Working remotely isn’t for everyone. It can significantly slow down progress when you have to navigate time differences, communication costs, blah blah blah, you name it.
But at Polarr, we’re loving it.
Right now, we have five remote contributors—two full time and three part-time. Five is actually a pretty large number for a startup like us, considering we have just five full-timers and three part-timers in total.
Because we love our remote team so much, we wanted to share some tips for building your own distributed team.
Here are some of the things you should do.
We’ve practiced working remotely from the very beginning.
We started using Hipchat the day we started in August 2014, even when our team was pretty much three members of the founding team that met in person every day. We used Hipchat to share docs when we were in the office, and to communicate and chat when we weren’t. Every new team member was introduced to Hipchat first thing.
We’ve since switched to using Slack, but still put the same importance on making sure our team is well-connected. One of the biggest parts of the onboarding experience for new team members is familiarizing themselves with our different channels on Slack.
Establishing good streams of communication early on, even when your team works in the same office, makes for smoother transitions later on when remote members are added.
People are different. Unfortunately, a great regular employee doesn’t necessarily make a great remote employee.
It can be difficult to find motivated individuals that are capable of working remotely. There isn’t a switch in the brain that you can simply turn to remote mode.
A great remote employee must have two things—the ability to be an individual contributor, and the ability to still be actively involved in the company culture. The easiest way for startups to identify these diamonds in the rough is to look for candidates with previous remote experience and/or freelance experience.
We use several tools for collaborations: Slack—integrated with Google Docs and Dropbox—for team communication and file sharing, Trello for task management, Appear.in for weekly video conferences, and Github for coding collaboration. We also have a world clock displayed in our office to keep an eye on the local times of our remote members.
We hold weekly meetings on Fridays so that everyone can sync up, understand their responsibilities, ask questions, and see each other’s faces. We also encourage one on one video chat. As a matter of fact, we reserve an Appear.in video conference room so that team members can jump in and start chatting about stuff anytime they want.
Some argue that culture won’t be sacrificed if you do it the right way. But the fact that you can’t pat some of your team members on the back, or buy someone bubble tea on a weekly basis (that’s right, we do that), means you won’t have quite the same bond with your remote buddies that you do with those you work with in the office. That, of course, can be compensated for with a good video chat, or even a retreat in a remote worker’s country—it’s just an extra step.
Problems with communication—which can be complicated by time differences and language barriers—can cause a decrease in productivity.
It’s easy to yell out an iOS bug problem if everyone’s in the same room, but it’s not so easy if your iOS development guy is fifteen hours ahead of you in China sleeping. You can try to wake him up, but it’s pretty damn hard (we’ve been there, done that).
Let’s face it. It’s probably never gonna happen if you have a remote team.
With less people to fit in the office, you can lower your overhead costs by renting a smaller space. Also, because you’ll have talent working in other countries, costs can be lowered due to lower local income levels—a good designer in China or Poland can maintain their lifestyle with a lower income than a designer in the US.
Did I mention the larger talent pool? Because instead of Bay Area, you can now recruit great people from AROUND THE WORLD! You have access to a giant talent pool that is not restricted by location, but only by language.
Something we really like about our distributed team is our diversity. We’ve had team members from China, the US, Russia, Spain, France, and Italy. Having members from all over the world makes for a more interesting, experienced, and culturally rich team.
Distributed team is a double-edged sword.
USE IT WITH CAUTION, AND THOU SHALT BE GOLDEN.
Thanks to Samantha for proof-reading and editing the draft.