In short:

  • The popularity of remote workers is increasing, with over 43 percent of employed Americans spending at least some time working from home.
  • Managers of this growing remote workforce must adapt in-office practices to teams that now transcend regions and time zones.
  • Trailblazing companies with large remote workforces recommend a suite of tools including management software, communication platforms and virtual office systems.

As most of us know, remote work is increasing as part of the standard employee experience. According to a Gallup survey, 43 percent of Americans spent time working remotely last year. The trend is spreading across industries, with another report citing IT, sales, healthcare and account management as the current leaders in remote worker hirings.

Business benefits of remote workers include reduced office costs, less turnover, increased productivity and access to global talent. Employees enjoy remote work, too. The 2018 “State of Remote Work” report found that 90 percent of remote workers plan to continue for the entirety of their careers, citing a flexible schedule and more time with family as the two biggest benefits.

This growing remote workforce comes with challenges, however, particularly in the arena of employee management. Managers are required to get creative in terms of communication, project management and social activities.

It pays to study companies that have mastered this dynamic. Here are profiles of four companies who are managing their remote workers well. You’ll have to determine which of their tools (��) might work best for your business–overall, a focus on technology, team communication and community-building is a must.

Company #1: Culture Trip

Industry: travel, media and entertainment

Culture Trip is a travel, media and entertainment company that sources its content from some 300 freelance “creators” around the world. The London-based corporate team works with these remote freelancers to develop travel guide-style articles and videos.

Culture Trip’s managers use a blend of traditional tactics and online tools specifically geared toward freelance creatives.

�� Corporate team leads

“Our internal [team] leads … serve as mentors to the larger [freelancer] community, offering direction, constructive criticism and editing for their work,” said Naomi Malik, director of community at Culture Trip. “We also have a microsite with full guidelines on working practices, policies, GDPR [general data protection regulation] and many other items.”

�� A freelancer management system

Culture Trip is currently shopping for a freelancer management system, which Malik said would be “game-changing for us when it comes to end-to-end relationship management.”

�� Company microsites, chats and newsletters

As director of community, Malik serves as the main go-between for freelancers and the company’s internal HR team. The majority of communication happens through an internal microsite or Google Hangouts, and most requests are handled within 24 hours.

“It’s important that we’re communicating clearly and often with our creators,” said Malik. “We have a regular newsletter with company news and other updates, and we frequently offer webinars and online live training sessions to keep our community engaged.”

Freelancers around the world curate Culture Trip's travel guides
Freelancers around the world curate Culture Trip’s travel guides. (credit: Instagram/culturetrip)

Tagged by Forbes as a fast-growing British business to watch, Culture Trip clearly has a valuable asset in its remote workforce.

“We tell people about our global creator community every chance we get,” said Malik. “Their success is our success and a further proofpoint that a remote workforce model at scale can work.”

Company #2: Flex Jobs

Industry: job listings and worker management

Flex Jobs aims to become the biggest site for curated remote and flexible jobs. Considered experts in the remote work movement, Flex Jobs practices what it preaches and operates a 100-percent remote team.

�� Online tools (Slack, Sococo, Google Drive, Zoom)

Online tools are key to Flex Jobs’ success, said Brie Reynolds, a senior career specialist and coach. The company uses Slack for daily check-ins. Sococo assigns online avatars to each team member and allows them to hold internal meetings, “hang out in a break rooms” and connect with clients in a virtual office space. Flex Jobs uses Google Drive for document sharing and Zoom as its primary tool for video meetings.

�� Smart hiring

Good hiring is also related to success in remote worker management, Reynolds said.

“Employee attributes like self-direction and self-management are huge [when hiring remote workers],” said Reynolds. “Potential hires must also have excellent communication skills.”

work remote
Flex Jobs celebrates the fact that all of its employees work remote. (credit: Instagram/flexjobs)

�� Virtual team parties

Managers of remote workers should take an active role in community-building, Reynolds added.

“Translate the things you would do in a physical office to a virtual environment,” she said.

Think virtual baby showers, pizza parties or dressing up in costume for Zoom meetings on Halloween. These get-togethers are elective at Flex Jobs, yet Reynolds noted that many employees participate enjoy connecting with other member of the remote team.

�� Annual in-person retreats

Traditional community-building activities like in-person retreats also play an important role. Once a year, Flex Jobs gathers its teams in a singular location to address high-level strategies.

Company #3: Buffer

Industry: social media management

Buffer helps businesses manage and improve their social media presence. The company offers a suite of tools like analytics tracking and dashboards that can manage multiple accounts. About 80 employees work for Buffer on nearly every continent and in nearly every time zone.

�� An office-like team structure

Much like office-based companies, Buffer groups its remote workers into teams including marketing, customer advocacy and support. On a daily basis, “you’re accountable primarily to your team,” explained Hailley Griffis, Buffer’s head of PR.

Each team sets standards based on the nature of its work. For example, customer service teams may adhere to strict working hours in order to respond to customer inquiries, while marketing projects may be less time-sensitive.

�� Dropbox Paper

Buffer also utilizes asynchronous communication, a process by which team members work independently on ongoing projects without meetings.

“In our marketing team, we have people in seven different time zone,” said Griffis. “So when we’re working on things, we try to eliminate the need for us to all be one call.”

Buffer’s marketing team uses services like Dropbox Paper so team members can review documents, leave comments and keep the workflow moving.

�� Communication standards

There are established, company-wide best practices for communication tools like Slack.

For example, “You’re expected to get back to someone within the same workday if they’ve messaged you in your time zone,” said Griffis.

employees work remotely from homes
Buffer’s employees work remotely from homes and co-working spaces worldwide. (credit: Instagram/buffer)

�� VR meetings

Griffis has used VR module Oculus Go to conduct virtual meetings.

“Instead of looking at someone through a screen, I’m walking around a room with my team member and writing on a whiteboard” said Griffis. “The experience is so immersive.”

Griffis said VR meetings are fairly rare, but she expects more companies to adopt them as remote workforces continue to grow.

Company #4: MTB Direct

Industry: Online retail

MTB Direct is Australia’s premier online retailer for mountain bike parts, clothing and accessories. The Melbourne-based company has a 100-percent remote workforce with employees dispersed across Australia, Tasmania and the U.S.

MTB Direct chose a remote workforce in order to save money, access a more talented applicant pool and support round-the-clock customer service.

�� Smart hiring

During hiring, co-founder Jen Geale looks for specific employee attributes. The ideal candidate is comfortable working alone, a self-starter and has a vision that aligns with that of her brand. To this end, MTB Direct has tapped its customer base for a number of key hires. Geale also leads a robust onboarding process to integrate new hires into company operations.

�� Online tools (Guru, Slack, Asana, Hubstaff)

At MTB Direct, the marketing and sales teams use Guru, a platform on which team members can collect knowledge. Slack is the company’s daily communication and information hub. Asana is its work management platform, and Hubstaff is the employee time-tracking, reporting and payments system.

Employees at MTB Direct work remotely
Employees at MTB Direct work remotely so they can enjoy … mountain biking! (credit: Instagram/mountainbikesdirect)

�� The bottom line

As your business grows, it’s likely you’ll encounter the need to manage remote workers. Study the success of other remote teams, and consider which of their tactics might work for your company.