He who never dreamed of working remotely from a beach in Bali, let him cast the first stone! But is this way of work as productive as sharing the same office? There are a lot of voices out there promoting the “death of the desk job“, while others, including Yahoo!’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, firmly believe there’s no way you can achieve greatness if you’re in pajamas all day, typing from your living room couch. While I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle, there are a few remote startup examples out there, such as Automattic, Buffer and Zapier, that manage to be highly successful, even though their teams are fully distributed. So I asked myself, what’s their secret? What do they do on a regular basis that ensures their high level of productivity and collaboration?
That’s when I started digging for more information. Check out the infographic at the end of this article to see how these 5 teams are dispersed around the world.
What are the habits of successful remote teams?
Company size: 80+ people
This remote startup runs a successful business with a reported net revenue of $7,4M (2015). In fact, that’s not the only thing that makes this team stand out. They started out as a remote team and continue to do so successfully, thanks to a few golden rules every team member follows:
- About once a week, they have 1-hour discussions with their advisers on topics such as Growth and Product development.
- They are a very transparent company. Not only do their employees have access to all of the company’s emails, but actually, anyone outside the company can check their salaries, revenue, fund raising, heck! You can even find out what books they are currently reading.
- They communicate very often, via email, chat, voice or video. In a nutshell, they do whatever’s necessary to get things done, fast and fun.
- They don’t have working hours; actually, they don’t measure hours at all.
- A few times per year, they all gather in a single location to bond, work and have fun.
If you want to learn more about Buffer’s work culture and remote working trends in general, visit their Culture Blog.
Company size: 35+ people
“We’ve found there are three important ingredients to making remote work, well, work: Team, Tools, and Process,” says Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO of Zapier.
Since the remote startup was officially launched in 2012, their team has been fully distributed. The founders say that they started working this by necessity because Zapier began as their “side-business” – each of them had a full-time job. They couldn’t always find a convenient place and time to work together, so they decided to make remote working, well… work! And so they did. And while their product became a success, and they all left their day jobs to dedicate 100% of their time to Zapier, they still wanted to keep working remotely.
Here’s what anyone interested in joining the remote startup club can learn from these guys’ experience:
- Trust is a very important ingredient.
- People who like to write are better remote-employees. They communicate a lot and that’s why, as they say, they like to hire, people who love to write.
- Every Thursday morning at 9am PDT they get together for lightning talks, demos and/or interviews.
- The CEO has regular one-on-one meetings with each member of the team. Even in shared offices, this is something relatively unusual. Their remote way of working had them thinking about the importance of communication. As they say, it gives the founders the chance to know how they are doing as a team and get feedback on both small and big things.
Company size: 9 people
“Teams succeed because of culture, principles and vision, and the habits you build around all three of those factors,” says Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove.
It’s impressive how much a small team of only nine people can achieve. According to their website, Groove is now serving over 4,500 paying customers, an outstanding number, especially considering the fact that their team is spread across nine different cities.
- They hire good, remote workers; and by that, they mean that they only hire people that worked remotely before or ran their own business.
- Every morning, each team member shares with everyone what they accomplished the day before, and what they’ll be working on that day.
- They have a weekly meeting, every Monday morning, to share their achievements for the prior week and the goals for the week ahead.
- The CEO has frequent one-on-one meetings with each team member.
- They embrace communication and non-Groove conversations are a big part of their culture.
Company size: 44 people
“We favor excellence over geography at Help Scout, which makes supporting top talent one of our biggest priorities. The two biggest challenges we faced early on were around transparency and access to information, so we designed processes to help eliminate these obstacles. For example, we hold Friday Fika (Swedish word that means “to have coffee”) where members of the team are randomly paired up for a 30-minute video chat to get to know each other better. By giving everyone access to the same information, helping them connect and designing processes to make it happen, you eliminate the most common problems of remote team failure,” says Devin Bramhall, Director of Content at Help Scout.
Connectedness is a priority at Help Scout. Their communication routine involves a lot of video conferencing and they try to hang out and talk about non-work related topics on a weekly basis.
- Each team member records themselves reporting their weekly progress and shares the video in a dedicated group chat.
- They have a Friday tradition: a one-on-one meeting with a random person from the Help Scout team. This encourages people who don’t normally work together forge a bond.
- They meet in person on a regular basis. They call these “team retreats”. Of course, it’s not all work. As the old saying goes, a little party never hurt nobody.
To learn more about Help Scout’s culture, visit their beautifully designed and insightful blog.
Company size: 450 people
The Automattics don’t exactly like to take the front stage even though they deserve to be in the spotlight. They’re the people behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Jetpack, Simplenote, Longreads, VaultPress, Akismet, Gravatar, Polldaddy, Cloudup, and more. And they were also among the first companies to ever pave the way in remote work culture. Now they reached an outstanding number of remoters: 450. But how did they manage to stay away from the “traditional” tech-centers, such as New York and San Francisco?
Here is a sample of their secret sauce:
- The company allows the team to meet wherever they want for a “hack week”.
- Once a year, they all meet in a beautiful location for a “traditional team building“.
- There is no imposed schedule or work hours. The only thing that matters is what each team member delivers and how they contribute to the company’s growth.
Key takeaways: 5 best-practices for managing remote teams
Though they have different approaches to team communication, all these five companies have several values in common. If you are looking to build a remote team for your own company, here’s a shortlist of best practices you can apply from their successful experience:
- Replace physical space with software – lots of it! The no.1 challenge every remote team has to overcome is communication. How do you know what people are working on? How do you communicate progress and new tasks? There is a whole world out there of communication and collaboration tools. Figure out which one works best for your team.
- Love and trust the people you work with. When you have a co-located team, you can get lulled into a false sense of security and transparency. When your team is remote, you’ll be haunted by thoughts like: are they really working when they should be working? Is anyone overwhelmed with tasks? You have to be ready to work your way out of this stress hole and build a team of people you actually trust and love to hang out with.
- Meet in person from time to time. This might not be possible in the beginning, but always keep this priority at the top of your wish list. Bringing everyone around a campfire won’t make your team more productive, but it might ignite some friendships that will definitely make work more enjoyable. Plus it creates the bond that keeps the fire ignited for remote startup teams.
- Create a virtual water-cooler. You need to hang out and talk in GIFs from time to time, even during work hours. So create some group chats where people can just hang out and crack a joke.
- Make transparency one of your core values. Nothing sustains a feeling of security and communication like transparency. Think of creative ways to let everyone know about current projects, statuses, client communications and so on. Tools will be your best friends, so take some time to choose the ones that best fit your workflows.
- Why remote working works for us, by Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove
- At Automattic Employees All Work From Home And Travel To Exotic Locations, by Julie Bort, Business Insider
- The ultimate guide to remote work, by Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO of Zapier