Agency Unfiltered - Tommy Butcher from LyntonWeb

Tips for Effectively Managing a Remote Team

Tommy drops by to talk about managing a remote workforce. He starts at the beginning with the initial decision and the benefits they’ve seen since. He then walks through how they’ve built their internal processes to set their remote team up for success.

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Episode Transcript

In this episode of Agency Unfiltered, we have Tommy Butcher in the studio. Tommy is the Director of Operations for LyntonWeb, a Diamond Agency partner that provides inbound marketing, website design, and integration services. Tommy joins us to talk about managing a remote workforce, as LyntonWeb is a fully remote agency team. We take it back to the beginning. What motivated the decision for the agency to go fully remote, and what benefits they've seen in building a remote workforce. Tommy then talks us through how they built processes to set their team up for success, including: onboarding, client assignment, client delivery and more. Thinking about building a remote team? You should watch this first. Let's jump in.

KD: Tommy, thanks for joining us, my friend. Welcome to Agency Unfiltered.

TB: Thank you.

KD: Today, we're going to be talking about remote workforces, right?

TB: Exactly.

KD: Your team obviously is a fully remote team, and so I think that's a pretty unique structure. Sounds like more teams are looking to go in that direction, so I definitely want to pick your brain on it. Maybe the best place to start, what motivated the decision to have a fully remote team?

TB: It was a two-part decision. First, our owner was moving, and we also had a very expensive building in Midtown. And we started to look around because at that point, about 3/4ths of our workforce was remote. And we were looking around and we said okay, we've got this really big, expensive building, yet 3/4ths of our people are remote so we're not filling it. So that just came down to a financial decision at that point.

KD: So if everyone's remote, what does the communication style, the collaboration style, how do you guys just make sure that we don't lose anything there knowing that everyone's dispersed across the country or the world.

TB: Exactly. So we use a set of tools. We use Slack for general communication, if you have a quick question, just to kinda chat with the team. We also have some channels in there for random or general, just so you can get that water cooler talk. Because one of the biggest difficulties about working remote is allowing your team to still feel like a part of a team, 'cause you don't get that human interaction that you do in an office. You don't get to just go over to the water cooler and be like hey, how was your weekend? What was going on?

KD: Yeah, right. Game of Thrones last week.

TB: Right, right. So we have set up different methods of communication so that our team can just have the sort of one-off chats, those random sort of things. We use Teamwork for project management. We do a standing Hangout every single morning. So at a certain time every single morning, we have the entire agency team get on a Hangout and we treat it just like okay: what are you doing today? What's going on? Are there any blockers? And that way the entire team can just start the morning off that way. Everybody knows what we're working on and if anybody needs any help.

KD: How does having the remote team, and I don't know if we have said this since the camera started rolling, but 26 team mates currently?

TB: Yep.

KD: So a pretty expansive team — all remote. How does that impact your ability to source and hire candidates? How do you also go and check oh. they would be an effective remote worker.

TB: So I think having a remote team really opens up your candidates, because when you're not remote and you have an office, you are limited to the pool of people you have to choose from, from that immediate area. When you open it up to remote, you can truly hire the best people because it doesn't matter where they're at. As long as they have an internet connection, all that basic stuff that you need to be remote. So then it's just more of interviewing people. We do ask have you ever worked remote before? It's not a disqualification if they haven't, but it helps to know have they or have they not. And if they haven't, then I'll ask more questions around do you feel you can self-manage? That's the most important part. There's this belief, and I've worked remote on and off since about 2002. So I was a really early adopter of that. And a lot of bosses at that time had the belief that if they let their employees work remote, they're going to sit on the couch, turn on the TV. Maybe I'll do a little work and then go back to watching TV. Honestly, it's the exact opposite. I find when people go into the office, especially with companies that have somewhat of a split. So I'll talk to people that they're allowed to work from home a couple days a week and then they have to go in the office. They get less work done in the office because people are always coming over. They're interrupting them. They're talking to them. And when you're at home and you're remote, you can just focus.

KD: Right. You're wired in at whatever you need to work on.

TB: You don't have to look at the clock at 4:45 and be like oh my gosh, I have got to get out of here or else I'm going to be stuck in traffic for two hours. All that goes away, and there are literally some days I'll look up and I'll be like holy crap, it's six o'clock

KD: You blast your way through.

TB: Yeah, blast right through it. Because I have my setup, my office downstairs, if an idea comes to me at night, walk downstairs, type away. So I'm able to work at any given time that I want to. And I have found that our entire team has become more efficient by working remote, just because you have that time, you have that flexibility, and you're really able just to work at your pace at home then on what you want to do.

KD: That's great. So 26 people. I don't know exactly how you're structured for client delivery. I know a lot of agencies have that a pod structure. What does client delivery look like in kind of a remote model like yours?

TB: We've got two sides to our business. We have the integration side and we have the agency side. I run the agency side, so I'm going to speak to that. So when we get a project come in, I'm going to assign a project manager to it. I'm going to assign a designer to it, a developer, the same as if I was in the office. And that team is going to communicate through teamwork, through Slack, through Hangouts, through however they need to communicate. So it really works no different than just having a team in the office.

KD: Makes sense. How does the remote aspect of your model fit into client proposals, your sales process, conversations with prospects? How does that factor in? Do you find it helps, or does it not come up?

