340: How to build a remote team of 45 employees

There are 45 employees are my company, and I’ve never met over half of them in person. Many of them have never met each other in person either. We have no office, and we’re spread across 10 states in the US, along with staff in Colombia and the Philippines. It’s been this way since I can remember, and I want to talk about how we organize the business to operate remotely at this scale.

We have 30 employees in operations answering phones, collecting rent, and managing our on-site vendors. There are 10 employees in acquisitions and finance that are finding new properties, underwriting, making offers, and closing deals. Lastly, we have 5 in management that make decisions and manage people.

Technology has grown immensely over the past decade. The software that you can invest in for your company is incredible. We have one that’s self-storage specific that allows me to look at the KPIs at all 20 of our facilities anywhere, with extremely detailed information that’s constantly updated. I log in every night and see what the revenue is for the month, what we’re renting units for, what our ad spend is, how people are moving in or out, our profitability, etc. and it costs just $150 per month for each property, which I’m happy to pay.

We use Slack to communicate via informal instant messages, RingCentral for customer service where we can track call volume and data, Notion to organize data and processes across the company, Google Drive for all key documents are files, and Loom, which is one of my favorites. Loom lets us record our screen and face at the same time to talk through something and archive our recordings. Instead of hopping on a Zoom call and organizing multiple employees and sharing our screen, Loom lets us record a video and share it however we want afterward. Viewers can go back, study, rewind, and reference videos later. We even do our investor updates on Loom.

The absolute top thing that has changed my life has been access to remote labor. We have 17 employees in the Philippines that we pay $5/hour, or $1K/month. We went through Support Shepherd, who did all the hard work in filtering and interviewing applicants before bringing us three candidates. We were apprehensive at first, but the first time we were so blown away we hired all three of our candidates. Their English is phenomenal, and they’re working on complex tasks for the business. Our customer service is handled 100% in the Philippines as a 24/7 call center. They rent units, take payments, and even guide people around properties via Google Maps. We also have salespeople, data analysts, and two managers all based in the Philippines that we found through Support Shepard.

A key to managing any team, even a remote team, is effective delegation. You’ve heard me talk about it before, but you need to simplify the job of each employee. Nobody can do 10 tasks efficiently, they’ll get distracted often and it doesn’t allow them to get really good at anything. We have two employees only focused on email and customer service, one on web chat, three on collections, and five on inbound calls. That’s our customer service team, and they’re all very specialized so they can focus on being effective. We used to have the same employee call facilities to get leads, then do competitor analysis, then underwrite, then handle documentation, and it was a mess and a waste of time when they needed to be on calls instead.

There’s bad advice out there about what employees want. As an entrepreneur, we should try to treat our people like robots unless we know they prefer autonomy. Entrepreneurs thrive in chaotic environments, but not everybody else does. Employees hate chaos, they hate having to flex the muscle of making decisions when they don’t know the answer. Employees want structure and want clear, repeatable systems to do a good job. If you don’t provide that, your job will be chaotic.

But that doesn’t mean making all the decisions for your employees. It happens all the time that employees will come to you with a question or a problem and you have two choices: tell them to get out of the way as you solve it, or guide them on how to make the decision themselves. You ask them how they think about a problem, and what they think the steps to solving it would be. This gives you a first-hand look at which employees are the best at making decisions, and on top of that the employees will stop coming to you with questions as they learn to figure things out on their own.

As an entrepreneur, you need to hire fast and fire fast. The second you start encountering stupid decisions, poor behavior, or poor decision-making, you should fire an employee immediately. Folks rarely get better at making decisions or solving problems, and you’ll feel better when you get people out. It’s easy to complain about the labor environment, saying that it’s hard to find good people, and then settling for those that you do have. But finding good people takes work. Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Walmart are all in your town with hundreds of employees, so there’s no excuse to say you can’t find any. You need to take ownership of the need to find talent.

Internally, there’s more to culture than pizza parties and cocktail hours and water cooler meetings. You need to treat people well, treat them with respect, and gain their trust. You have to be consistent and logical, not badgering them with dumb questions. Ask them hard questions, questions that drive the business, but not stupid questions that waste time. Pay your people well, and get rid of poor employees before they become a bigger issue.

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About Me

I started the Sweaty Startup in December of 2018 because I believe the Shark Tank and Tech Crunch culture is ruining the real spirit of low-risk entrepreneurship.