Building company culture in a remote team
April 15, 2016

Founding companies since his twenties, Dave Nevogt has over 13 years of experience in managing remote teams. His latest venture, Hubstaff, provides online tools to help distributed companies all around the world track their time, be more productive and accountable.

Currently formed of 23 people, with 5 on customer support, 10 on the development team, and 8 on marketing, Hubstaff was born out of necessity and need. Soon it was clear that it deserves more time and resources and that it has much more potential than being a mere side project.

Since then, Hubstaff has been growing steadily, celebrating remote culture along the way and putting freedom on the first place. THe founders chose bootstrapped and transparent approach – you can even find their revenue online and share their personal experiences with building a remote company openly. All these things earned them appreciation, a couple of awards and over 8,000 remote teams among customers. Lower running costs compared to traditional, office-based business helped a great share, too. “The cost benefits of a remote team are huge. We couldn’t have built Hubstaff otherwise,“ Dave says.

One of the pillars of a strong distributed company is community, which, Dave admits, even Hubstaff needs to work on. These days their external communication happens mostly through Facebook and their blog packed with practical information on managing remote teams, startups and productivity. Apart from these, we wanted to hear what Hubstaff’s founder has to say on building company culture in a distributed team. Here’s what you can learn from Dave’s approach to building culture in Hubstaff.

Hire with intention

Your hiring process doesn’t need to be overly complicated. No need to look for people with super special skills, just be focused on trust and choose people you wouldn’t mind working with in person.

“When hiring remote teams we look for pretty much the same thing that we look for in friends or in team members that are going to be in an office. Good personality, ability to have fun, loyal, trustworthy. The last two are very important in a remote environment.“

Enjoy the freedom to live your life

Office politics may sometimes do more harm than good and support spending unnecessary amounts of time in office which leads to procrastination and low productivity. This is eliminated in a remote team.

“The benefits of remote staff are that the managers have the freedom to Iive their lives instead of worrying about having to set an example. Also we have been able to get a world class team that we could not find or obtain for a reasonable price where we live.”

Engage community in building your product

Community building is a two way process – you have to think about internal community as well as external, consisting of your clients, fans and potential customers. And while spending time on Slack chatting to your mates is a great way to achieve a more tightly knit team, don’t forget about those who don’t see into your company kitchen.

“We usually ask for feedback both, when developing product, and in the testing process. And anyone on the team really can voice their thoughts on the way things work or what we should develop. “

Don’t be scared of partnerships you couldn’t imagine before

When Dave was on the lookout for a founding partner, he didn’t restrict his opportunities to people he already knew. Quite the opposite – he found his business partner Jared on Linked and approached him like it was the most natural thing to do. What they have done has become bigger than they both realized and it has certainly paid off.

“It’s a risk for sure. I think being the same age helps a ton. I’d at least make sure that the age and point in life were relatively the same. Luckily we have the same thoughts regarding risk and we are both hard workers,“ reckons Dave.

No one is suggesting you should start contacting random people on LinkedIn for your new distributed company, but be open to possibilities that don’t fit into ‘traditional.’ That’s what remote work is about, after all.

Embrace tools that increase productivity

Before getting into time tracking and staff managing, Dave had a brick and mortar golf business. It was actually this venture that led him to create Hubstaff, firstly for his own needs and subsequently turning it into his main business. But even back in the office he preferred to manage his employees through digital means. “I always felt it was faster and more effective. With screen sharing tools it’s almost better to use that with voice than to even be looking at someone else’s screen.“

For task management, Hubstaff built their own project management tool that will be soon introduced to public. If you don’t have resources for custom solutions or prefer what’s been already in use, there are plenty of online tools to utilize, including established apps for day to day communication.

“We also use slack for chat and Skype for one on one calls. The project management tool allows us to discuss specific projects and slack is used for that as well but usually for items that are quicker or need immediate attention. “

Building company culture in a distributed team is an ongoing work, whether you started yesterday or 5 years ago. In any way, we’ll see much more remote work in the future according to Dave, so better get into it. “It will almost be the standard here in the US.”

He sees freelancing and contracting also on the rise. But if you’re still on the other side and haven’t started working remotely, here’s what you should do to convince your boss:

“The first thing I would do is try to work a lot out of the office. Show your boss that you are productive no matter where you are. Then start working hours that they may not expect. Weekends etc., not straight through but show them that you are not the type of person that ‘leaves it at work’.

Trust is number one. If you have your boss’s trust it shouldn’t be a big deal. But keep in mind office politics. Potentially they won’t want to allow this based on setting a precedent.”