Last updated on September 16th, 2020
COVID-19 pandemic has left no other option for businesses than to shift their working remotely. Considering that the crisis may loom large for at least a year, businesses have started investing in remote working technologies. They are adapting to this new work culture and making themselves comfortable with remote technologies. If you are one of them who’s looking for tips & tricks for building as well as growing a team remotely, then this webinar transcript with Time Doctor founder Liam Martin will give you insights into this new development.
Remote working is the new norm today. Businesses of all sizes have already started conducting their day-to-day functioning remotely. They are organizing virtual meetings amongst team members and officials. Almost all the decisions are now based on discussions held online.
However, since remote work is a new culture for most businesses, complying with it is a bit harder. They desperately look for some effective remote working solutions. Many issues related to productivity, efficiency, hiring of new employees, etc. crop up. They look for the right solutions but are often clueless.
Considering that, Designhill, the leading creative marketplace, organized a webinar with Liam Martin on the topic “Tips and Tricks for building and growing your team remotely’’ on 30th April 2020. The webinar addressed the issues that entrepreneurs are confronting with these days.
Liam Martin is the co-founder and CMO of TimeDoctor.com and Staff.com, the globally recognized time tracking tool. He also consults on process design and outsourcing and loves to give insights into how people work. During the webinar session, Liam gave tips on how to hire the right people, build efficient processes, have the essential tools in place, and establish healthy communication.
Here Is the Video OF The Webinar
Here Are The Excerpts From The Webinar Where Liam Martin Shares His Rich Experience Of Working Remotely And Offers Insight
Designhill: What inspired you in the first place?
My previous business was an online tutoring company, while my current business is time-tracking companies. The problem I had with the business earlier was that it was tough for me to measure how long an online student and tutor worked together. As an example, I would have a student come to me and say, I didn’t work with my tutor for 10 hours. I worked with him for six hours. And then I’d have to go to the tutor and say, did you work with me for 10 hours, and this tutor would say, of course, that’s what I billed for initially.
So I’d end up having to refund the student and then pay the tutor the full amount, which was destroying the business. So I realized that a tool like Time Doctor was the solution that I was looking for that wasn’t currently in the market. And nine years later, here we are.
Designhill: So, the solution to one of your startup’s problems is now providing solutions to the workplace around the world?
Yes, our company has seen vast growth. Everyone who is in the remote work tool space has seen massive growth. But space has probably accelerated in two to three months. What is currently happening in this space is exciting. Anyone getting into the remote workspace will probably be a business model that will significantly expand over the next few years. Also, if you ever wondered about the best team building activity then you should consider vr escape room games.
Designhill: Let us say that an organization is new to the time tracking culture but want to have this cultural migration. So, how should such an organization go about it?
Set Up Communication Metrics
I think the two biggest problems faced by such organizations are communication and process documentation. The communication doesn’t automatically happen inside of remote teams. You can not say that ‘can I have a minute inside of remote teams’. It’s very much focused on trying to schedule that time in that space.
Make sure that you are communicating with your team and setting up purpose time to follow up on KPIs and metrics. We use a tool called Fellow for that, which is powerful. And then you are moving forward and reporting in on that data. And you’re doing a team meeting and one-on-one with the team members inside of your team every week. That’s what we do.
Ensure Better Process Documentation
Now, the other part of the calculation is process documentation. There are a couple of tools available in the market that you can use for the documentation. But you need to take all of the information that you have about how you run your business.
You need to be able to write the information down, basically document and digitize it. In this way, you put it into a cloud platform so that everyone can get access to the information. Then you should also be able to distribute that to everyone in the office.
So, if you worked for Time Doctor as an example, you would know how to do marketing, development, or at least have all the playbooks and process documents. Assuming 20% of your team may be sick at any one point, it’s really important to have those types of redundancies in place.
