My company, US Market Access Center may be one of the most decentralized organizations around. Our clients and the startups we support are all over the world.
As I write this post, we are working with startups in the US, Japan, Korea, Bangladesh, France, Italy Czech Republic and the Republic of Georgia.
My co-founder and I are in the same city less than 50% of the time. It is rare that 2 or more of our mentors are in the same building. And the startups they support are also scattered around the globe.
While our situation may be extreme, having remote workers is not the norm, not the exception for most companies. Even startups, as they expand beyond their initial market have to deal with a geographically distributed workforce. Here are a few tips for managing a multi-location team.
1. Create Relationships in Person. Even with the very best collaboration tools, nothing can replace meeting in person when you are building relationships. When someone new joins the team, leadership needs to spend time – in person – with the new hire. You can sustain a relationship using collaboration tools, but it is very hard to initially build the relationship remotely.
2. Force regular voice communications. E-mails and texts are a good way of communicating short, simple thoughts, but they are limited in their ability to communicate context, emotion, feeling. You can’t hear the tone of the other person, the cadence, the volume of their speech. When the topic is complex or emotionally charged, voice conversations are far better.
3. Pick one (and only one) messaging platform. Everyone has the favorite messaging platform. At different times we have used Skype, Skype for Business, Hangouts, Slack, Line, WeChat and WhatsApp. Each of them has strengths and weaknesses. And everyone has their preferred app. But as your team and connections grow, it becomes impossible to remember who uses what platform. WhatsApp has become our standard messaging platform. Yes, if we need to use another platform for interactions with a particular company, we will. But WhatsApp is the default for us because of its easy of use and most people have it already. We are not asking them to load a new app on their phone.
4. Pick one (and only one) cloud storage platform. Just like with messaging, everyone has the cloud storage system they prefer. And like with messaging, it becomes impossible to remember who uses what platform and what file is stored where. We use Dropbox for 99% of our cloud storage. On rare occasions, mostly when we need multiple people to be editing a file in real-time, we will use Google Drive along with Goolge Sheets.
5. Share the time zone pain. Multi-location often means you have people in multiple time zones. The more time zones, the more complex the problem becomes. When you need real-time communication, someone is almost always up in the middle of the night. Share the pain. Take turns with who must be on the phone or video call in the middle of the night. This may seem like a small thing, but it sends a subtle message to your team that you value their time and their time away from work.