If you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into building a company, you probably want it to stick around. But that doesn’t just happen accidentally. Future-proofing your organization requires intentionality and discipline. In his famous book Built to Last, Jim Collins says, “Discipline is the greatest thing in the world. Where there is no discipline, there is no character. And without character, there is no progress.”
Forty-five percent of businesses fail within the first five years. Only one in four businesses actually make it past 15 years. Although the odds are stacked against you, with some strategic planning and action, you can make it happen. The key is to include a structure that is robust and will withstand the test of time but also includes flexibility to grow as your product and people change.
While nothing can guarantee your company’s success long-term, planning for the future with your tools, procedures, and people is your best bet to push forward in the right direction.
Tooling For Distributed Teams
Nothing will slow down your company and decrease morale more than constantly switching tools and trying out new shiny apps, or having so many tools around that no one knows what to use!
Make Sure It Scales
It’s important to pick tools that work with both large and small teams so that you can start out with a tool and grow with it. That’s no small feat—something that works for a 5 person team needs to be quick and easy to get started with and low cost. If it’s too much work to learn, nobody will start using it because you don’t have time! If it costs too much, there’s no way you’d be able to justify it.
While you need something that starts small, you also need something that can grow with you as your company grows. While you need something simple starting out, you also need it to have the ability to access more features as you need them.
When you’re looking at tools, read case studies to see the types of companies that use them and how long they’ve been using them. Also, check out the types of plans they offer. If they offer a “one size fits all” type of plan, then they might not be great for scaling because they’ll probably cause too much to get started. Check for tools that have pricing plans based on either how many features you use OR how much you use the product.
Take the Trello pricing plans for example. There’s a free tier of Trello your team can use to test out Trello and see if it’s what your team needs. You don’t have access to all the features in the free plan, but there’s enough to get started and find a lot of value. When your team gets bigger and needs more, Trello can scale with you as you opt for more features and users.
Don’t Buy Bandaids
To future-proof your tools, you need to pick tools that will work with you long-term rather than just find ones that will scratch an itch for now and create new problems later. You’ll always regret taking the easy way when it comes to picking an inferior tool that is a little cheaper.
Find the right tool that will help you all the way through and invest in it from the start. You’ll save so many headaches for you and your whole team by avoiding future migrations and the age-old question of “where did we write that down?”
Choose Tools With Good Resources
Lastly, when you’re evaluating future-proof tooling, check out tools that have good documentation and communities to help you use them. You don’t want a tool that requires you to reach out to support anytime you want to know how to do something.
Zapier is a fantastic example of this. As an automation tool, it can be really daunting to use correctly but Zapier makes sure you’re never alone in it. While their support team does respond quickly, you’re never at the mercy of waiting for them to respond before you can move ahead with using the product.
With a lot of documentation and tutorials on their blog and even structured video content through their free Zapier University, you can learn how to do nearly anything just with a few searches on their website. But if you still need a hand, you can reach out to their active community and look for posts about others who have been in your shoes and figured it out. Or you can create your own post and often get more inspiration from other users. There’s even an option to hire Zapier experts if you decide researching your solutions isn’t worth your time and you’d rather someone just build it for you.
If you need some ideas of good tools for remote work, some favorites include:
Document Everything… And Then Document Some More
You want to pick tools that have good documentation because it helps you get things done quickly and move forward in the direction you need to go. For that same reason, it’s important to document things internally about your company so that as you grow, you always have an answer for “how do we do this?” and “why do we do this?”
Start Where You Currently Are
You can start today by documenting where you’re currently at. Pretend you just got a message that you’re going to win the lottery. (Congrats, by the way!). Now imagine what kind of information would be available to the person coming in to fill your shoes. What kind of information would you like to leave to them so they don’t have to call you while you’re enjoying your new mansion on the lake with your yacht?
Go through this exercise with each of your employees - even the junior ones! Everyone in your company is making a significant contribution. Having all the pieces of people’s roles documented is key for growing together as a company and being prepared for whatever might happen in the future.
Not sure what to document? Here are some ideas for questions.
- What tools are you using today? (Hopefully, they’re future-proofed ones!)
- How do you use those tools?
- What are your processes and workflows?
- How do you work with other teams?
- What are your roles and responsibilities?
- What are your team goals?
Reflect Where You’ve Been
You don’t want to just document what you’re currently doing, but also document what you’ve done before. This might sound unnecessary because who cares what you’ve tried—you’re doing what you do now because it’s the best thus far, right?