Therefore, inside of Time Doctor, everyone in the company knows how to do customer support. This is because we just trained everyone on it when we knew this pandemic was coming up. If the support team falls sick, we can quickly jump in and have a representative, a marketing person, or a customer success person trained to support.
Check Out Different Tools
You can’t do that without proper recipes in terms of tools. Google Docs is quick, easy, and cheap. If you want to go one step up, I would suggest you check out Get Lab, which is a good platform. It is the largest open-source remote-first process document on the planet, which is at about get lab comm slash handbook.
If you want to go for a paid option, then you can opt for a tool called Trio. Between those three tools, you should be able to figure out where you want to go in terms of SOPs put something up there and just kind of start every time you feel like someone’s asked you a question more than three times about a particular thing, turned it into a process document and put it up on that platform.
Designhill: So fundamentally, you anticipate the needs on a real-time basis to provide the solutions out of them?
Yes. It’s important to be able to make sure that you’re doing this on the files as well. As an example, inside of our company, if there is a process document that needs to change, we generally reward people monetarily. We give them a bonus for every processed document that they can change, and that is accepted as the new gold standard for that particular process.
In this way, the system evolves organically. Process documents should continue to evolve. But once something is turned into a process, it becomes a kind of rule of the company. So you can’t do it any other way other than that way unless you change the process. This process document expands and evolves in many ways that you didn’t even think of before.
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Designhill: Let us move to the technical aspect of this. What are the preparation and unemployed person should make to move to work from home?
Have The Quality Basic Stuff To Do Work
Well, you should always check if you have the right stuff that makes working much more convenient. For instance, I have this external monitor, which I suggest everyone should have. It is a 32-inch monitor, and it is not an ultra high definition 4K monitor. It is just 1K and has a USB C plug next to my laptop. With this monitor, however, at any point, I can pop into my laptop and have that external screen by a really good mouse.
Also, I have this MX Master mouse, the best mouse available in the market now.
When someone first suggested I buy a mouse, I thought that was crazy. I want you to know that I have a trackpad on my laptop. I don’t want to have an extra mouse, particularly because I travel quite a bit. But now I say that the mouse is an amazing investment you could ever make.
Another investment is the Bose sound true ultras, costing about $70 on Amazon. I like them because they don’t only have a very comfortable fit into my ear, but more importantly, they have a very good microphone. So you need to be able to figure out which one has not just the best audio quality but the best mic quality.
You should also invest in getting a comfortable chair. I’m sitting in a chair that I find very comfortable. The test of a comfortable chair is when you sit in the chair and don’t need to adjust your body for one minute. So go into a chair store and start sitting in chairs. You will be surprised that how a thousand dollar chair is not that comfortable for you as is some $25 chair, depending on your body.
Similarly, in software technology tools, you have to figure out the best in the market. We use tools like Slack, Zoom, Skype, Basecamp, and Trello, for project management. Fundamentally, it just means how you can communicate effectively, remotely. These tools also help measure metrics effectively inside of a remote team.
Designhill: How to remotely hire people?
While remotely hiring people, make sure they are interested in being hired remotely. We currently do a culture test before we even look at whether or not someone is qualified. So, we first find out if they are interested in working remotely and are passionate about that subject.
As a company, our mission statement is to empower people to work from wherever they want whenever they want. If you’re not aligned to that goal, we probably shouldn’t be working together regardless, whatever your resume looks good in terms of platforms. I mean, we have mentioned Designhill. But if you go to any of the other platforms such as Upwork, Flex jobs, 99 designs, Dribble, etc., platforms, you can find those positions.
Sync the procedure with your remote model
Make sure that the hiring procedures you are going through also apply to a remote model. For example, inside of our company, we usually end up working with people for one to three months, before we hire them full time. That is because we can afford to do it inside of a remote work model.
