A growing list of companies are ditching the physical office in favour of building completely distributed teams. The benefits are well documented. The ability to attract the best talent from anywhere on the planet. Greater freedom and flexibility for team members. A focus on craft over hours clocked in a cubicle.
The remote work trend also comes with its fair share of objections: “We’ll lose our culture”, “Our people won’t get as much work done”, “True collaboration and creativity aren’t possible”.
Mokriya launched in 2010 with Sunil in the Bay Area and Pranil in Phoenix, AZ. Hiring developers in the Bay Area isn’t easy. Sunil discovered our first hire, Mohith, in India. From day 1 Mokriya was a remote team operating across 3 time zones.
Since then our globally distributed team has grown to 40+. Going all in on remote has allowed us to experiment, learn from mistakes and build a list of tips for managing remote teams. If you’re thinking about remote work or building a distributed team, read on to learn how we manage a remote team at Mokriya.
1. Implement A Remote-First Culture
Choosing to be a remote-first company is the most impactful step you can take to manage your team successfully. If half the team is remote and the other half are working from an office you need to think and operate as though the whole team is remote.
As Nick Francis from Help Scout points out:
“Once a remote employee feels out of the loop or forgotten, you’ve lost her. On the other hand, remote culture clicks when everyone has access to the same information.”
Mokriya has team members spread all over the world but there are a handful that work out of our headquarters in Cupertino. We make it a rule to create company-wide visibility and share all information in our shared communication tools. We also avoid the temptation to hold meetings in person that may leave out the remote team members.
2. Hire For Remote
Managing a remote team becomes a lot easier if you hire the right people for a remote team. Seems obvious right? It can be, if you follow a few key criteria when recruiting new candidates for your team.
Mokriya looks out for these traits in new candidates:
- Self-starters with intrinsic motivation and passion for their craft, whether it is design or Engineering.
- Some demonstrable remote work experience. This isn’t a dealbreaker but it shows that he or she has what it takes to work remotely. They’ll likely be self-motivated, autonomous and aren’t bothered by working alone.
- Excellent written communication. The ability to write clearly is super important. A huge chunk of communication is happening across different time zones and we rely heavily on the written medium.
- Attention to detail. Little things like scheduling meetings, being considerate of timezones and picking up on co-worker’s habits go a long way towards effective collaboration in a remote team.
3. Choose The Right Tools
SaaS platforms enabling cloud-based communication and collaboration have exploded over the last decade. This has made remote work accessible to the masses. For less than the cost of renting an office space you can now sign up to a range of digital tools that allow you to manage an entire business online.
We focus on transparency both internally and externally so we rely on our tools to ensure everyone can keep track of what’s going on. Here’s what we use at Mokriya:
- Slack for day to day communication
- Zoom for voice/video calls and meetings
- Asana is where we manage our projects
- Google Apps for email, calendars, documents and spreadsheets
- Dropbox is our file sharing hub
- GitHub for shipping software
4. Daily Huddles
“When transitioning to a distributed culture, err on the side of over-communicating” – Atlassian
Having a virtual daily huddle is a simple way to maintain focus and overcome roadblocks. Being remote can sometimes create feelings of isolation. That can lead to frustration and a lack of clarity about what needs to be done. A brief daily huddle habit will combat that challenge.
At Mokriya we set up our virtual huddles via Zoom and they take no longer than 5-15 minutes each day. A 3-per-week rhythm can also work. Some teams like Groove will hold their daily huddles in Slack by simply writing their focus for the day in their appropriate team channel. Unless your company is still quite small, daily huddles should be segmented by teams or projects to maintain brevity.
Have regular one-on-one meetings are a great way to give your people a voice. They can be critical in helping managers spot small problem before they turn into big problems.
Manager Tools calls one-on-ones:
“the single most effective management tool”
Retaining talented employees and maintaining a great culture are two of the biggest challenges facing company leaders today. A weekly one-on-one between manager and employee (or mentor and mentee) can help overcome obstacles, generate new ideas and generally check the pulse on morale.
6. All-Hands Meetings
Famed company culture experts Zappos use All-Hands meetings to help them achieve:
- Clear communication and transparency
- Celebrate wins
- Increase employee engagement
- Provide visible leadership
At Mokriya we feel no different. We schedule our monthly All-Hands via a Zoom link that the entire company can join. Although most of our company news would be shared in Slack in real time, the All-Hands formalizes announcements and celebrates milestones. It also allows for a more personable Q&A medium that you can’t achieve in Slack channels.
7. Onboarding New Hires
Building a clear onboarding system for new hires is an area we have room for improvement in at Mokriya. When a new team member joins a remote company they are at their most vulnerable in terms of feeling isolated and unclear of expectations.
Documenting onboarding steps and procedures can help to make new employees to quickly feel settled and part of the team. One way to achieve this is to create a “New Employee Handbook” like the team at Valve have produced.
It can contain anything from company vision to values and expectations. Mapping out a general roadmap for the first week to the first 6 months. These small gestures can be extremely valuable in helping your new hires feel at home. It enables them to focus on their craft from day 1, rather than feeling unsure of expectations.
In Summary: Support Your People To Do Their Best Work
Managing a distributed team is deeply satisfying. Supporting a group of employees with freedom and flexibility. Granting them trust on day 1. But it is also a new paradigm in management and not without its challenges. By using the tools at your disposal and helping your team to do their best work you’ll quickly overcome any bumps in the road.