The Way We Work
November 15, 2013 by Julia Camenisch

Located in Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory, the city of Darwin is better known for underground mines and tourist traps than a bustling tech scene. But that hasn’t stopped Bernard Wilson. This Darwin resident has seized the power of remote work and cloud computing to forge his dream company, Primetime Entertainment.

Wilson’s business connects event organizers with artists of all stripes and styles, providing entertainment options throughout the Northern Territory.

We recently spoke with Wilson about his company, the ins and outs of remote leadership, and why he thinks team building is so important.

oDesk: How did you move from business idea to business reality?

Bernard: From the outset, I was looking at how I was going to access the different skills I needed to build the company [when they weren’t necessarily available in Darwin].

[I realized that] my business needed to be prepared to plug into global resources. I felt that the best option was to use cloud-based solutions.

O: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned by hiring online freelancers?

B: It took a bit of figuring out and getting used to the different labor model. I started small, with data entry and bookkeeping projects, and went from there.

The biggest thing I would change [looking back] is the way I initially viewed my remote workers. To be brutally honest, I looked at them too much as a commodity. Because I wasn’t working face to face with them, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that I was still working with people; I would get frustrated over little things. That’s not the way a team leader should be.

Over the past several years, I’ve realized that leadership is the key to managing the diversity of both the entertainment industry and remote work. [In my business] I don’t want to be just another shark-like agent—I want to be a consultant and adviser. As I went through the process of practicing and adopting a better leadership approach, I began to actively exercise some of these principles with my team.

Now, I work to create camaraderie online with these guys, so they feel like they are part of a team. The result has been better productivity and cohesion.

O: What other lessons have you learned about team building and remote leadership?

Wilson (center) visiting his contractors in the Philippines.

Wilson (center) visiting his freelancers in the Philippines.

B: In the beginning, I didn’t factor in the need for training. But that’s important: your virtual team needs to know who you are and what you do. Since then, we’ve developed a staff induction manual for long-term freelancers.

I’ve also learned you shouldn’t start conversations with the tasks to be done. Instead, start with the little things. Find out about [the team’s] weekend. Developing a longer-lasting relationship with your remote team helps with retention.

One of the tools we’ve started experimenting with is the enterprise social networking tool Yammer. Using it has brought more personal stuff into conversations and makes virtual freelancers feel more like part of the team.

I also recently visited my freelancers in the Philippines. It was a bit of organizing as people were located in different parts of the country—but it was worth it.

The main purpose of the visit was to build relationships. I got their feedback on how they thought things were going with the company and whether they had any suggestions for improvement. That was our only work-related conversation; we really left business behind after that, and spent the rest of the time in a purely social context.

Focusing on relationships has made a 100 percent difference. I had a few issues with web development teams in the beginning, but this time around I’ve taken a different approach and have worked to develop relationships. This has done a lot to overcome communication barriers.

O: Finally, that all-important question: what’s your favorite style of music?

B: I’m going to make it nice and generic—house music! There we go. I don’t want to influence people’s perception of me by being too specific.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.