How to Build a Remote Team for Your Cannabis Business

Remote work is becoming more popular every day. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to allow remote working, many employees have realized they don’t want to go back to working outside the home. At the same time, a lot of employers have realized it’s more cost-effective and productive to have a remote team than they realized pre-pandemic.

This is a trend that we’re seeing in a wide variety of industries – including the cannabis industry. Today, more cannabis businesses are giving workers what they want by building remote teams when it’s feasible. There are successful cannabis businesses that are made up of entirely remote teams while others have only some employees working from home depending on their roles and responsibilities.

A long list of ancillary cannabis technology companies, marketing providers, consultants, and more have already shifted to fully-remote teams. For example, did you know the entire Cannabiz Media team has always worked remotely? From the Pacific Northwest to sunny Florida, our team is located across the country!

At the same time, many cultivators, manufacturers, dispensaries, and other plant-touching businesses are now allowing specific employees to work from home who don’t need to be onsite to do their jobs.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you shift to a fully or partially remote team is that hiring for and managing remote workers is a bit different than it is for in-house teams. With distance comes autonomy, and trust is paramount – both trust that your team members will get their jobs done and trust that you’ll provide them with the tools, communications, and benefits they need to be successful and happy.

With that said, following are some of the key things to keep in mind as you build a remote team for your cannabis business.

1. Define What Can Be Done Remotely

The first step to build a remote team is to determine which jobs can be done remotely. In the cannabis industry, this will depend on the type of company you have and the roles workers are required to fill.

For example, many ancillary cannabis businesses can operate seamlessly with a fully-remote team. A point-of-sale (POS) software company or accounting firm is unlikely to require brick-and-mortar office space. On the other hand, growers and trimmers need to be onsite to perform their roles for a cultivation business, but the sales, marketing, and other support services teams probably don’t have to be onsite – at least not 40 hours per week.

Take some time to define each role while looking for opportunities to allow remote working. How many tasks and projects truly need to be done in a traditional work environment? If you’re flexible in your thinking, you just may find a lot of the workspace you’ve been paying for isn’t necessary at all!

2. Prioritize Work Ethic and Self-Motivation When Recruiting

When you’re hiring remote team members, you should focus on hiring people based on their work ethic, not just on their skills, knowledge, and experience. Remote workers have to work autonomously, which means they need to be independent thinkers, proactive, and problem solvers.

Some people find it difficult to motivate themselves and stay focused when they’re working from home with no coworkers or supervisors around them. Therefore, it can be a good idea to hire people who have experience working remotely in the past if possible.

However, don’t exclude people who have yet to try remote working (although that number has certainly dropped since the quarantines the world experienced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic). They just might thrive in a virtual environment!

3. Revamp Your Interview Process

Hiring remote workers requires a different interview process than hiring brick-and-mortar workers. The first step is to ensure you have the tools in place to conduct video interviews. Body language can tell you a lot about a job candidate (and vice versa), so it’s important that interviewers and interviewees can see each other. Zoom is a great option for video interviews.

In addition to asking questions to verify each job candidate’s experience, knowledge, and skills, you need to include questions that lead to conversations about work ethic and self-motivation as discussed in #2 above. 

With that in mind, following are some interview questions you can ask to evaluate work ethic, motivation, and commitment – all of which are essential to being a successful and productive remote worker:

  • When you have extra time available while you’re working, how do you fill the time? What are some of the things you’ve done in your prior jobs during slow periods?
  • If you have many things to do at the same time, how do you prioritize them? What do you do to keep up?
  • If you encounter a problem that keeps you from completing a task or project, what do you do? Can you describe an example?
  • Can you describe one or more examples of steps you’ve taken to make your job easier or make yourself more effective in your job? 
  • Describe a time when you went above and beyond expectations to get your job done.
  • Describe a problem you’ve encountered when trying to complete a task or project and the steps you took to overcome it.
  • How do you stay self-motivated on a daily basis? What if you encounter obstacles that make it difficult to do your job?
  • What motivates you to go to work each day?
  • If you can’t meet a deadline, what do you do? How does that make you feel?
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question or how to do something, what do you do?

4. Provide the Right Tools and Onboarding from Day One

You wouldn’t want a new employee to show up to your office on their first day and find they don’t have a desk, computer, phone, or software to do their job, and you don’t want that to happen to your remote team members either. Therefore, make sure new hires have the equipment, tools, logins, and software that they’ll need to dive in right away.

Onboarding should also include an introduction to everyone else on the team. Provide new remote workers with a list of all other team members with their roles and responsibilities, and explain who they should contact for different types of questions, problems, or support.

For those coworkers the new hire will need to connect with early and often, send a one-to-one introductory email message or a message through your collaboration tool (like Slack – see #5 below) to break the ice. You can even pre-schedule introductory calls with each new hire and key team members to get things moving as soon as they come on board.

5. Encourage Open and Frequent Communications

When you’re building and managing a remote team, open and frequent communication is key to everyone’s success. Use a collaboration tool like Slack to enable people to connect with each other as needed for quick one-on-one chats or group conversations.

You can also use Slack to encourage conversations that aren’t work-related. This is particularly important to build relationships and foster a company culture. You can create Slack channels for projects, departments, and fun things too. For example, consider creating Slack channels to talk about funny or entertaining topics, vacation plans, family, and more.

Use Zoom or a similar tool to enable your workers to quickly and easily hold voice and video meetings – scheduled or on the fly. The easier you make it for remote workers to communicate with each other, the stronger your team will be.

Keep in mind, for communications between remote workers to be effective, your company’s leaders need to set the tone and behaviors to model by being the first to start and join conversations.

6. Set the Tone and Expectations from the Top Down

During the onboarding process, it’s critical that you teach remote workers which communication tools to use for different types of conversations. This way, the entire team can stay on the same page, and they’ll know what to expect.

For example, you could train your remote workers to use Slack for all internal conversations, email for external conversations, and your project management tool (e.g., Asana or Trello) for conversations related to a specific project tracked with milestones, goals, and performance metrics.

Whatever the directions are for communications, the leadership team needs to act as role models and actively use those tools in the same ways they expect employees to use them.

7. Don’t Micromanage

No one likes to be micromanaged, and experienced remote workers definitely don’t like to be micromanaged. For remote teams to be successful, you must allow them to work independently.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t know what they’re doing. You’ll have all of the updates you need if you encourage open and frequent communications (see #3 above) and set specific goals with milestones and deadlines for each project.

Remember, to build a strong remote team for your cannabis business, you need to hire for work ethic, not just knowledge and skills (see #1). If you hire well, your problem won’t be worrying about whether your employees are working a full 40-hour week. Instead, you’ll need to keep them from burning out by discouraging them from working too many hours.

To that end, don’t celebrate long work hours and never encourage remote workers to work on their days off. Remote workers need to know you expect them to disconnect during non-work hours. Lead by example!

Key Takeaways to Build a Remote Team for Your Cannabis Business

To build a remote team for your cannabis business, you first have to hire strategically. In addition, appropriate onboarding, open communications, leadership role models, and trust are essential to putting together a group of remote workers who can grow into a high-performing team.

Originally published 7/6/21. Updated 1/21/22.

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