The Seeds of Remote Company Leadership and Culture

Sunset, Puerto Vallarta

Sunset, Puerto Vallarta

If you want your remote company to be successful, you’ll need a culture centered on results, trust and transparency. You can run a brick and mortar company in the old way, it will be at a competitive disadvantage, but you could do it. If you try using traditional management practices with a remote company, it will likely fail.

Until very recently, there has been little to no management innovation since the 1800’s when the British East India Company created the first management practices. They used command and control or carrots and sticks, otherwise known as extrinsic motivation to run their companies and over 85% of companies are still run this way.

Fully remote companies run best when they are run asynchronously, that is when it doesn’t matter where you are or when you work. Requiring folks to work core hours, be in certain time zones or whatnot is a competitive disadvantage. Technology has advanced to the point where as long as you have a decent internet connection, 20 megabytes or greater in most cases, you can work from anywhere in the world.  Zapier.com is a great example, they have 350 team members all working asynchronously.

There is no set formula for creating your company culture, and the culture is what makes the company special or unique. Zappos.com is hyper focused on  customer service. Gore.com is privately held and run democratically. Atllassian.com has values like, “Don’t fuck the customer” and has no sales force.  There are things that should be incorporated into all remote companies.

  • Results Focused: It’s about getting results, not how much you work. You negotiate your goals with your manager/team and when they are done, your done. The reward for a job well done is not more work!

  • Trust: Hire good people, work with them to ensure they don’t have skills gaps and create an environment that will help them to motivate themselves and foster their success.

  • Transparency: Share everything, good news, bad news, financials including salary, and all communication with perhaps a few small exceptions. Be an outstanding communicator.

Traditional management empowers a handful of people at the top to do all the thinking for a company and forces everyone else to conform to their will, do it there way, in their time and a place they prescribe. Human beings resent being manipulated and when someone offers you a reward or punishment, they are manipulating you. If you do this, I’ll give you that. When we feel threatened, less than, left out, looked over, unappreciated or whatnot, it causes a fight or flight reaction in our brain, our amygdala secretes adrenaline and blood is rerouted from our frontal cortex to our hindbrain. This is a major cause for folks being disengaged at work and disengagement for remote companies is death. It creates a vicious cycle.

Traditional manager give orders, they tell their employees what to do, how to do it, where they should do it and when they have to do it. The thought of working like that again makes me ill! It takes little to no training to be a traditional manager, what one mostly needs is administrative training.

It’s best for remote companies to follow a servant/leader model. Servant/leaders are facilitators of the team’s success, they are coaches, not authoritarians. Leading this way takes coaching and training. It means learning about each person on your team, how they work best, what motivates and demotivates them, how they like to be recognized and rewarded and most of all it means caring deeply for the folks that work for you.

Traditional managers focus on you having your ass in a seat for 8 or 10 hours a day. There is always that one person in the office, who is the first to arrive, the last to leave and seems to be constantly busy. In my experience, when a company makes the shift to results based management, these are the folks that can’t adapt. They seem busy but are not achieving results, they seem engaged but are just spinning their wheels.

If you use modern management practices like the servant/leader model, you can more easily focus on results. Working this way is much more flexible, more agile. It builds better relationships on the team and it lets us get a lot more done.

When trust is the default mode, when we treat team members as adults, not people we need to control or keep under our thumb, it creates a virtuous cycle, it’s uplifting. And it makes it easier to face and admit to failure. According to research in behavioral economics we have two kinds of relationships, social relationships and transactional relationships. The former is built on trust and in that mode we seek win/win outcomes. The later is built on selfishness and results in win/lose outcomes. I’ll take win/win outcomes every time!

Transparency can’t really happen without trust. Many remote companies publish salaries or have transparent pay scales so everyone knows what everyone else makes.  When they have a problem, instead of 3 guys in a room trying to figure out what to do, they pose the problem to the entire team to seek a solution. No one likes to find out later about a bad surprise! Would you rather trust a few people at the top to solve problems, look for opportunities and give feedback or would you rather use the combined brainpower of the entire team?  I’ll take the many over the few, ever time!

In summary, if you want your remote company to be successful, focus on results, trust, and transparency. Look to your team to define your culture and figure out what makes you unique and play to your strengths. Train and coach your managers to be servant/leaders and you’ll have the best chance of creating a sustainable remote business.