So let’s say that I was hiring someone in Mumbai. We would go on a one to three-month contract before we bring that person on full time. It’s so fast and easy to hire. On average, a remote worker is hired 35% faster than an on-premise employee. This is due to the capabilities of moving so much faster on a remote model versus an in-person model. You can test people for longer and faster with the remote model, which ends up getting you better candidates down the line.
Right hiring is key to business success
If you are a business owner, your only responsibility is to hire the right people, which should be rule one, two, and three of building a successful business. If the hired people are not aligned to your goals, get them off the bus or even better never hire them in the first place.
I am blown away to find that many people don’t follow that rule. They say, ‘oh, well, their resume is so great.’ I tell you it doesn’t work that way. We have tried that repeatedly, and it always ends up blowing up in our face. This is because if someone is not aligned with the company mission, then when times get tough, they will not be there for you.
Designhill: How should you be hiring without disrupting the entire dynamics of remote, remote working, or hiring or maybe cultural integration as well?
Remote hiring is beautiful because you can quickly prove whether or not their CVs are real. Let’s say you want to hire a designer and apply as a designer, and I steal many designs from an amazing group of designers. And, I say, this is my portfolio. How do you know that I didn’t steal that content? You don’t, until you hire me, right until you do some testing. And maybe I can even get by with a little bit of testing, particularly from working remotely.
Well, maybe I could make it in as a full-time designer, and you wouldn’t figure this out until three, six months into the process. But with remote work, you can hire that person on a full time, and check to see whether or not their CV aligns with what they’re saying and what they’re qualified to do.
So we’ve just realized that the process is way cheaper, but businesses do not do that. They follow the oldest model of looking at someone’s resume, do two, three, and four interviews. Then, they take a chance that they’re qualified and hire them full time.
Designhill: And let us say some structures require a hybrid model. Some of them are required to be on limits and other off-limits. Then, how should we adapt to that culture?
Second Class Employees
That is an interesting question. There are some problems inside of that model. We have been looking at remote teams versus on-premise teams, and the hybrid model. There are what is called second class citizens or second class employees inside of organizations, and then founder islands.
So, second class employees are employees that are not located in the main area where the main office is located. Let us say that your main offices are located in Mumbai, and you are in Bali. You would be a second class employee because you would very rarely be making the trips to Mumbai to be able to work with that company or that office.
So you get less access to decision-makers and just sort of non-verbal culture that connects to that organization. So that’s one problem.
The second problem that we’ve discovered is founder islands inside of remote teams. So, Amir is the CEO of a fantastic task management to-do list app. He is also a good friend of mine, and we both go running remote every single year, which is the conference that we run on building and scaling remote teams. Amir recognized that when he moved to Barcelona, some of his employees started moving to Barcelona with him.
This is because they wanted more access to that decision-maker. As a result, the founder now has a small group of people that end up coming to that area. You need to be able to make that as much as possible.
Give importance to off-site employees
So, the biggest concern in a hybrid model should be to make sure that an employee who is not on site is treated with the same level of respect as an on-site employee. For example, when we do a phone call or a video call with everyone, let’s say there are four people inside of the same room. We will all be on separate computers with our webcams. But we won’t all be in the same space, or we won’t all show up on the same camera or the single computer. Still, we want to be able to create the perspective that everyone is equal. And also, as a founder, you need to be very resistant towards just making a decision based without conferring with the remote person.
Designhill: How your team can adapt to a new way of working remotely?
If you’re in the state of what we’re currently calling suddenly remote, make sure that you are moving quickly. It would be best if you quickly lay the right ground rules from the very beginning. Set up the ground rules, such as what are your current expectations in terms of productivity? How long should people be working? What should they be doing while they’re working? What kind of metrics do they need to be reporting on?
For example, inside of our company, every single person is responsible for a particular quantitative metric. That is reported every week, and not every two weeks, every month, or quarter. Then what I do is I ask employees, are you on target or off target? If you are off target, I spent a lot more time with you to be able to get you on target, hopefully. And if you’re on target, I generally leave you alone.
