Thinking of Starting a Remote Business? Think Very Carefully.
A remote-business lifestyle can be extremely liberating, but the hazards can sneak up on you.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Being able to work remotely, from anywhere in the world, is one of the strangest phenomena that’s come about in recent years. The rise of the internet and cheap video-call software, plus messaging apps, has created a clique of people who roam the world while working. These so-called “digital nomads” may be freelance contractors or even location-independent CEOs with their own companies, running them remotely, complete with a remote workforce.
But before you dive into the traveling-CEO lifestyle yourself, bear in mind the points below. Ask yourself if a remote lifestyle will benefit your business the most and what is your top priority: your lifestyle or your business’ optimum performance?
1. No going back
As a founder who is constantly traveling to conferences, I have met a lot of other remote or semi-remote founders and CEOs. The one thing these fully remote people often don’t bring up is the difficulty of changing your direction and converting their businesses into an office-based outfit.
Once you have hired a remote team and benefited from a global talent pool, you may find it difficult to get all those people to convert to working from an office. These “remote” companies may have annual meetings or company holidays to alow everyone to come together to socialize; but as the business scales, a remote team often isn’t what’s best for the company.
This is an issue Alex Turnbull of GrooveHQ ran into. In an article on his blog, he discussed how switching his company to being office-based wouldn’t be feasible without laying off many of his employees. While his business continues to operate, he wrote, he often wonders how different things might be had he started in an office.
If you really plan on scaling your business, it may be worth considering your competitors and whether they themselves benefit from remote teams. If they are mostly office-based, it might be advisable to follow suit.
2. A remote business’s heightened need for structure
One of the main reasons people like the idea of being a remote CEO is how it allows you to set your own hours. If this is a major attraction to you, though, you may have to think twice. Jinny Oh, founder of WANDR, lives a 100 percent nomadic lifestyle, but she found herself working late into the nights from the get-go.
The temptation to use your new-found power of schedule-setting may lead to your waking up later, which then leads to working later or fewer hours. Oh found that sticking to a rigid schedule, even on weekends, was the best way to keep herself on track. Without employees or managers to present yourself to, you may find it harder to create order in your own life. The most successful of wandering entrepreneurs are the ones who actually enjoy a structured lifestyle.
3. Risk of burnout
Even if you are good at getting up in the mornings and have no trouble getting work done from home, your hotel or anywhere else, you may still run the risk of burnout.
Being able to physically leave your place of work can have an important psychological effect. We naturally associate certain spaces with certain things, and if we jumble them together, we may find ourselves losing needed sleep. According to ZDNet writer Eileen Brown, the people at remote workforce-management solution Unique IQ believe that remote workers are tempted to work longer hours than their office-based colleagues.
Due to less oversight and less positive reinforcement for the work they complete, these workers may even adopt overwork as a habit. Don’t let that happen at your company: For both your sake, as leader, and that of your potential remote colleagues, ensure you have considered how best to reduce the chance of burnout.
4. Loss of working friendships
Everyone knows that you can make friends online, but becoming genuine friends with your colleagues when you all work in remote settings can be hard. While some managers might not see the utility in having full-blown friendships with their employees, those relationships can have a drastic benefit for businesses in their early stages, particularly when there is a flatter management structure.
Many friends go into business together, but if you are hoping to start a business with several key individuals, you should consider whether working from the same location might help you keep your working relationships from being purely functional. Putting in some quality social time with your co-founders or future department heads may well reduce churn down the line and create the kind of culture that keeps your company afloat.
5. Recruiting difficulties
If you are working remotely, you may have difficulties pinning down potential interviewees, especially if they plan on working remotely. While you can conduct interviews via Skype, face-to-face interviews offer a clear advantage. You want to know if you can trust someone whom you won’t be working alongside of very often; so you need to be thorough.
Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic, has suggested giving your interviewees a project to work on — something that might only take a couple of hours. This way, you can not only assess the candidate’s job-related knowledge, but catch a glimpse of his or her communications skills.
These are some of the core hazards of running a company remotely, and there will be others. While there may be many lifestyle advantages to working remotely, and some arguments for improved productivity, an entrepreneur has to be a certain type of leader to make the lifestyle work. So, if you’re leaning in this direction, you should make the decision to go remote only very carefully and, if in doubt, stick to a more traditional working environment.