Well, it’s still helpful to keep track of things you’ve tried and what you’ve done before so that you don’t waste time in the future doing things you’ve already done. Write down what has worked and what hasn’t.
You also want to document growth so that you can see improvement and make sure you’re heading on the right track.
Plan Where You’re Going
Speaking of heading on the right track, the last piece you want to document is where you’re going. Future-proofed companies have a very specific vision and they make sure that they’re prepared to deal with any obstacles. If you don’t have a north star to guide you, you won’t know where you’re going when you’re faced with tough choices and must pick a path.
Document where you see the company going. What do you think it looks like in two years, five years, and twenty years? What kind of problems are you solving? What kind of team do you have? A great way to document this is with a presentation by the founder, because that will help communicate energy far more than a google doc with inspirational goals will.
Document how you plan to get there. What kind of things need to happen to realize that vision? Write down anything you already know, as that will help when you’re faced with hiring decisions, product decisions, and anything else to take your company into the future.
Document any obstacles you might face. Don’t just write down all the warm and fuzzy stuff. Be real about the problems you’ll face while achieving your goals. This will help you be more prepared to face them as you plan for them. It’s naive to think you can predict all the obstacles, but if you can lay out the framework for some of them you’ll be steps ahead of others.
While a simple Google doc can suffice for documentation, there are also tools for documentation like Confluence or Trello!
Future Proof Your People
Saving the best for last, you might think I’m going to say something “people are your most important asset”. But in reality, they’re not—they’re actually the only thing that matters at your company.
You’re building a product for people, and you’re using a lot of people to build it, tell other people about it, and empower other people who are using it. There’s no magic tool that will future-proof your organization and even the best documentation is no substitute for bringing in the right people, helping them grow, and making it worth their while to stick around.
Help People Be Humans Rather Than Employees
Some books will tell you the best way to grow your business is to increase income and cut expenses. When it comes to cutting expenses, there’s a lot of places you can optimize costs inside your business, but taking care of your employees should not be one of them. Consider your benefits and salary an investment in your company’s future and not just an expense.
Make sure your employees feel like humans that come to work rather than workers who are just treated humanely. It might sound silly—but it’s an important distinction.
As an Elastic employee, I’ve appreciated having tangible benefits like healthcare and retirement, but also the non-tangible ones like flexible work schedules, Shut It Down Days (two days a month deemed “Company Holidays”), sick days that don’t require a doctors note and can be used as mental health days when needed. Things like this help me be 'human' first, and then I’m able to come to work as an engaged and productive employee. If you try to make them great employees only, they’ll be neither great employees nor great humans.
Let People Choose Where They Work
Hybrid or remote work policies are a great way to find the best folks for a role while also providing benefits for your team. You’ll future-proof your people by not requiring talented people to live in a certain area.
If you’re not ready to go fully remote but want to offer a combo, there are a lot of ways you can implement a hybrid work policy and there’s no one size fits all solution for everyone. You can go as far as a Remote first option to something like a two-three split with a majority of employee time still in the office but some days flexible.
When you’re thinking about how to implement your hybrid or remote policy, start by talking to your team about it and see what preferences they have. Research how other companies are doing it. Think about your industry and the types of tasks your employees do. Are there some that really lend themselves better to being in an office? Make sure to think through ways to include everyone in your policy.
There’s also a difference between allowing people to work remotely and creating practices for successful distributed communication. Don’t just throw your employees to the wolves—give them the tools they need to be successful remote workers. Make sure training is available to help them adapt to working remotely if they’re not used to it. Review specific practices and tools your team uses to adopt asynchronous communication.
Help Your People Grow
While we’re on the subject of training, make sure you’re helping your people grow as individuals because that also helps your company grow. Ensure constant learning is embedded in your company’s culture. Ever heard of the term Kaizen? It means “continuous improvement” and it means that rather than making big sweeping changes occasionally, you’re making small improvements frequently.
While that should be a part of your day-to-day culture, you should also make sure you’re making opportunities for your employees to grow and learn in their specific roles. Provide formal training options so that your employees can learn new skills and keep up with industry trends. As that knowledge helps them, it also helps your company.
Start Future-Proofing Your Company
Hopefully, you’re feeling encouraged with all the ways you can future-proof your company, but just in case you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, here are a few next steps to help you get started.
- Evaluate your tech stack. Is it scalable? Are there other tools you should be investing in?
- Carve out documentation time. Make a calendar block for yourself and everyone in your company to dedicate time to documenting processes, roles, and things you’re doing.
- Create your hybrid work policy. Start by talking to your employees about what’s working and what isn’t.
Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!