And, on many times, that situation is not incredibly clear inside of on-premise teams. Or, it is just not reported in the same way because communication happens almost non verbally. You will be sitting around the coffee machine, and you’ll say, oh, how’s that project going? And you’ll say It is going great. But that is not what you want. You want to be able to record that information clearly and make course corrections as quickly as possible.
If you are moving, let’s say for the first month of your quarter, and you have already reported four times, you can save that and archive backup by making a change. If you are only reporting every month or two weeks, it is a lot more difficult to make that change.
Build Process Documentation
You have got all this information in place. To do that, as I said before, build process documentation. You can go about getting a Lab comm slash handbook. It’s a 3200-page remote work document, which is the largest open-source document on planet earth. Get Labs is a pretty good company, they got a $3 billion valuation, and they know what they’re doing when it comes to remote teams, and steal everything in there.
Dimitri, who is the co-founder and CTO of Get Lab has stated very clearly that you can steal it, you can fork that repo. And then, you will be running your deployment of their process document and pull out the stuff that you need. And you’re up and running.
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Designhill: What can I do to make sure that people are staying focused, committed, and happy?
Measure Happiness Every Day
Let me show you how I do it. I usually write down the date and then I’ll measure how happy I am one a scale of one to five. So I say I’m having a really bad day, I will give one or, if I have a fantastic day, I give four or five to myself. And I measure that every single day. It is important for mental health that you record that on a longitudinal scale.
I learned it from my days as a sociologist and psychologist that mental health doesn’t just happen or not happen. It’s a very slow process. You might have a shock, like what we’re currently going through right now. And if you don’t rebound from that shock, you could end up going further and further into basically chemical depression.
And once you’re in a state of chemical depression, it takes approximately six months to recover, You need quite a bit of professional therapy and usually some type of medication to get back up and positive feedback. Talking about medical depression, it is just literally the cortisol, the stress hormone running through your body to a new level. By recognizing it very early, you can create that early warning system and then have someone that you can hopefully reach out to for help.
Managers should become the therapist
Is your manager or the owner of the business that therapist, that type of professional, who can help you with mental health and be able to keep people happy? Now, we talk about metrics so that you are focused and committed.
Considering that, you can deploy a tool like Time Doctor. We use it every single day inside of our company to be able to measure exactly what’s being done, report on that data submitted into the organization. In this way, you are getting that feedback loop and you know exactly what’s happening on at least a weekly basis.
So, your manager can start to detect whether or not you are having any type of negative feedback connected to that mental state. Your mental state suggests about your capabilities to execute from a business perspective, they’re almost intrinsically linked. So, create that early warning system. Then, make sure that you report in so that you get help.
Designhill: How to deal with the online distraction in the workplace meaning that you’re working remotely?
You can adapt to major methods. The first one is to deploy a tool like TimeDoctor. If you start to get distracted, it can say, hey, if you want to resume work or not. So we created that as like a direct feedback loop inside of Time Doctor so that if you want to be able to go to Netflix, you can just say, Yeah, no, I want to go to Netflix, and then forget about it, and you’re just gonna use Netflix, for however long you want to do it or Candy Crush or whatever the heck else you want to play.
Create A Sacred Workplace
The second method to avoid distraction is just creating a sacred space for work. I thankfully have an office that I can work out of the place. But even if it is just a place on your couch, a seat on a desk, or at your kitchen table, it’s important to be able to create a space where you only do work and nothing else.
So, as an example, if I were to decide to play on my iPad, which I have right next to me, I would get up from this space, I would go outside and I would go onto social media outside of this office.
So, I created a sacred space here to only focus on work. And that’s been incredibly powerful for you. I know it sounds a little weird. But it works if you’re disciplined with it, and it will probably take you about 30 days before you turn that into a discipline. And after that, you’re going to be just fine in terms of your overall productivity.
