There are many reasons why I’m a big fan of distributed teams: cost savings (the cost for a developer in Romania is three times lower than one in Silicon Valley), 24 hour work-cycles (if you have developers in the Valley as well as Romania, you could basically build product non-stop because when one team finishes, the other starts), cultural impact (people from different sides of the world will look at the same problem differently) and many, many more.
However, there’s one thing that makes it difficult to manage distributed teams and that’s face time. Or lack thereof, actually. At Brainient, we do R&D in Bucharest, Management in London and have clients all around the world. And over the years we’ve built quite a strong process for keeping everyone connected and everything in check. I’d like to share some of our learnings for those looking to build a distributed team.
Weekly catch-ups for each department. Every Monday morning, I start my week with a management meeting, which includes sales, product and finance. We spend an hour going through the most important topics for that month and week. Each manager has similar meetings with their team. We do this over Skype or Google Hangouts, as three members of the management team are in Bucharest and two in London. This ensures that everyone is aligned to the same objectives for that week.
Company-wide catch-up at the end of each month. This is a 15-30 minutes presentation from myself or our COO on what we’ve achieved that month and what we’re planning to achieve in the month to follow. This keeps every member of the team informed about the big picture.
One-on-ones. We do a lot of 1:1 video calls at Brainient. Some of them are regular (each week at the same time), some of them are ad-hoc. Usually if there are more than five emails back-and-forth on a certain topic, a 1:1 is organised to clarify things.
Managers fly over every 6-8 weeks. Myself and our COO fly to Bucharest to spend time with the R&D team every 6-8 weeks. Members of our R&D team fly to London to spend time with the management & sales team just as often. This ensures that there’s enough in-person contact to maintain fluent communication. I’m not sure this is scalable or necessary as our team grows, but if works for now.
Company annual retreat, once a year. Every January, we fly all our teams to the Carpathian mountains in Romania. We spend four days planning, discussing, coming up with new ideas and having fun. It’s by far our most important company-wide activity. Each time we do it we come back buzzing and energised.
All in all, managing distributed teams is all about managing face time. It’s not as easy as having the entire team in one place, but the benefits of having a distributed team are immense and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.