Randy Rayess, VenturePact Co-Founder, on Managing a Virtual Workforce

By: Brittany Corners | Published: June 13, 2015

Randy-RayessVenturePact, Randy Rayess, shares his thoughts with CrowdSource regarding the challenges and benefits of managing a remote staff. Rayess chats with Nicki Powers about how his business was founded, the importance of communication, and how to motivate remote workers.

Here are some of the key takeaways from this informative discussion:

1. Rayess manages a virtual workforce with workers that are “literally all over the world.”

2. Rayess and his partner noticed there was a “big constraint” in the area of technology growth and development; they set out to improve accessibility between businesses and the tech masterminds of the world. They thought, “Maybe we can help them figure out how to navigate the development landscape and build technology.”

3. Rayess warns that there are different challenges associated with each region, adding that you have to “make sure you fully understand the implications of the time zone difference when it comes to calls.”

4. VenturePact actively practices what it offers, which is part of what makes them such a strong company. They promote the benefits of outsourcing projects to a remote staff while relying upon a virtual team to get the word out.

5. Rayess points out that responding to questions can be a distraction in a traditional workplace. He says, “If you’re remote and someone asks you a question, you don’t have to answer that message straightaway. You don’t have to get interrupted every time someone asks you something; at the end of the hour, you can spend five minutes answering all the questions from the previous hour, something like that. It helps with the flow; it helps with having those distractions and focus.”

6. Rayess warns that corporate culture should not be overlooked when you manage a remote team. “The culture and relationship matter a lot” when you have a combination of brick-and-mortar employees and virtual workers, says Rayess.

7. When asked about challenges unique to companies that use remote workers, Rayess says he feels that managers are likely to experience the same types of issues with remote employees as they would experience with on-site employees. He cautions business leaders not to overthink it.

View the podcast transcription here

Nicki:  First of all, thank you for joining me.

Randy: Sure, it’s great to be here.

Nicki:  Can you tell me about VenturePact?

Randy: The role of VenturePact is to help businesses find and engage with web and mobile development teams. The focus is that most businesses need to adopt technology into how they work and into what they do just because all the customers are moving onto their mobile phone and digital. The challenge is, how do businesses that are not traditionally software businesses, or even software businesses, how do they scale out their resources and scale out their development? We come in as this solution that helps you quickly get access to highly vetted, highly talented developers to get what you need done.

Nicki:  How was VenturePact founded?

Randy: We founded it – my business partner and myself had worked in investing. We invested in tech companies, and we had to work with tech startups and saw that there was a common problem across the board. Every time we tried to work with an outsource dev team, there was a lot of challenges and the code we got was just not easy to use, easy to work with. When we wanted to build things internally, there was also a constraint there with hiring.

When it came to just building technology, there was a big constraint. The main challenge was that we just didn’t have access to the global development talent pool, and we didn’t understand how to vet, well and at scale, developers so you could be in San Francisco, but you can still hire someone in Utah or Tennessee or North Carolina. It was hard to do that at that time.

We said. “You know, if you have a great, – through VenturePact – if we can provide people with access to the best developers in San Francisco, but also in the Midwest and also on the East Coast, and in the South, and in any city, and even globally in other countries, then maybe we can help them figure out how to navigate the development landscape and build technology.”

Nicki:  All of the developers that work for VenturePact, they are distributed across the globe, right? They’re not in your office physically.

Randy: We have development teams that we partner with. Are you saying our internal employees or the development teams that we connect with other companies?

Nicki:  I would say both.

Randy: The development teams that we connect to companies are literally all over the world. You can say, “I’m in city X and I need a development team in the same city or another city, or in this country.” We will connect you to that person. So that’s important to them, and they’re pretty global at this point.

There are obviously different challenges with each region. If you go based on time zone, you’ll have different things. South America is in the same time zone, which is convenient for a U.S. client, whereas Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia, the time zones, there is a difference. You have to make sure you fully understand the implications of the time zone difference when it comes to calls.

We have a very global network when it comes to dev teams for our customers. Within the company internally, we’re also a remote company. We have people in multiple states and multiple countries ourselves. That helps us, obviously, so we fully understand how to build remote teams and how to hire remotely. It just makes us better at doing it internally; we can help advise companies better when it comes to building software.

Nicki:  It makes a lot of sense that you would have a virtual team because you are essentially selling the concept of a virtual team to your clients. You bring up an interesting point with the time zones. It’s obviously a challenge, when you’re in different time zones, to get work done. What are some of the other drawbacks that you have experienced running your own virtual workforce?

Randy: Whenever you’re not sitting in the same office with other people, there are some advantages and some disadvantages. The advantage is generally that there is no distraction so you’re very much focused. You don’t get interrupted as much, whereas when you’re in the office you always get interrupted by someone who has a question, and you have to obviously answer them, and that slows you down.

If you’re remote and someone asks you a question, you don’t have to answer that message straightaway. You don’t have to get interrupted every time someone asks you something; at the end of the hour, you can spend five minutes answering all the questions from the previous hour, something like that. It helps with the flow, it helps with having those distractions and focus.

At the same time, the challenges include building strong relationships and building culture. You need to really think about how you’re going to build strong relationships between the team members. How do you build culture, and how do you create these creative conversations and brainstorming sessions where you can bounce ideas off of each other and things like that when you’re remote? Those are the things that you have to think about.

You have to obviously manage all of the variables. Time zone is one variable. Managing this cross time zone communication is, what time are we going to have these calls? What’s the best way to have the calls? How do we make sure that we can come up with a consistent time where everyone is available? All of these problems are surmountable, they just do require time and effort depending on the specifics in any situation to address them.

Nicki:  What are you using to address some of those challenges? Surely, there are tools and things that virtual teams can use to overcome those.

Randy: There are a few main areas that you have to think about when it comes to how to address them. The first, a proper accountability management system. This is like task management or how are we going to manage? Think about the assignment and the completion of tasks. Once you have that down, then you can do real work and things can be tracked. That works pretty well.

The second part that’s important is the general communication process. This is like chatting, voice communication, collaboration options. That is an extremely important point. This includes not only chatting and basic calls, but can also include knowledge management and proper tagging so that conversations are indexed and easily searchable and trackable, and things like that.

The third is the culture part, and how do you create a social experience or type of experience across time zones? What types of tools are you going to create or utilize by which people can easily share things that are going on in the company? Those three main areas are going to be the ways you address the bigger problems.

Nicki:  I would think that teams that are not virtual probably experience some of those same problems, and some of them are probably using tools even though they’re sitting in the same building. It’s not necessarily unique to virtual teams. Would you agree with that?

Randy: Sure. We’re talking a lot about communication here when we talk about remote teams, but you’re right in the sense that communication is also very important when you’re in-person, when you’re sitting in the office. A lot of these tools matter in both scenarios. There are tweaks to the types of problems, but there are a lot of similarities in the problems when you’re looking at remote communication versus in-office communication. It’s just that you can use – a lot of the tools that work remotely can work in the office too.

Nicki:  Why do you suppose – and maybe this isn’t your experience, you can tell me – why do you suppose that virtual teams are not yet the norm if many of these same drawbacks and benefits that you experience in-person ring true even with a virtual workforce? As a follow-up to that, do you think that more companies will start leveraging a virtual workforce in the near future?

Randy: The second question is quicker, I guess. I think more people are going to do it, definitely. There is a clear trend that’s going in that direction, and it’s been happening for a while. There is a huge movement and I think it’s going to continue.

The first question is, why don’t more people do it if there are similar challenges? Well, the scale of the challenge is different. While there are communication problems in the office, the communication problems on a remote team are a little different and can be more severe. Sometimes, especially if you’re hiring cross-cultural, if you’re hiring someone from a different culture, then there’s other issues there.

If you are hiring people across time zones, but within the same culture type – you know, if you’re in like London and you hire someone in New York, or if you’re in New York and you hire someone in San Francisco – there is a time zone difference, but very minimal.

There are still issues with team management because your company is structured for an in-office experience. The entire system is made for in-office. Suddenly, you start adding these remote people and that starts to create complex issues for a company that is not used to building remote teams.

What starts to happen is you have these two different methods that you have; you have an in-office method and then a remote method. The remote people inevitably are going to get not as much treatment or ability to be involved at the beginning, and you’re going to have to start figuring things out and how to manage this. It’s a whole new way of management.

What happens is people will try it out, and it usually won’t work at the beginning with them because of this challenge in-office, having a whole company’s tenures built on an in-office basis. Then they will either give up or think it’s not useful for them or doesn’t work in their environment.

These are the many challenges that exist with building remote teams is that there is a complex dynamic that exists beyond just building a team. It’s, “how do we manage what we have internally and what we’ve built in the past, and how do we structure our management process for it?” It does take time.

Nicki:  That makes a lot of sense. People are generally accustomed to having their workforce within the same four walls of their building, and now when you start adding in these virtual contractors, it can be a disruption. They have to think about, how are they going to manage that from all of the different aspects that you mentioned?

Randy: Yeah, and also these aren’t just virtual contractors. A lot of times they are hiring virtual employees. They’re full-time; they’re in the company, and this is when culture becomes even more important. These guys are just like any other employee in the office, so that relationship does matter. The culture and relationship matter a lot. The fact that you’re going beyond just contractors and going into employees is another thing where it becomes kind of a sensitive issue for businesses.

Nicki:  That makes a lot of sense. We’ve talked a lot about what seems to be the drawbacks of a virtual workforce, but there are a lot of benefits as well. Can you talk about some of those?

Randy: The main things are you get access to the best talent for multiple reasons. First of all, you’re not limited to the people who – the talent pool that’s within 50 miles from your office. You’re no longer limited to that talent; you suddenly have the world’s talent available. That’s a huge advantage.

At the same time, it also becomes much harder for you to vet. That’s why we vet people for companies, because if you suddenly tell someone, “Oh, you have every developer in the world that is a potential candidate for you.” You’re like, “Okay, that’s not feasible for me to navigate that.” Whereas if I limit myself to the local market, you take out the best developers that are already hired at firms and are not interested in moving. Then you have a few great developers that are at other firms that are willing to move. Then you start thinking, “Well, okay, maybe that’s a more manageable thing.”

The first is that it is predominantly an advantage of having much more access to talent. The second is so you can hire the best people, and you can do that without as much constraint.

The second advantage is your existing talent becomes happy because there’s more flexibility. This is especially relevant to people who have multiple constraints, especially parents. They become much more flexible, and therefore they don’t have to get 10 approvals to go watch a soccer game in the afternoon; they can go whenever they want and they can just work remotely.

This concept of working remotely can just offer a lot more autonomy and flexibility, which also helps attract great people because great people want that flexibility. Especially in the next few years, most companies are not going to have this. By 2020 this is going to become the norm, so it won’t be as much of a competitive advantage, but in the short term it is a competitive advantage having the remote option to connect to people.

You can get the best talent, you have a better work environment, people are a lot happier, they don’t have as much constraint and having to always drive in during rush hour and drive out during rush hour – all those things that non-remote businesses have to deal with.

The third thing is that remote business actually forces you to do things that are good for the business in the long-term. Because you are remote, you have to think about making things easy to re-use, and that’s an amazing thing. Most small businesses do not think about – the reason they don’t think about that is that, “Well, we’re five people or 10 people,” or whatever, “We can basically fit in one small office. If there’s a question, people can just ask us. We don’t think as much about making things efficient.” You can just turn your head around and just ask someone something.

In a remote environment, that’s no longer the case. In a remote environment, you have to understand that this person might be working on this problem at a time when you are asleep, or a time when you are not available, and therefore you have to do a much better job of communicating. That actually creates advantages. Even though it may seem like a disadvantage, it’s actually an advantage long-term because you start doing things in a much better, more efficient way, which allows you to build better training processes, management processes, and allows employees to move a lot faster. Both the people who are working on the problem and the people who are answering the question can move a lot faster when there are lots of questions.

Nicki:  You mentioned the flexibility of working remotely and in a virtual environment, companies who are able to offer their employees the ability to work from home or from anywhere is a big competitive advantage. I think it makes a lot of sense to most people why that is. Do you have any other ideas on how you can motivate a virtual workforce? Is it the same or different from motivating a workforce that resides within your building?

Randy: The question is about how to motivate, right? How to motivate your remote people. When you’re thinking of motivating people in general, it’s all about figuring out the purpose behind what’s going on – the purpose behind the business, the purpose behind what they’re doing – and helping them see the bigger impact, and then they become more excited about the mission and vision.

Communicating that, I think, is super important in both the remote and an in-office environment, because that’s most people. The challenge, of course, is that in a remote environment you’re not sitting down next to the founders or the people who are going to communicate the vision on a daily basis. This is one of the big things people say; they go, “We can’t create a culture that we could have in-office.” That said, this is a problem that’s surmountable.

You can think about team events where you have your sub-team will meet up once a quarter. You can have events where the whole company meets up once a year, and then you can have that in-person engagement and in-person speeches. Then of course you have the weekly roundups with the whole company on video conference, and there you also obviously are going to communicate the vision and communicate the long story. While you’re not going to get as much in-person interaction, you can still have that communication of the vision and the drive and the purpose to help motivate people – the communication of the drive and the purpose to help motivate people.

I think all of those issues are surmountable. They just obviously are going to be a bit harder to deal with it, especially at the beginning, but they are all things that we can work on.

Nicki:  It makes a lot of sense that the same types of issues would be across the board whether your employees are virtual or in the office. The way you’re describing it, it almost sounds like it might even be easier to connect a virtual employee to a mission or a vision when that information is out there on the web, and they can consume it when and where and how they want to consume it, much like all of the information in the world is now on the web out there to consume the way we prefer to consume it.

It makes a lot of sense, and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk us through what you’re doing with VenturePact. It’s certainly very interesting in how that model can be applied to businesses worldwide. Randy, are you okay with us sharing your contact information if people would like to reach out to you with additional questions?

Randy: Sure, I can give you my – my LinkedIn is just LinkedIn.com/in/RandyRayess, and then my Twitter handle is @RandyRayess. For email, if it’s a question about VenturePact, there’s just questions@venturepact.com. If they’re questions about me personally, you can email me directly on my personal email, which is randy@venturepact.com.

Nicki:  Perfect. Randy, thanks so much for joining me today.

Randy: Thank you for having me.


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