I was talking with “Vikram”, a CEO I’ve been working with, the other day. Vikram commutes between the US and Bangalore, spending three months in the US, and then three months in India.
When we spoke, Vikram had just spent time with his Bangalore team, face to face, for the first time in over six months because of COVID.
Vikram said, “It blew me away how much we got done, working in the same building. I’d forgotten about that because of COVID.”
Don’t kid yourself, nothing beats being in the same room as your team.
Yes, it’s gotten infinitely easier to be successful with a remote team because of all the modern tools we have available that improve communication. From Asana to Zoom and everything in between, there are so many tools that make it easier for remote teams to communicate.
These tools make It almost as good as working in the same room. The key word being almost.
The same week I was speaking with Vikram, I had a similar conversation with “Gary”. Gary’s based in London, and his technical team is based in Singapore, 8 time zones away.
Gary went back to Singapore for the first time in over one year to meet with his team. He felt that he and the technical team were, in his words, “disconnected”.
After spending one week with his team, Gary said to me, “Things are so much better now. All these little issues that were turning into big issues are now resolved.”
Yes, you can make a remote team work, but you’ll need to work twice as hard.
Don’t get me wrong, you can make remote teams works. I’ve done it, and, despite the issues they’ve faced, Vikram and Gary have done it too.
The keys that I’ve seen in my experience managing remote teams, and, from working with CEOs like Vikram and Gary, is:
A. You have to over-communicate like crazy.
You’re wrong if you think that communicating with your remote team takes the same amount of time and energy as communicating with an in-office team. It takes a lot more time and energy on your part to make a remote team successful.
How much time does it take? I’d estimate that it takes about twice as much time on your part to have a remote team operate at the same level as an in-house team.
B. You have to meet with your remote team face to face.
You want to meet with your remote team(s) at their facility at least once a year. I know it’s a burden, but, just like with Vikram and Gary, you can’t beat face to face communication. You’ll get so much more accomplished, and you’ll break down any barriers to communication that grow over time.
You feel detached from headquarters when you work in a remote office. That’s why I’d also have each remote team visit headquarters at least once per year too.
They’ll feel so much more a part of the company by being at headquarters. Plus, there’s more relationship building that happens when a remote team visits headquarters. These relationships pay off in big ways over time.
C. Your remote team needs to be self motivated and very, very good.
Maybe I should have put this one first on my list, but time zone differences and being a remote team, almost by definition, means they need to be self motivated. They will not be efficient with their time if they need to wait for commands from headquarters.
More than that, your remote team needs to be all A players. A team of A players will make it easier to overcome the challenges of managing a remote team.
Your investors may not care if you have a remote team, but you should care.
I remember giving an update to the whole partnership of one of my investors, “Donald Ventures”. One of the partners was pushing me to add a remote team because he felt we could go faster, and the remote team would cost us less.
Samir was right that adding a remote team would cost us less money. However, his analysis was flawed because he didn’t take into account the difficulty of managing a remote team and the challenges of recruiting a remote team.
I politely passed on his suggestion because I thought the risks were too high. Your case might be different. However, you want to make sure starting with a remote founding team or adding a remote team is right for you, not just for your investors.