you really need the face-to- face, to work with people who know the clients and the commercial landscape. We dabbled in remote teams on a few occasions, usually as a last resort, and it was always disastrous.”

But how can creative agencies working with remote teams foster a sense of teamwork and cohesion to avoid potential pitfalls?

“It’s good to share a laugh and remember that your remote staff are not robots, but people with personalities. Treating remote workers equally is essential – there can be a tendency to consider them inferior,” says Velez.

Velez says that the usual rules of quality planning, communication and project management apply when dealing with remote teams. “Setting very clear expectations about timeframes, capabilities and deadlines can make the difference between success and failure,” he says. “Treat outsourcing like a strategic partnership. The talent or business should share your values and want to help, and vice versa,” says Andy Twomey, Founder of inbound marketing agency You&Co.

Recruiting quality candidates is vital when working with remote teams. Twomey advises agencies to “start recruiting before you need the help. The good talent will be busy – anyone that can start right away should be treated with caution,” he says. “Create a well thought out test or exam for candidates. If it's not your skillset, have someone create it for you.” Velez suggests agencies fully comprehend a potential remote worker’s capabilities, work ethic and business acumen. “Grill them thoroughly, look for a varied folio and seek several referrals,” he says. “Good planning at the recruitment stage will significantly reduce your risk.”

“Word of mouth is priceless. For ‘cold’ hires, open marketplaces like Upwork (formerly known as Elance) have great rating and feedback systems,” says Hunter. “Have alternatives ready to take over in case someone breaks your trust.” When it comes to the downsides of working with remote teams, our experts warn to be on the lookout for cultural differences.

“Some remote workers have a good enough is good enough mentality,” says Velez. “Working remotely with an Indonesian team, I found it important to avoid slang and colloquialisms because cultural differences can be lost in translation. Be prepared for cultural explanations.”

Twomey also highlights the potential for cultural cringe, saying, “Don’t underestimate the culture gap, and spend the necessary time assimilating.” So in conclusion, working with remote teams can save your labour costs and increase your access to highly skilled workers, provided you’re committed to making it successful. For creative agencies looking for increased efficiencies and better margins, the investment is quite often worth the reward.

Matthew Peng

Founding Director of Business Continuum

Melbourne, Australia
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