Launching a remote startup – the essential guide

If the pandemic has taught us anything, is that most professionals can work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a laptop. Remote working has been a thing for a few years now, but it wasn’t until early 2020 that it took off, almost as an obligation in many countries worldwide. What has been named the “new normal” has helped normalise remote and hybrid work to the point that it has become a part of the startup culture and a priority for many professionals looking for a more balanced work-life lifestyle.

If you’re working on a potential startup project or at an early-stage position and, on top of that, you’re thinking of launching fully remote, this article of for you. We’re going to break down a few of the must-do, shouldn’t-dos and share first-hand insights from remote-first founders and CEOs.

Benefits of remote working

The advantages of remote working can benefit both the business and the employee. Since many of you might have experienced the perks (and downsides) as employees, we will take this space to focus on the business benefits of having a remote team.

Access to a broader pool of professionals

It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but hiring international talent can open the door to more people and different experiences, cultures, languages, and even opportunities for new markets to get your business to operate. It’s a win-win situation!

Flexible work hours

It might be one of the most mentioned perks for employees, but it can also work in the business’s favour. Having employees in different time zones means that the business is open for a longer period of time, sometimes even allowing for a 24h service without adding any extra hours to any team member. If you offer a super flexible work schedule, you might find a night-owl willing to cover the night shift directly from the comfort of their living room; cheaper for the company and better for the employee.

Higher Employee retention

A study by Gartner predicts that by the end of 2021, remote workers will account for 32% of all employees worldwide. Following the same line, another survey by FlexJobs details that 65% of employees wanted to work remotely full-time post-pandemic, and 33% were up for a hybrid work arrangement, divided between the office and at home.

The truth is that remote work (and hybrid) is not the future; it’s the present, and, therefore, it’s essential to adapt it to your own startup culture if you wish to attract new talent and have high employee retention. Take Remote-first and Barcelona-born, Doist as an example. They’ve been remote-first since it started in 2007. With close to a hundred employees, it has a 97% employee retention rate, and more than 50% of its employees have been there for more than four years.

Challenges of building a startup remotely

Building a startup isn’t easy, and while we have seen some of the benefits, like everything else, it also brings some challenges. When the pandemic started, we had to adapt the “learn as we go” methodology, but now, two years later, we have learnt to surf the challenges and, on top of that, there are new startups that have built products to flatten the challenges of remote work.

Hiring

Hiring remote employees shouldn’t change the procedure so much, but it might require a little more time, get more team members involved and more thorough communication with the candidate to get to know them better. That’s precisely the case at Oxolo, “To hire employees with the right cultural fit, we involve way more team members in the interview process than if we hired offline, sometimes to have simple conversations. For senior roles, the candidate has to present a case virtually in front of the entire team. This way, we make sure they are comfortable in a remote setting and to get the team’s feedback,” shared Elisabeth L’Orange, Co-Founder and CCO at Oxolo, a deep tech platform for AI-based entertainment.

As a consequence of the pandemic, many startups have taken the chance to build products and services around remote work, specifically making hiring international members easy and fuss-free. Berlin-based Lano allows companies to grow their global teams with an all-in-one platform that helps hire, manage and pay a remote workforce. There’re other solutions on the market like US-born Remote, Deel and Oyster. German-based sales meeting platform, Demodesk “use OysterHR to hire employees from around the world,” shared James Meincke, Head of Marketing at Demodesk. “They have been an amazing partner for us. Oyster takes care of logistics like local hiring and payroll laws, so our HR and Talent teams can focus on building and taking care of our team,” he added.

Project management

At the start of the pandemic, when most of us were newbies in the remote workspace, we attended and set up too many meetings. Project management tools are a great way to cut down on meetings, be more productive and asynchronously have all the team updated on current projects. Aida Lutaj, CEO & Co-Founder of Legitify, an AI-powered platform that helps notarize documents online, shared that “the three most important apps for project management are Notion, Miro and Trello. Using these tools, and having access to the info when needed, has made the team more productive; as a result, we can focus more time on deep work.”

The essential must-dos 

Now that we’ve seen challenges and benefits let’s talk about the must-dos for a startup to launch successfully with a remote team.

Communication

Whether you decide to take the synchronous or asynchronous path, it’s vital to implement clear and constant communication to ensure that the team runs smoothly. There is no rule for communicating; each person and team is a different world, so it’s up to you and your team to test different formats and implement the one that works best for the team dynamic.

There’s no need to go overboard with meetings, but if you’re the team manager, make sure to set up a weekly or bi-weekly 1:1 with each team member and a kick-off Monday meeting with the whole team.

Communication is also related to non-work topics. Just like when you were at the office, you’d get coffee downstairs or grab a bite with your workmates, setting up “watercoolers” is a great idea to disconnect. Anieke Lamers, CEO and Founder at Peekabond, an app that allows global families to bond asynchronously, shares that her team has set up “coffee machine moments. “These foster openness, playfulness and a distraction which is fundamental for our company and each person’s day.” 

Company culture and the sense of “team.”

While technology and tools enable businesses to function more efficiently in a remote setting, it’s essential to first focus on building a great culture before using tools to support it. With a remote team, company culture can’t be built on nicely designed offices, free coffee and a ping pong table. For a remote-first or partially-remote startup, company culture starts by writing down a set of company values and then finding ways to bring these values to life. For example, if one of your values is “keep learning”, you can offer your team a free course of their choice or create a recurring monthly event where each team member shares their expertise on one subject.

Another idea shared by Charlotte Ekelund, CEO and Co-Founder at Teemyco, a virtual office for distributed teams, is to “send merchandise to all team members upon joining, have traditions like our’ word of the week’ in one of the 16 languages of the team and a weekly all hands on Friday.” She also adds that they “came up with a monthly lunch event called “know me better sharing”. These lunches are optional but very popular; pretty much everyone wants to see images of where a team member grew up, their life and context.”

Casestudy: BOOM

This Milan-based photo-tech startup didn’t start its journey as a remote and hybrid-first startup, but it has transitioned to be one. Its CEO and Co-Founder, Federico Mattia, explains that “For BOOM, adopting a remote model represented a chance to expand quickly and become the truly international company. We have team members located anywhere from Singapore to the US, combining different perspectives, cultures and worldviews.”

For him and BOOM, shifting towards a remote-first environment isn’t so much about the expansion but the cultural shift it brought to the company. “The remote model was a crucial cultural shift stressing that what matters most is not the place but the quality of the work, creating global and interconnected teams, no matter where they are.” He also adds that “although many think the opposite, there is always the same priority between being physical and remote: never to lose sight of the human aspect of working together towards a common goal and nurturing an inclusive and exciting environment.”

We have lived a pretty unprecedented moment in time with this pandemic, and it’s safe to say that the work environment has been one that has seen and will continue to see quite a lot of change, at least in the startup ecosystem. When asked about the last two years, the CEO of BOOM comments that “it [last two years] helped us discover that the secret of change is to focus all of our energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. We all must leave the road and take the trails to shape a new playbook. The stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones. The invention has to be the root of our success!”

It’s important to realise that remote work is not the same as office work; hence it shouldn’t be treated or expected to function the same way. It brings changes and challenges but also an extensive list of benefits. We’re all different, and while someone might love to go to an office every day, another is more productive when working at the café down the street, and the midnight owl definitely isn’t the most productive at 9 am after two large americanos. We’re living in a moment in time that is full of changes; we can expect better results if we surf the wave rather than row against it.