Are you wondering how to successfully manage a fully remote workforce?

19 March 2024

The Digital Skills Agency has advice that could help you and your team soar.

It's safe to say that not a lot of good came out of the Covid- 19 pandemic. Lockdowns, restrictions, and general uncertainty reigned, but while the experience had its obvious pitfalls, there were some positives that came out of such a turbulent time.

As businesses tried to adjust to stay at home orders, working from home became the norm for people all over the world. It’s a change in workplace operations that many organisations have continued to adopt post pandemic. Working from home (WFH) gives staff flexibility and freedom, with the added bonus of cutting office space costs. Without geographical restrictions, it also enables employers to hire the best of the best for the role.

Despite these benefits, there is still a degree of reluctance from employers to hire remote workers. Data released by The New Zealand Government’s Te Kawa Mataaho | Public Service Commission found that just under 15% of Kiwis work from home full time. Australian studies have found that between 30-47% of the Aussie workforce could conceivably do their jobs from home. The businesses that are opposed to WFH arrangements generally cite issues with trust and productivity as among the biggest turnoffs for engaging in this type of employment.

Husband and wife team Daniel and Mary-Anne Merriott are co-directors of the Digital Skills Agency based in New Zealand. The RCSA affiliated business has the WFH model down to an art. Its entire team is remote.

Mary-Anne has a strong background in HR and Daniel, in tech and business leadership. Their complementary skills have given them the tools to create an incredible culture within their team…all from a distance.

RCSA sat down with Mary-Anne to find out how the Digital Skills Agency manages its remote team.


What does the Digital Skills Agency do?

Put simply, we are experts in digital capability. We help our clients understand what skills they have, what skills they need, and how to manage their capability to deliver in a changing world. We are leading experts in digital capability, and among the top global specialists in SFIA, the Skills Framework for the Information Age. Our services include digital skills consulting and assessments, tech job design, career pathway mapping, organisation and operating model design. And we have a deep specialism in tech recruitment using SFIA!

What prompted you to employ a fully remote workforce?

We've always had a fully remote team and that came about for a number of different reasons. What we do is highly specialised and we are global leading experts in our field. We needed to hire people with very specific skills and weren’t about to let geography become a barrier to finding the best talent. That’s where it all started.

Were there initial challenges trying to manage a remote workforce?

None whatsoever for us, and that's a reflection on us doing it intentionally. It helps that Daniel and I have very complementary skill sets for what we're doing. My background in HR means I'm particularly clued in on the culture side and with his strategic business background he is strong in structuring our operations. It happened quite seamlessly because we have always focused on both our culture and our operations in tandem, and we set out deliberately to run the business using Agile methodologies. Using this approach we have set up a trinity of culture, systems, and practices/processes designed to keep us productive and happy while being remote.

What are the biggest mistakes employers make when dealing with a remote workforce?

I often see that people get the human side of it wrong and apply the same thinking and leadership to the remote context as to more traditional structures. Most especially regarding trust. We’ve all seen that many employers tend to have issues trusting their staff. For instance, there are quite a few examples of remote or hybrid organisations using monitoring software to check productivity. That doesn’t go down well! For us, trust is paramount. When you trust each other and focus on having strong relationships you find that everything falls into place. People will want to be productive, will feel valued and will generally thrive. The relationship needs to be respectful and about wanting to work together and build something special. If you feel that your manager doesn’t trust you that is likely to have a negative psychological effect which has big implications for culture and productivity.

How does the Digital Skills Agency create a happy and healthy fully remote workplace culture?

We actively work on our culture and it’s a regular item on our team agenda. We find it’s vital to engage with each other and communicate regularly. Connection is everything so we stay aligned for productivity and keep our strong sense of community. We have daily, weekly, and other periodic rituals and we make sure they don’t slip. It’s critical to keep those structures alive. For instance, we have a daily stand-up, first thing every morning and we start that with ten minutes of social time before we move into a formal standup. We have social catch-ups every Friday to end the week. We also have quarterly team days where we get together in person and travel to a different place each time. One of the team said it’s a bit like school camp but in a good way. A camp with a nice hotel and good restaurants!

How do your staff handle the limited face to face contact with their colleagues?

We have found that our team love the set up. We're clear about what to expect when we are onboarding, and we do the onboarding in person to help us build connection and relationships from the start. It gives them the confidence to hit the ground running when they go home.

It’s rewarding being able to design jobs around people’s lives. We try to be flexible to individual needs. If someone wants to take the afternoon off and work in the evening because it’s school sports day, we are fine with it as long as it fits within the flexibility and accountability structures we’ve built. This means the team come into the job with confidence and excitement. We find the model works well for everyone and having that kind of flexibility means everyone is engaged with what we’re doing. It builds loyalty and the understanding that we are all in it together. We are one community with a strong shared vision and excitement about the future. And that’s who we want to be.