Building and working with remote teams
I am a big fan of distributed teams. They foster thoughtfulness, reduce drama, improve business economics and help companies and employees find better matches.
If you are building a remote team, there are three important considerations to think about:
#1: distributed teams increase the cost of communication. Use it in your favor
- Discourage people from randomly sharing ideas. Encourage people to think things through, and put it in writing
- Discourage interruptions. Encourage set times for coordination
- Set up clear social rules for comms channels: What to use for urgent comms, what to use for non-urgent comms
- Make sure everyone knows what are the top 1-3 priorities so everyone works on the most important thing. It is easy to drift apart in remote settings
To run a distributed organization well, it needs to be designed from the ground up for it:
- The preferred form of communication must be written
- Use voice comms when writing needs disambiguation/clarification OR when working on things that are “on fire”
- Use video comms for non-tactical 1:1 and all hands
#2: finding great people and organizing them
In the ideal case, you have a co-founder/early team member that is Not based and it is not interested in moving to SV, or equivalent tech hotspot. They could work at FB, GOOG, or any amazing startup if they wanted, but they want to stay close to home. This person is key because it can create a cluster around her (talent attracts talent).
In theory, you want a fully distributed workforce, in practice, talented people create clusters around them and companies are more likely to end up with a decentralized approach (one that accepts nodes).
Still, you should aim to be as distributed as possible the best way is to get more talent nodes going: after one node is blossoming, find another talent-anchor somewhere else, and repeat the process.
Try not to have offices. Offices foment fast, low-cost communication that is not permanent or easy to share. It is hard to sync with different offices.
Having offices threatens most of the benefits of a distributed workforce. If you have few and dense clusters, getting an office will be tempting. Try to resist the temptation.
#3: Relationship structure
Often people explore some or all of these options:
- Full or part-time remote contractors (no equity)
- Full-time remote employee or contractor (equity or profit-sharing)
Remote contractors with no equity, full or part-time are not part of your team and as such, they should only work on peripheral tasks. Agencies are not part of your team. They can own full projects, but they need to be easily run independently of the core product.
The only way to build an actual team is to have them full-time, under contract, or employment, but with equity or some form of profit sharing. Under these conditions, they are part of your team. I don’t see how they can be in any other circumstance.
Hopefully, this list helps you think through the decisions you need to make in order to build a remote team.