If you're thinking of managing a distributed group, here's some tips. These are lessons I've learned through managing a remote team.
Remote teams are nothing new; as companies consolidate and acquire, or get acquired, large parts of companies need to be managed remotely. But it's a little different when you build a company from the ground up to be remote.
At our distributed startup Dasheroo, all of the co-founders wanted this job to be different; we wanted a degree of flexibility. But with that, you need maturity and you need people you can rely on to do their jobs so you can do yours.
So how to do you not only build, but manage, a remote company to best perform? Insights on the art of remote management ahead.
It's Tough To Compete in Specific Zip Codes
The San Francisco Bay Area is a really tough place to hire. You're only as good as how much lunch you give for free, the car service you provide and the day care you get.
And that's table stakes.
On top of that, you need to pony up huge bucks because salaries are very competitive. Even Google and Twitter have to dip into the B & C player game and pay a bunch of money to get those folks.
Related Article: The Technology Invasion Vs. San Francisco’s Culture
Get Rid of Distractions
I'm not convinced that jamming people in an office every single day gives you an extraordinary amount of productivity. I've been in an office for the last 15 years and I can tell you that there are more distractions than if I was working in my living room.
That being said, it's not for everyone. We talked to a guy in his 20's who would have been a perfect fit for our team, but he wasn't into working from home. He thought that would have distracted him more, plus he wanted a place where there was face-to-face commeraderie and folks to grab a beer with after work.
Related Article: 11 Tools for Tracking Your Remote Staff's Productivity
There Are Smart People Everywhere
We do have a tiny office in Austin, TX because our Engineering team does work closely together and they want a place they can come to 3-4 days a week. But we also have our Director of Sales in Austin who likes to get her work done at home.
Why Austin? There are really smart people there, too. There are amazing schools (University of Texas, Texas A&M) and a very diverse group of people who fit right in with what we're trying to do—create and innovate. But they are free to work from home and have flex schedules that fit their lives too.
For now, we don't have a vacation policy. Our motto is simply "Get your sh*t done." We track in a calendar when people are traveling but there's no hard and fast policy for how many days you can take. If your work is getting done and the company is moving along nicely we don't really care when you do it or from where.
A few house rules: Make the daily stand up meeting that lasts 15 minutes where you tell the group what you're going to accomplish for the company today and if there are any blockers for it to be done.
A few things you need to understand in a distributed team environment:
Related Article: The Situations Where Hiring Remote Employees Makes the Most Sense
- Communication is Key: You need to have the tools to communicate and I'm not just talking cell phones. When we have our meetings we use Zoom, you can also use Skype or Google Hangouts. We also use it for demos, presentations and screen-sharing. Hearing your colleagues (and even seeing them) gives everyone that in-office feel. For real-time chat we use Slack, it's a great tool and free up to a certain level of use.
- Transparency is Very Important: People need to know what's going on with the company all the time. Make sure you publish publicly what your goals are and how the team is progressing towards them. I share my board slides with the co-founding team and I discuss the top 5 initiatives we're marching to with everyone every month.
- Face-to-Face Time: A few times a year it's important to get the team together, spend a day working together and spend a day having fun! It's important to forge relationships with your colleagues "outside of work" and get to know who they are. You'd do it if you were in an office.
And speaking of structure, even though it may seem less structured in many ways (working from home, easier to break off and take care of personal business, etc.) in fact a distributed environment does demand a ton of structure—transparency, trust, clear communications and great tools.
It's not for everyone, but the flexibility in hiring locations, less expense on office rent and overall flexibility are working great for Dasheroo so far.