Remote offices are no longer a surprise nowadays, especially in the IT industry. Some companies allow their employees to work from the “home office”. For example, according to the American Time Use Survey as of 2017, 24% of full time workers spent some time working at home. Other companies outsource software development services by hiring offshore development teams.
But what if there is no headquarters at all and the company has been completely remote from the very beginning? Such companies already exist on the IT market, and this collaboration model is called “distributed team.” Distributed teams typically have no centralized location and can work from anywhere with a stable Internet connection. Managing a distributed team in a remote-first company is a challenge, but over 60 companies are already doing that, as per the Hallway blog. So in this article, I’m going to share some helpful tips on how to manage such teams.
Tip #1: Hire people who are OK with remote work.
Not everyone can work remotely – for example, outgoing people still need the office atmosphere for an active social life. In addition, not everyone is autonomous and feels too relaxed when not supervised in real life. Finally, some people just do not perceive their own home as a workplace, so the idea of remote work may seem strange to them. Therefore, an ideal remote employee is someone who is independent, self organized, and can work from anywhere, be it a beach or their own apartment.
Tip #2: Communicate.
Although you may rarely or never see your employees in person, never forget that they are real people. Get to know each team member personally and hold regular one-on-one meetings with them to find out if they are satisfied with the work and if they have any issues. Besides, make sure that your employees know each other as well. For example, Zapier uses the “pair buddies” practice, when random teammates are paired with each other for a short call, during which they chat about random, non work related stuff. Such practices create a friendly, relaxed environment and help to solve any work related issues because informal communication removes any barriers between the co-workers.
Tip #3: Build internal culture.
In co-located offices, it is easier to build culture because people hang out with each other every day and it just naturally happens. On the contrary, the managers of distributed teams should do that explicitly. It is important that you have formal rules and best practices that define the culture in your remote team and that each newcomer should read during the onboarding. For example, your rules may include regular video calls so that the team members do not forget the faces of their colleagues. You can also arrange yearly team buildings that bring the entire team together.
Tip #4: Use software for remote work.
In 2019 and later on, TeamViewer and Skype are no longer a universal solution that you can use for remote collaboration. In a distributed environment, dozens of people need to work together, participate in virtual meetings and calls, report their working hours, and solve various issues while being dispersed across different time zones. Therefore, the software that you use should consider the specifics of distributed teams.
Luckily, now you can find a vast array of tools designed primarily for the virtual workplace management. A typical toolbox of a distributed team member can look like this: Slack for instant messaging, Zoom for video conferencing, Time Doctor for time tracking, Trello for project management, Time Zone Ninja for time zone management, Intercom for documentation, and so on. All of these tools and their analogs are lightweight, easy to use, web/cloud based, and fast. Such characteristics are important for any virtual team.
Tip #5: Build trust.
It’s hard to control your employees in a virtual environment, so everything should be based on mutual trust. The simplest way to build trust with your remote team is to have regular checkups or product demos where people show what they have done over a specific period or sprint. You can do it in the format of a written blog. The blog format is suitable for asynchronous communication that is typical for distributed teams due to time zone differences.
Tip #6: Learn from others.
Luckily, now companies that prefer the distributed model gladly share their experience at their websites and blogs (I’ve already mentioned Zapier). Borrowing the best practices of other teams and sharing your own ones would be a great contribution to the future of remote work in general and of distributed teams in particular.
If you’re thinking about founding a company with a distributed model or are already doing that, hopefully these tips will help you move forward and achieve great results. Good luck!
About the author:
Anton Mishchenko is CEO and Co-founder at YouTeam, a Y Combinator-backed marketplace connecting top tech companies with the best software engineers and development shops around the world. Anton’s area of expertise includes tech entrepreneurship and digital marketing, business development in the music and media industries.