Designhill: How useful remote working on TimeDoctor can be for freelancers to track their efficiency. Do they need to add more working solutions?
Yeah, money is time, particularly if you’re a freelancer or you’re an agency. Let us say you’re billing someone out on an hourly basis, you should be able to measure that and provide the documentation to your client. Time Doctor does that beautifully. A lot of people use it as their productivity tool. So they will measure all of the different metrics that connect to their workday, and then try to figure out how to become a lot more productive with it.
So, thousands of people use Time Doctor individually to track productivity and it’s the way that I use it. I don’t have to report my numbers to anybody. But I do report my numbers to the rest of the company. So, everyone inside of the company uses Time Doctor, even me. And, anyone inside of the organization can go in and see exactly what I’m doing right now.
For instance, right now I’m doing a webinar with Designhil as my task. And everyone in my company knows that I’m currently working on that. It creates a really good feedback loop where everyone knows that you’re on track.
Designhill: How do we measure the output of an agency?
It’s difficult to measure. If I was running an advertising agency online, I look at where the money is involved. So probably I would look at those ad creatives, for example, Designhill ads. Let us say there are three to four different versions of an ad that two employees made. I would look at the time on site. How long did someone consume that piece of content? What actions did they take afterward? Did they click through and they sign up for Designhill or not? What is the long term monetization of that particular customer? Did that customer come in and buy $5 worth of services? Or, did that customer come in and buy $500 worth of services? The beauty of having an online business is that you can do all of these things.
Quantify The Results
Even though the feedback loop is going to be quite long, you can quickly figure out who is successful and who is unsuccessful inside of this model. For example, at Time Doctor, everything that we measure is quantified. So if we can’t quantify it, we generally don’t do it. And a lot of these things are maybe a little bit more complicated. So, to measure the overall productivity of a developer is complicated. But the metric that we’ve come up with, which we think is the best is new lines of code.
Therefore, how many lines of code did you write and how many Kozak line lines of code did you delete? And then what are your net new lines of code per day? Then a secondary factor that we work into is how short is your software? How many lines of code did you need to write to accomplish the particular task? After getting a little too nerdy into this, we found that the best two measures are someone writing good code that’s edited properly and documented properly? And then also, is it efficient code? Is it something that someone can do in 30 lines of code, which may require more thought, versus doing it in 300 lines of code, but doing a lot messier and getting the same result?
The more inefficient your code is, the worse the software will be. And when you refactor, you’re going to have to redo that very, very quickly. The software in general is the result that you want. So you just work back from that result. And then how can you quantify that type of result? That’s basically how you measure this.
Designhill: So you’re correlating the creative potential by its conversion potential?
And, that is what we want, right? What is the point of building a logo? It is to get someone to understand what your product is about, and then get them to buy your product. That’s the only reason why we’re building these design assets. So, work backward from that, then try to figure out where you can come up with it.
If you are a call center representative, I can easily measure your overall productivity. How many dials are you doing per hour? And then, how many of those dials resulted in achieving the goal that I’ve set for you? You can quickly and easily do that. With designers, it’s a little bit more difficult. Obviously, with developers, it’s even more difficult. But there are those measures.
Designhill: Do you see this crisis changing the way all teams and organizations operate?
We’ve seen the largest shift of labor in the history of human civilization occur in the last two months. It has been the biggest shift in the way that we work since. I mean, we have moved billions from offices to a remote-first model.
In the United States, in 2018, 4% of the US workforce was working full time remotely, meaning more than four days per week. That number now by our estimates is 70%.
A Likely Massive Shift
So we’ve had a massive, massive shift and I’m assuming it’s probably the same ratio everywhere else. So this is going to be a complete game-changer in terms of understanding how we do work, how we interact with work. I’m assuming between 22% and 75% of all offices will shut down their leases within the next 12 months.
So you need to get out of that. The zoom call 19 times out of 20 is way more cost-effective and has the same result as a flight on business class from New York to Los Angeles which costs you $3,000.