TB: I normally don't bring it up unless they specifically ask where are you located? There are a couple use cases where a client's like, I want somebody to be able to walk in my office if needed. Even when we had an office, we still didn't really do that. I mean, the days of going and having meetings on-site, it's just so inefficient. All of your meetings are done through either Zoom or some sort of tool like that. So it really doesn't affect it. And when I explain to them that aspect, and then if they had concerns, and I then go into the fact that because we're virtual and remote, I can hire the best people. And that kinda helps smooth that through.

KD: So it kinda comes down as a position of like, oh yeah, no, we have the top-notch team, simply because geographical location, it's not a restriction at all. It's just the best candidate regardless of location. Now you bring up an interesting point. If you're working from home, and an idea strikes at night, you're already there. You can just go get to it, right? But I wonder, does it ever come up? Do you have a hard time having remote workers feel comfortable unplugging, right? How does time off, PTO, how does that factor in, and how do you just make sure that there is a balance, and you don't feel obligated to always be on?

TB: Exactly. So we have an open PTO policy. So we don't have a set number of you've only got 10 days or whatnot. We did away with that a couple years ago as well. Really what I preach to my team is a work/life balance. And I do find some members are much more dedicated to their project, somewhat in maybe a personal detrimental way, because they have a hard time unplugging. And I do have to remind them, look, you gotta unplug. There is a time, and you gotta take time. You gotta take your evenings and you gotta take your weekends. I know it's tempting. And that is the one thing about working remote is it's so easy that it is tempting to just sometimes well, I'm not doing anything. I'll just get some work done. And then half your Sunday is gone. It's a cultural thing that we've built up to have a work/life balance, and make sure people feel comfortable. And they know they're not obligated because they work from home. Look, you have to always be available. We treat it the same as if it was an office environment. This is our normal work hours. When we start new employees, we give an entire onboarding document. It talks about this is when you start. This is how you start. You're going to sign in to Slack and sign in to all your tools. And this is your start time and this is your end time. This is our office hours.

KD: That's actually a pretty good segue. What does onboarding look like to get somebody up to speed with your processes, your policies, procedures in this remote environment?

TB: Right, so that is a little bit of a challenge with a remote company because when you go into an office, you can normally shadow somebody and walk them around. Here's our fridge. Here's this area. So we've put together a pretty thorough onboarding document. This is how we communicate. You use Slack for communication. If that's not enough, jump on a call. Jump on a Zoom call. These are all the people. So we list out all of our employees that they're going to be working with on a normal, daily basis. And we just go through all the processes. And then I'm there to kind of do that shadowing. So I'll get on a call with them. How are things going? Do you have any questions? The same way that I would in an office. I would just check up on them. If they started in the office, I'm not going to hover over their cubicle all day long either.

KD: But you're still going to check in.

TB: Right, I'm going to check in. So I have those same sort of check-ins. And most people, they take to it. I can't even think of a case where somebody didn't catch on very quickly.

KD: So it sounds like from your perspective, having a remote team, it hasn't lengthened the onboarding timeline or anything like that.

TB: No.

KD: It feels pretty equatable.

TB: Yeah, exactly. If you're a developer, you still gotta learn where all the dev tools are, what the framework, all of that sort of stuff. You still gotta get your system set up. We'll send 'em a computer before their start date so they've got everything there that they need in order to start their work.

KD: That's great. I know you mentioned there's a pretty robust onboarding documentation. Where do you house all that?

TB: Google Drive. We use Google for all of our internal stuff. It's very easy. Once they have an account with us, anybody can access it.

KD: What would you say, if anything, has been the greatest challenge in scaling a remote team?

TB: I think the greatest challenge is those times where you have a difficult project or a difficult client, and sometimes you might need an answer really quick. And you go to ping somebody. And maybe their head's down in code, so either they have their notifications turned off or something like that. You can't just walk over and tap them on the shoulder and be like hey, gotta have this, like, this second. That would probably be the hardest part. Normally, you can still get ahold. I mean, we have so many ways. Even in an office, though, somebody could have stepped out for a break. And it's like oh, they're not at their cubicle. Where are they? And I've had those situations even when I worked in an office, where you're running around the office. Where is this person at?

KD: It's a challenge, but it's not too unlike what a standard office environment. It could exist there, as well.

TB: I mean, I would say a lot of people think working remotely is so vastly different than an office environment. But I really find it's not that different when it comes to the way everybody works. You can just work more efficiently.

KD: Final question for you. So I ask this to all of my guests. You all have an interesting perspective. Usually I ask what's the weirdest part of agency life. 'Cause everybody has a weird story. But maybe from your perspective, what's been the weirdest part of a remote agency?

TB: You know, I guess the only thing that I could think of that sometimes gets a little weird is you're on your call, you're on your meeting with anybody, and the UPS guy comes to the door. They ring the doorbell and the dog starts barking or something. And you're like oh, hold on, you know? But ten years ago, that would have been maybe more of a rub with the clients. Even most clients I work with, a lot of them are either working remotely or they have those days where they're allowed to work remote. So most everybody gets it now. Okay, you're working from home today.

KD: Everyone's just empathetic to just the life moments that happen when you're remote.

TB: Right. And sometimes I'll just say I'm working from home today. Because they don't need to know I'm remote all the time. It doesn't affect their project. And so just working remote today.

KD: It reminds me of that viral video that was like a politician, but then his little toddler walked into the office. Like that type of stuff, right?

TB: I have had that. I've been on my camera and then all of a sudden, like one of my kids was home sick from school that day. And in the background, walking to the kitchen. I was like, sorry.

KD: Awesome. Well, Tommy, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure.

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