Remote work is no longer a trend – it’s here to stay.
According to Global Workplace, remote work has grown by 173% since 2005. Building a remote agency, or taking your agency remote were once radical ideas, but are now the norm.
In fact, some of the fastest growing companies in the world are fully remote, including Help Scout, Zapier, Buffer, Basecamp, HotJar, and AgencyAnalytics 😉
So whether you’re just starting an agency or already have one, going remote is a viable option.
We polled 20+ agency owners to give you advice on building a remote agency including benefits, drawbacks, and tips for growth.
Looking for something specific? Use the links to jump ahead:
What is a Remote Agency?
There are plenty of terms used to describe remote work: telecommuting, distributed work, smart working, work shifting, etc… Remote work refers to working outside of an office. But there’s a difference between remote work and a remote agency.
Many agencies offer remote flexibility, but building a remote agency means hiring and growing a fully distributed team with no geographic bounds. It usually means having zero office space and taking on clients from anywhere you please.
Benefits of Going Remote
1. Recruit Better Talent
“Being remote allows access to a large pool of diverse talent,” says Oren Greenberg of Kurve.
Hiring remote workers extends your talent pool exponentially. Most companies are limited to hiring employees within an hour or so of their location. Remote companies’ reach extends to the world (unless you want to keep it within a few hours of your time zone – something we’ll touch on).
Karl Sakas of Sakas and Company agrees, “You can choose to work with the best team members and best clients, regardless of location.”
Many agency owners wonder, “But how can I connect with people in cities across the world? Where I have no connections?”
Thankfully tools, job boards, and websites are popping up everyday to bridge the remote hiring gap. We Work Remotely, The Muse, and Angel List are just a handful making it easy to post and apply for remote jobs.
2. Retain More Employees
Most workers find remote work a top notch perk. In a poll of over 2500 remote workers, Buffer found that 99% would prefer to stay remote for the rest of their career.
People enjoy working remotely. Offering it as a perk leads to happier teammates and happier teammates usually leads to them sticking around.
“The benefits I’ve found are pretty much all lifestyle based for (my employees),” says Darren Kingman of Root Digital. “We can trade our commute time for what we enjoy and to be more healthy.”
Happy and healthy employees means a better chance of them sticking around.
In addition to employee satisfaction, remote work eliminates some of the top reasons employees leave companies: a desire to be closer (or further from) family, a spouse’s job, or a change of scenery.
3. Prioritize Work Life Balance
“The ability to work from home allows more flexibility for a balanced life (and happier teammates),” says Zlatko Bijelic of Tako Agency.
Remote work generally means flexibility and a more balanced life – for the founder and the employees.
Darren Kingman agrees, “Now day-to-day, I and everyone involved in the business can have that flexibility, to run errands, go to the dentist without having to take a holiday day or take the car for a service.”
Drawbacks of Having a Remote Agency
1. Less Efficient Communication
Most would agree team communication is easier when you’re face-to-face with your teammates. Remote work doesn’t allow for a team member to turn around and ask a question. This more than likely means a Slack, email, or Skype call for a remote team.
“The most obvious (drawback) is that communication is, often, not as efficient as in an office, and many workers complain that the social aspect of work is heavily reduced... Also, you rely on the internet to operate. This can be troublesome with poor connections or outages,” says Adam Lumb of Cashcow Ltd.
Thankfully we live in an age where softwares are breaking this barrier (we’ll cover some of the best remote tools below).
“Remote working can be a lonely business and the lack of in-person interaction can get to people,” says Dustin Vann of Trusy Social.
Though there are lots of digital touchpoints with teammates, there’s nothing quite like being face to face. And the lack of that kind of interaction can have consequences.
Mike Londes of Londes Digital Marketing admits, “As someone who has worked remotely for several years, I can attest to the fact that the feeling of isolation is very real. There's something about the community aspect of an office space that allows you to have some light interaction and decompress when you need to. When you're a remote team, you're disconnected from that support system and need to create your own.”
3. Difficulty in Building Culture
Think building culture is difficult in an office setting? Try doing it with a team scattered across the world.
“I would say that a lack of company culture is the biggest issue of remote work,” says Oren Greenberg.
“Remote work does present a challenge, namely bringing (employees) together and developing a culture of accountability while being spread across different time zones,” adds Travis Bennett of Studio Digita
Tips for Growing a Successful Remote Agency
1. Hire the Right People
Hiring the right people might be one of the most important tasks of growing a remote agency.
