Steve Rio, CEO at Briteweb, a branding and digital agency for the social sector in Vancouver and NYC.
It’s Friday morning at 9:15am when Steve and I speak, a few minutes later than we’d planned to chat. While it’s common for a CEO to be running a few minutes behind, Steve’s reason was anything but. Minutes earlier, I’d received a message that simply said “So sorry, I had a chicken emergency this AM, still figuring out this farm thing…”
During our call, Steve was starting another “day at the office” from Love Story Farm, his hobby farm on Bowen Island off the coast of Vancouver. Briteweb offers remote work opportunities to employees, a part of the company culture which is clearly quite near and dear to Steve’s heart.
“People have always talked about work/life balance by the amount of hours you’re working, but I’ve defined my work/life balance by being able to look out the window from wherever I want. That’s work/life balance to me.”
The birth of a remote team
Today, Briteweb has offices in Vancouver and New York City, with additional freelancers and full-time employees who work remotely from across the globe. Yet during its early years, Briteweb looked exceedingly traditional. When it first began, Briteweb consisted of one team of full-time employees who all worked together out of their first office in Vancouver. The birth of their remote culture came when Briteweb opened their first office in New York City, a move they only made once over 70% of their revenue was coming from projects in NYC.
Before Steve moved any of his employees to New York, he took the leap himself. Steve spent two and a half months running the Vancouver team remotely from New York while he got the new office up and running. This helped him understand what being remote felt like firsthand. It allowed Steve to develop the parameters and systems he found himself needing.
Another essential tool which helped Briteweb transition into remote work was nailing down the type of employee who thrived in a remote work environment. Briteweb loves finding people who have confidence in their job and their duties, those who possess an entrepreneurial spirit. These employees are self-starters who almost act like their own bosses. They champion their success and claim responsibility by leading themselves. Steve sees this type of employee as especially prevalent in companies which follow more of a flat hierarchy model, as employees feel more freedom to take on that leadership role. It also makes remote work much, much easier.
How to run a successful remote team
From his time running a remote team, Steve has gotten very clear on what keeps distance from interfering with project-based work.
Communication – Decide what your team communicates and when. Maybe you have Monday morning meetings with the whole team to get on the same page. Make sure that everyone’s communicating and communicating the same way. Communication is the glue that holds a remote team together. Build trust and the rest will follow.
Project structure – It’s essential to develop a process for your projects to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Determine not only the end goals, but also the benchmarks that will ensure you’re hitting your goals on time.
“Consistency in what people know and how they approach their work creates the quality of work you need.”
Tools – Invest in the tools which help your team collaborate and communicate. For example, Steve’s team relies heavily on Slack, Trello, and instant video (appear.in and Zoom). Instead of long back-and-forth chats through slack or email, he suggests jumping on a quick instant video call for two simple reasons–it brings people closer and it simplifies communication.
Balance – In a ten person office, having only two or three remote workers creates an imbalance. The these remote workers will naturally feel left out. They miss out on the “watercooler” talks and the impromptu design chats that the rest of the team experience. Consider implementing specific days of the week where everyone works remotely. If everyone has locational flexibility, the definition of company culture naturally evolves. Physical location becomes less important. Steve found a solution through relocating his team into a coworking space.
“In Vancouver, we just moved our team out of our permanent office and into a coworking space, which just creates more flexibility and starts to change the mindset of ‘your job is your desk’ to ‘your job is your brain and your internet connection.”
The future of (remote) work
In Steve’s eyes, designations such as “employee” and “coworker” will become less rigidly defined in the near future. This will allow workers more autonomy in constructing a style of work which will maximize their happiness and engagement.
“I see a new model emerging where you are a freelancer or a contractor, which gives you the flexibility and freedom to work the amount of hours you like, your own schedule, and your own work/life balance while you’re also a part of a team that supports one another, that looks out for one another. I think you can have both. It’s an interesting distinction right now.”
Steve very much wants his whole Briteweb team, regardless of location or job title, freelance or full time, to all feel like a part of the company. He wants to offer his employees the culture, autonomy, and personal responsibility to create the lifestyle that works best for them. It’s a novel idea but one that makes sense, especially for a company that seeks out the innovators and free thinkers.
Introducing the Briteweb Network
Steve shared with me a concept the Briteweb team just recently rolled out. I’ll let him share in his own words.
“I know that there are a lot of people (especially in the creative space) that want to be working on social impact work. And we don’t know where all those people are, but we know they’re looking for opportunities to do that and might not have them currently. We also know that there are lots of clients in the social sector that need help with their digital, need help with their brands. So we’re trying to figure out this new method for delivering our work to a much greater number of people and the way we’re looking at doing that is through the Briteweb Network.”
What exactly is the Briteweb Network? Steve describes it as a community of freelancers, an extension of the Briteweb team. This group can have physical meet-ups with one another, come to annual Briteweb events, and take advantage of all that the Briteweb culture has to offer. Yet they can still maintain the freedom and flexibility to work where and when they want.
We live in an age of “work perks.” The Silicon Valley approach to attracting the top talent relies on the shiny object: the free food, the nap pods, and the ping pong tables. This approach is all about giving the workplace a facelift, focusing on a company culture which hyper-centralizes their workforce. Steve’s approach is all about de-centralization. And when it comes to attracting the truly innovative thinkers, that might make all the difference in the world.
Listen to our full, uncut interview with Steve.
Learn more about the Briteweb Network.
Explore Steve’s tips for running a remote team.
About the ShareDesk Blog Series ‘The Future of Work With…’
‘The Future of Work With…’ is a blog series profiling members of the ShareDesk community. We are speaking with our diverse network of entrepreneurs, business travelers, industry thought leaders, freelancers, and flexible workplace operators, and sharing their stories and experiences on how they dream up a more flexible future for work.
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