In 2022, remote work is almost a given.
Many companies at least offer a hybrid plan that involves working from home and some days in the office.
But, in 2010, the idea of working remotely — much less as an entire company — was rare, and that’s exactly where BELAY Solutions started.
Based in Atlanta, BELAY now has a remote team of 130 people and has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing companies for seven consecutive years.
Their specialty is helping business owners and leaders hire virtual assistants, bookkeepers and social media specialists who also work remotely.
Remote work is at the core of what BELAY does — and, having practiced it for more than a decade, they know a thing or two about how to make remote work, well, work.
The Penny Hoarder recently sat down with BELAY CEO Tricia Sciortino and CFO Lisa Zeeveld to talk about how to build a remote culture, what to look for when hiring remote workers, how remote work has changed and more.
What Does a Good Remote Work Culture Look Like?
One of the most often heard criticisms of remote work is you can’t build a culture — especially in a larger company.
That’s simply not true, Sciortino and Zeeveld say. Crafting culture remotely starts by being very intentional as a business owner or leader.
“This has to be integrated into your business strategy and your plans. It doesn’t happen by accident,” Sciortino says. “We have to be super intentional about how we integrate and create culture in every interaction. It takes more thought and planning but it is absolutely possible.”
Some of their remote work tips include:
Create Fun Ways to Connect
Because you’re not seeing each other in person, those casual conversations that create connection can be absent in a remote environment. BELAY adds those touchpoints to weekly virtual staff meetings, asking employees to do a virtual office tour or setting a theme.
“We’ve also done things like lip sync battles, virtual social hours and ‘bring your pet to work’ day,” Zeeveld says.
Find Time to Meet in Person
BELAY mainly hires people who live in the Atlanta area, making it easy to set up time for impromptu gatherings and higher-level meetings.
“We plan that time around connection, collaboration and team building,” says Sciortino. “… It’s hyper focused on professional development because all the other things can be handled in the day to day.”
Schedule Non-Work Gatherings
BELAY also hosts in-person events quarterly with a guest speaker to help employees grow professionally and personally and a purely social Christmas party.
“We have a live band and fantastic food, and we spend a lot of money because we want to spoil our team,” Zeeveld says. “We want them to bring a plus one and have a great time dancing, and there’s really something fun about seeing your CEO on the dance floor doing the wobble.”
What Qualities Does a Good Remote Worker Need?
Culture is one thing. But how do you know who’s built to work in a remote environment?
When it comes to who they hire, BELAY looks at both hard skills and soft skills, like job experience and time management.
“The first thing we’re looking for is the practical skillset to do the job,” Sciortino says. “Just the baseline hard skills.”
A thorough interview process via video calls and email helps them identify the soft skills.
“We’re practicing what we preach through the interview process to gather how they respond, how they show up professionally in writing,” Sciortino says.
Then, it’s a matter of:
“It’s a dual analysis,” says Sciortino. “We’re looking at all the soft skills through the process while confirming the hard skills.”
With remote work comes great trust and responsibility because you won’t have as much oversight. That means not everyone is cut out to work with a remote team.
“Are you disciplined enough to get out of bed and go sit at your desk or at the kitchen table in your house?” Zeeveld says. “Are you organized and a good independent worker?”
On the flip side, BELAY also looks for remote employees who are disciplined enough to not work.
“Discipline goes both ways. It’s important that you love what you do when you work remotely. But you also have to take care of yourself and your family, to be a good friend,” Zeeveld says. “Can you shut it off at 5 or 6 o’clock and go live your personal life and not feel like you have to stay at the desk?”
Leading Remotely Comes Down to Trust
Trust is another huge aspect of leading a remote or hybrid team, Zeeveld says.
“You have to hire adults that you think have the skillset, but overwhelmingly, I think that you have to start by building trust with them,” she says.
On BELAY’s One Next Step podcast, Zeeveld recommends using collaborative platforms and tools to help leaders have a little oversight on their team’s daily workload.
“(The) crazy thing about trust is the more you give trust, the more trust you get in return,” she says.
But how do you build trust when you’re not sitting across from, or at least in the same room, as your team?
In addition to regular meetings to get some face time, be intentional with your actions.
“It starts with knowing what you want to create, and then from that point, it goes to communicating what you want to create and how you’re going to do it, and then setting the schedule for it around how often you are going to meet,” Zeeveld says.
Make Time for ‘Idle Chatter’
Simply starting meetings with 5 to 10 minutes of built-in water cooler talk is another way to build relationships.
On Monday morning, someone will put out a weekly question on Slack, such as “What are your three favorite foods?” or “Do you consider yourself a fork or a spoon,” just to get some fun conversation going.
Open Up to Stay Connected
Then, it’s just a matter of allowing your team to genuinely get to know each other and you. “You have to create moments where your coworkers and your team members are able to understand each other on a deeper level,” Zeeveld says.
Building those connections humanizes your remote team members and helps you see each other beyond your roles at work.
“They’re no longer just the person that does that task or that moves that ball forward,” Zeeveld says. “… I think that you work way better as a team, and I think that that resonates into that culture that builds unstoppable teams.”
Where Is Remote Work Headed?
Remote work seems to be here to stay and a lot of that has to do with work-life balance, according to Sciortino. More people are working to live, not living to work.
“People are looking to do work that gives them great purpose and allows them to have a great quality of life,” Sciortino adds.
Ten years from now, will that still be the case? Where is this remote trend headed?
More Hybrid Work
Sciortino expects to see the evolution to a more hybrid workforce, not a return to 100% in-person work.
“You think of manufacturing or some industries where in-person work is required, but the administration of it isn’t necessarily,” she says. “You might see more hybrid office environments in those situations.”
New Remote Jobs
Zeeveld sees a lot of opportunity for growth in areas where remote work currently isn’t an option.
“There’s a lot of money to be made figuring out how those traditionally non-remote roles can be made remote,” she adds. “I think technology in the next ten years will speed that up because there will be a pull for more people to have that flexibility.”
An Evolving Labor Market
Some industries that rely on an in-person workforce — such as restaurants and hotels — have felt lingering pains from the pandemic and need to look for ways to adjust and pivot.
“There needs to be another solution,” Zeeveld says. “… The reality is there will be new things created five and 10 years from now that will really change just how we work in general.”
Wherever work goes in the future, it won’t be back to the way it was, according to Zeeveld.
“People want to live a full, whole life and they want to be a full, whole person,” she says.
For many workers and business owners alike, remote work is that answer.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.