It's difficult to find employees who have what it takes to work from home 100% of the time. Though it sounds easy, remote work requires discipline.
Angela Ash of Flow SEO agrees, “While it doesn't need to be a prerequisite that a person has worked remotely before, it is helpful to know if the candidate has an entrepreneurial working style, which can be quite beneficial when working from home.”
Russell Miller of Zavient emphasizes prior work, “We do a Zoom interview, and ask the candidate to walk through and explain their prior work, like an SEM account they’ve run, or a technical project they worked on. This makes sure that they will be showing us what their actual work looks like, which is very hard to fake, since we ask them to show us their results over time. We look for people with many years experience in their area, or strong demonstrated technical competence through projects.”
April White of Trust Relations suggests testing with small projects, “I built the agency by finding like-minded, talented freelancers who were looking for extra work, interviewing them on the phone, and then bringing them into the fold. I tested each of them with small projects to help weed out the best fits and who I trusted most—and who was the best cultural fit.”
Look for candidates who portray discipline, an entrepreneurial spirit, and can be trusted.
2. Take Your Time
“Build a remote agency cautiously, the most important thing is to do it gradually. Unlike with in-house staff you can’t manage them all at the same time - time zones and different communication methods dictate that it takes longer to onboard staff. Building too quickly will become messy,” suggests Dustin Vann.
Monitoring employee performance can be tough when working remotely. By taking on too many employees at once, you may get overwhelmed. If you're hoping to be a remote agency, build slowly.
3. Over Communicate
Communication is key. Leave minimal room for interpretation.
“It's important to repeat your values and core principles often in communications, so your employees can internalize them,” recommends Russell Miller.
“Plan to over-communicate about updates and changes,” adds Karl Sakas.
Use tools like Slack to communicate with remote employees. Get teammembers used to writing out their plans and build a knowledgebase resource with your tool of choice (people have been loving Notion lately).
4. Create Space for Culture
Building culture within a remote culture requires even more thought and consideration from leadership.
In most cases, leadership can’t force camaraderie and connection, but they can create space for it.
“We spend a rather ungodly amount of time on Zoom, running "sprints" with cameras on, to create the feeling of an office environment, even though we're all in different countries,” says Travis Bennett of Studio Digita.
“Verbal contact with your remote team is very important. We recently started doing co-working sessions via skype or WhatsApp call at a specific time each week and work together. It provides a bit of the social aspect people get in an office and I have been blown away by how many small issues we have been able to resolve by doing this,” recommends Lexi Mills of Shift6.
5. Take Time Zones Into Account
Not all remote agencies are global, but those who do choose this path must consider time zones.
Having members in different time zones could benefit an agency wanting to provide 24 hour availability to clients. It can also make it tough to build culture, as some employees may never work the same hours as their counterparts across the world.
Travis Bennett suggests, “Focus on developing a culture of accountability despite being spread across different time zones… put a priority on staying in constant contact, using tools like Slack and Asana to keep communication and the status of ongoing projects in one single place.”
And if you want to ensure overlap and avoid the trouble, keep it tight and only hire in 1-2 time zones.
6. Use Great Tools and Tech
Technology can make or break a remote work environment.
Lexi Mills says, “Above all else, you need to have zero-tolerance for bad tech and ensure that the team have easy access to a good internet connection. Remote working on an unreliable laptop or weak internet signal is very stressful and frustrating.”
And tools are equally important.
She went on to say, “We recently started doing co-working sessions via Skype or WhatsApp call at a specific time each week.”
“Put a priority on staying in constant contact. We use tools like Slack and Asana to keep communication and the status of ongoing projects in one single place,” recommends Travis Bennett.
7. Consider Assigning Mentors
Mentors can go a long way in onboarding and ensuring your hires transition well.
“We assign all new hires a mentor. This is their go-to for advice, formal or informal about the company, working practices, training days etc. The mentor’s role is to support in any way they can and the culture of the company is passed down within advice and communication shared between the two,” recommends Scott Kreiger of Studio Fifty Four.
Ready to Go Remote?
Remote work is a beautiful thing, but it comes with its challenges. Whether you’re considering shifting to a remote model or you already have, make sure you’re mitigating risks. And if you haven’t yet taken the dive, make sure you’re up for the challenge.