GigaOM is a tech site with lots of tech-crazy readers, but remote collaboration isn’t just the province of geeks. The web worker lifestyle appeals to the creative- and lifestyle-focused as well as the guys waiting hours in line to get a glimpse of the latest gadget. Not sure if you believe me? Then take Laura Roeder Media as proof.
Los Angeles-based Laura Roeder started the social media marketing company and gradually built up an entirely virtual (all-woman) team to help her handle her mounting workload. These days, mom Anne Samoilov works as her project manager, making sure a team spread from New York to Hawaii is collaborating smoothly. So how does a woman with a background in project management tame the challenges of web work? We spoke with her to find out.
Agility is the name of the game in web work, and Laura Roeder Media has certainly been flexible in sourcing its talent, utilizing every tool at its disposal to find the right people. From online staffing solutions like HireMyMom.com and oDesk to email missives to its mailing list and even old-fashioned Craigslist, the company has gathered its people through whatever means seemed most fitting.
The company has had particular success soliciting job candidates through its established network of friends of the firm. “We found when we email people who already love the company, the response is amazing,” Samoilov says.
Candidates might come from a variety of channels, but Laura Roeder Media is consistent in the qualities it looks for in virtual team members. Fans of micro-management need not apply. “Communication ability is really important, so if someone doesn’t have exactly the skill, set but they can communicate and it’s clear they can figure out whatever you ask them or they’ll die trying, then they’re the person,” says Samoilov.
Independent thinking is key for new hires, as boss Roeder insists team members contribute quickly. “Everybody is just thrown into that water, and at first, it is hard to adjust to,” Samoilov concedes, explaining “ideas are huge on our team,” with Roeder calling out individual team members for suggestions in company-wide weekly conference calls right from the start.
The result is team members who take ownership of their work. For Samoilov, that was initially a huge adjustment from her background as a project manager for local teams, but “it changed my interest and energy level,” she says.
Samoilov might have come to remote work with a solid background in project management, but the tech tools necessary for collaboration were new to her. “There definitely is a lot of technology to learn,” but she reminds less tech-savvy managers that, “you don’t learn it overnight. You just have to realize that you have the problem-solving skills if you’re already a project manager, so just go into it from that point of view.”
Now the team hums along with a combination of online collaboration tools. “We use Skype. We use FreeConferenceCall. We also use Yammer, which is a great little ‘team Twitter.’ We love that. We use Google Chat… a lot. Google Docs is where we put everything, so anybody can, at any time, go in and see what’s going on. We use our company wiki to house our main information about our products,” she explains.
Samoilov doesn’t work set hours but “there’s never a time when we’re not available.” Because of the always-on nature of her role, Samoilov needs to remain vigilant against workaholism, which is something Roeder reinforces from her position at the top of the company.
“Laura is pretty adamant about not working on the weekends, so even if we’re being maniacs and doing work we shouldn’t be doing on the weekend, she doesn’t answer us on purpose because she wants us to remember that the weekend is for downtime,” Samoilov says.
But while overwork might be a danger at an entirely virtual company, physical distance also has its advantages. “Working on a remote team with all women is amazing because, let’s be honest, if you’re working in an office there are some days when you may want to avoid certain people because of their mood or whatever,” Samoilov says. “In this team, if any of us is having some sort of personal issue, we’re not next to each other. We’re not impacting other people’s work and I think that makes our entire team more productive.”
Still, reaping the rewards of flexible work does demand managers, especially at small firms, keep their egos in check as roles change. “With a small team everybody takes ownership almost too tightly sometimes, so understand that the team is going to change and grow and that’s good, even if it means work is being diverted elsewhere.”
“Just know your role and embrace you role, because the tasks will change,” Samoilov advises. “We’re in the growing phase right now and every single person in their work is experiencing the letting go of things that aren’t their genius and that aren’t the best use of their time.”
All in all, has Samoilov enjoyed her foray into web work? Certainly. “There’s no way I’m going back,” she concludes.