I have seen remote work tool-kit doubling within the last few months. I would say the remote workspace was a billion-dollar space before this crisis started, and it’s a trillion-dollar space right now. So there’s a massive vacuum and anyone who is thinking about getting into this should get into it as quickly as humanly possible because there are tons of dollars to be made.
Designhill: Is it a hint for the real estate guys that they should exit this sector?
Yeah, you need to get office leases. Commercial real estate is going to permanently change. We asked newly remote people how many of them were planning on getting rid of their office leases. Within the first month of everyone being in this situation, 22% of people polled said that they are getting rid of their office leases right now. There is going to be a massive shift in 6 to 12 months. I think 22% is going to be the low end of that estimate.
Designhill: We can say that the current shift in the human workforce is the biggest, and we are in a sort of evolution as well. Is this a huge factor?
I think there’s going to be a lot of really positive moves inside of remote work. You can not talk about remote work without mentioning digital nomadism. The digital nomadism is about location independent individuals that work from their laptops and travel the world. They do have some passport barriers to be able to get through.
So, as a Canadian, I can travel anywhere in the world. Usually, I get a passport on arrival. I know that all countries can’t do that, unfortunately, but I think that will expand, and I could bet you that location-dependent work will tend to go 20 times within two to three years.
I think that ironically, real estate in the countryside, in small village edges and rural areas, will go through the roof. This is because people will now recognize that they can buy a million-dollar home in the countryside. They can also buy an eight-bedroom and five bathrooms for the cost of a one-bedroom place in a major metropolitan area. That is going to shift because now they do not need to commute to work completely.
Designhill: Can you give the top tips to conduct very effective virtual meetings?
Schedule Your Meetings
Make sure that the virtual meetings are scheduled well in advance. First, decide who should be at the meeting. I am constantly surprised that there are people inside of the organization that can order a paperclip. But they could put ten people in a room for two hours, count up how much they are worth, and you are wasting a ton of money.
Therefore, we have a rule inside of Time Doctor that if the meeting is not important to you, you can leave at any point. You will not be reprimanded for leaving. So, make sure the right people are in place and a clear process for your meetings. We usually go through what are our top wins, and our customer headlines are for the week. We also report on metrics, go through all of them, and then figure out what we are going to be doing next week. That is a general process that takes about 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
Restrict The Number Of Members In Meetings
Note also that you should never do a meeting with more than seven people. This is a sociological rule, which I am surprised people don’t follow. If you’re at a party, you watch a group of seven people at a party. Then, you see one more person, enter that group of seven people every time. They will divide up into groups. It’s manageable. You should never have more than eight direct reports and never meet with more than eight people. Make them under 90 minutes and have clear metrics that everyone knows what’s happening.
In terms of technology, use Skype or zoom. Skype is a great free option, while Zoom is a good-paying option that can record calls, make cool backgrounds, and have many other features.
Designhill: Do you think that the current pandemic will compel governments to expand Internet access?
Yes. The Internet should be a utility and a human right. The internet is by far the single most important utility for the 21st century. I think governments if they were very smart, would provide base-level free internet to everyone. And I know that in the US and Canada, it is problematic because there is an oligopoly. There are only one or two Internet service providers inside of a particular market, which is a big problem. The government should either make it a public good or own the infrastructure.
There is a private industry also that sells that infrastructure directly to the end consumer. This creates a lot of competition that drives down prices. But yes, everyone should be getting better access to the internet.
So, these are the vital tips that Liam Martin offered to the entrepreneurs who are looking for some insights on how to make remote working useful and functional.
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With businesses switching to remote functioning of their daily workings and decision-making process, they look for new ways to work in the new environment efficiently. Liam Martin advises them to invest in remote communication technologies, best devices, measure the results, hire remote workforce carefully, keep remote workers happy, get reports daily, and so on.