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There was a time when technology hubs were concentrated in places like Silicon Valley, and gaining access to the top global talent outside of those hubs was a privilege reserved for massive corporations. But as the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, even small technology companies can establish offices according to the distribution of talent.
At least, that’s been my experience: In a year, my company moved from a tiny hardware startup to an agile international engineering company with more than 150 people spread across five development offices. Our team members spend their time all over the place, from the U.S to Lithuania to Brazil to Hungary.
Distributed teams bring both benefits and challenges. I find that having multiple locations in different countries helps us cover four time zones 24/7, which helps us innovate and move faster. However, occasional misunderstandings do result from cultural differences. To make sure our team members stay motivated and engaged, we established systems to help us collaborate effectively. Building sustainable internal communications is a long process that requires constant adjustments. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
1. Be Present And Get Personal
Fifty percent of the U.S. workforce could be remote by 2020. Distributed offices help cultural diversity thrive, and as a result, the company benefits from a variety of backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives. This helps to push boundaries and innovate daily. Each discussion might lead to a new, unexpected solution to a complicated issue.
To ensure that nothing is lost in translation, we try to meet in person as often as possible. We work together at client sites, attend events and participate in conferences. We try to make sure team members in different countries connect often because we find that knowing each other helps to solve issues fast and avoid misunderstandings. Plus, visiting your coworkers offers a chance for a nice change of scenery — especially if you’re going from rainy Helsinki to sunny California.
2. Set Clear Rules
Each department has their own preference on how to present, preserve and distribute information. While some prefer active communication 24/7, others might choose a bit more reserved approach. When the same team is distributed across multiple locations, it’s very important to establish a clear set of rules on how to communicate inside the department. These rules should be adjusted for time zones and local culture. While some teams might prefer to work late or start early, it’s critical to ensure that teams in different time zones have an overlapping hour or two to align their priorities and adjust their workload.
I find that having a flexible schedule and a dedicated time to stay online helps develop a healthy life-work balance while avoiding burnout.
3. Address Gray Zones
In a tiny startup, everyone does everything to make sure that the company succeeds. When said startup grows into an international company with multiple offices, what was once a strength might turn into a weakness. Areas that have too many stakeholders and no clear leader could start to underperform, especially if you are trying to operate on a reasonable budget.
To keep rapid growth from becoming a logistical mess, it’s important to define which department is responsible for each project and who leads a project if more than one team is involved. These things do not automatically sort themselves out, and leaving it to common sense is not a viable option. Even if you want to avoid bureaucracy, documenting and communicating responsibilities company-wide is essential.
4. Eliminate Information Silos
When everyone is familiar with company-wide goals, vision and priorities, they can make fast and precise decisions. This can be done with the help of objectives and key results, key performance indicators or other management systems. The important thing is to make sure that everyone knows the bigger picture and can plan their actions accordingly. This is especially important when you have a team that works in different time zones and might need to provide solutions fast without waiting for other teams to wake up and help them.
Horizontal management is another useful tactic to eliminate information silos. When every team member can address any issue with their top management or get help from an expert in another department, I find that the results speak for themselves.
5. Celebrate In Real-time
The distance between offices should not distract from feeling like you are a part of something big and exciting. Even though it is not always possible to get all 150 team members together, we try to gather to celebrate milestones we reached as a team.
This can be as simple as a video call where the whole team gathers to share the news, or a full-blown party at each office. The goal is to make sure everyone is included.
How does your company address communication challenges in multisite offices? I’d love to hear your point of view.
January 30, 2019 at 07:16AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs