From start-ups to global corporates, organisations realise they can be stronger and more productive by building flexible, distributed teams.
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When I launched my DevOps consultancy 8 years ago, I had to buck the prevailing trend of insisting on a co-located team. We needed to attract talent outside of the capital.
As a start-up, we needed a culture of inclusion and collaboration to ensure my distributed team were as hooked into the business as those in the London office. It also says a lot about our business as it brings to life our values of trust, communication, and openness.
With Skype, GoToMeeting, Facebook Work to name but a few, how do entrepreneurs build a people strategy for a cohesive, productive team? How do you get the best out of a team through collaboration tools like Slack and WhatsApp? Here’s some tips to help you build a remote team in 2017.
Create a consistent communications strategy
An effective remote team needs crystal clear communication. It’s vital to building a culture of inclusion and collaboration, ensuring your distributed team are constantly synced into the business, regardless of location. Setting up the standard for communication and requiring it be followed is critical.
Regular communications helps build a team that’s effective and efficient so schedule company-wide catch-ups, team meetings as well as one to ones. Set expectations on both sides and articulate business goals and project objectives through check- ins and reviews. Whether this is in person, via Skype or collaboration platform is down to you.
You can build a powerful communications network with free tools
Use the right tools
All team members need access to all of the tools, so that the distribution of information is equitable. If you're using collaboration tools, it doesn't make sense that only the engineering side of the business can use them. Less technical members of staff may need encouragement to use something new, and help in getting started but the effort put into this will pay off in the long run.
Platforms like Slack have been transformative but they only work if the whole team is engaged, so threads and actions aren’t missed. We try and have conversations in Slack even if some of the participants are in the office. This can be a bit slower, and counter-intuitive to begin with, but our remote colleagues can remain involved.
We complement these with video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts. As a DevOps team, GitHub is important; there will be tools specific to your industry as well as the function. We use Hubspot CRM to track our sales processes, and Workable to help us with hiring.
Get your processes right
The powerful remote team uses process to keep everyone on track, and, in touch. Carve these out, lead by example and channel these across the business. When people work remotely, it can be less obvious who is doing what - good online project management tools can help here.
When new staff join, there are several different places where we need to create user accounts - similarly when someone leaves the business, they must be removed from those systems too. It's good practice to maintain this checklist as part of your HR joiners and leavers process so that nothing gets forgotten, and to make use of Single Sign On solutions where possible.
Not everyone is cut out to work remotely. It takes a certain type of person to self-motivate every day, all week. It can be isolating, and if working from home, managing the work/life boundary can sometimes be tricky. Trust is also a major component.
We’re big into hiring doers, and we look for a combination of both technical skills and communication skills. As a consultancy, the latter is really important - there's no point us hiring tech geniuses who can't explain what they're doing, or interact well with customers.
Today, everyone must be a strong communicatorations
We need self-directed learners; there are always new things to pick up in our industry, and we need to stay current. By opening up our hiring funnel to the rest of the country, we have a larger group of potential candidates to choose from.
Take time for team-building
Creating social opportunities for the team is an important one and maintains that non-work communication. This isn’t about walking on coals at corporate away-days but developing a happy and engaged team and ensuring your people truly feel part of a team.
It’s grabbing a beer when one of the team are in London seeing a client or when we’re travelling on-site. We organise team dinners every other month and I’m big on celebrating successes as a growing business.
Creating a distributed team isn’t harder than building a co-located one, it's just different. Because you can see someone sat in their chair, in front of a screen doesn’t mean they’re busy. Be clear on your goals, create a framework, and communicate. It’s worked for us.