Startup Solutions: Keeping Your Remote Team Connected

Dimitris Glezos
October 5, 2015
8 min read

An increasing number of companies have remote teams with employees working from all over the world. Here at Transifex, we work out of two offices – one in Menlo Park, California and one in Athens, Greece – so we know what it’s like to manage teams across different time zones. We’ve found that while large corporations may have the infrastructure to manage a remote or global workforce, small businesses and startups can be left struggling to handle this new work paradigm. Because we’ve been there ourselves, we wanted to share a few tips for how to keep your remote team connected.

1. Start with the Basics: Onboarding

Remote teams have a different dynamic than teams that gather under one roof. They must overcome different time zones, cultural practices, and sometimes, language barriers. Achieving connectivity among these types of companies almost always begins with onboarding.

Onboarding is becoming a frequently used term among startups and SMBs to describe the process in which new hires acquire the right set of skills, knowledge, and behaviors to become successful contributors and team members. For teams scattered across the globe, this process is extremely important in making new hires feel comfortable with the remote workforce set up, defining his or her responsibilities, and setting expectations for upcoming projects and campaigns.

Create the Perfect Onboarding Process

Culture (another startup buzzword) dictates that the onboarding process is fun and easy for the new employee. Along with making sure any new hire has a desk, computer, and email account set up, here are a few ways to create a fun, yet meaningful onboarding process:

  • Send a Welcome Message – It can be intimidating for a new hire to reach out to each individual team member, especially knowing that communication with some will mostly be via email, video conferencing, or over-the-phone. Sending a welcome message to the entire team that introduces the new member is a great way to open lines of communication and make him or her feel welcomed.
  • Make First Impressions Easy – At Transifex, we want to make first impressions between new hires and employees easy. Each member receives a welcome note signed by our team and we try to gather everyone to go to lunch to get to know one another in a casual environment. Small gestures go a long way in making new members feel apart of the team from their first day.
  • Schedule One-on-One Meetings – While you’ve probably given your new hire a list of resources and documents to read before his or her first day, scheduling one-on-one meetings with team members (both local and remote) can ensure they understand the projects they’ll be working on so they can hit the ground running. You may also invite your new hire to sit in on meetings held by other departments. For instance, a new marketing hire may find it beneficial to sit in on a sales meeting to better understand the product roadmap, buying cycle, and overall sales goals.
  • Create a Timeline – Setting a few early milestones can give new team members a better idea of their role and responsibilities within the company. Map out a timeline for new hires for the upcoming weeks or quarter. Encouraging new members to ask questions about their timeline can ensure they seamlessly integrate into the team and are able to connect with the individuals who will help them achieve success.
If you’re looking for additional information on hiring remote workers and building your international team, check out the guide “Remote Work is the Future” which can help you lay your foundation. These tips will be helpful before diving into onboarding and operational processes.

2. Set and Track Goals for Teams and Individuals

Setting and tracking goals remains a high priority for companies with remote teams. All companies with a global workforce should have a plan with measurable objectives for all teams, and individual team members should also have clearly defined performance goals. Department heads will likely be charged with tracking this performance and reporting it to the CEO or COO. This way adjustments can be made when things aren’t going as planned, and praise can be given when timelines and goals are met.

Helpful Task Management Programs

Once goals are set, communicated, and understood, spreadsheets can be used to track success, but it may be more efficient and less of an IT strain to use a task management subscription system like:

  • Basecamp – The basecamp platform is easy to use and allows for the creation of various projects. Each team member can schedule projects, make comments, and add checklists which can be assigned to a person who will ensure the task’s completion. Not only does basecamp offer real-time updates for global employees, it is a great tracking tool that can be referenced to determine the success or failure of a campaign.
  • Asana – With Asana, conversations and tasks are in one place, taking the dependency off of email and making it so that all tasks are actionable and transparent. Team members can communicate with one another on an easy-to-use platform that can be viewed on a desktop, mobile device, or tablet. Asana also integrates with other tools such as Dropbox, Slack, Google Drive, Github, WordPress, and more for total efficiency.
  • Jira – Created by Atlassian, Jira is often regarded as the number one solution for agile teams. Heavily used by engineers, Jira allows members of global software teams to plan and track work while moving toward the next release. It is a great way for global teams to set timelines, milestones, and report on updates and other relevant information.
  • Salesforce – Recognized by many as the leader in customer relationship management (CRM) tools, Salesforce is a great tool for sales and marketing teams that are spread across different continents. It allows employees to access everything from customer data to analytics, all in one convenient place.

3. Make Communication Easy

It’s easy for employees to blame distance for inefficiencies such as missing project due dates, so take preventative measures and establish open lines of communication. Here at Transifex, we try to make all members accessible as much as possible. We use instant messaging tools like Slack and texting apps like Viber to talk with team members in other countries without incurring additional fees. Google Drive and Dropbox also allow for easy access to documents without increasing server capacity, and can be a great way for employees to collaborate and provide feedback on specific documents and projects from different locations.

Communicate Through Face-to-Face Meetings

For the utmost in personal connectivity with your remote team, face-to-face meetings are still best. Subtle information can be lost in emails and text messages, and being able to see your employees’ faces and them yours is an important aspect of communication that sometimes gets overlooked with all of today’s technology.

You can use Skype, Google Hangouts, or a video conferencing platform like Join.ME for this. If you have a subscription to a remote interview platform, there’s no reason you can’t use that to video conference with employees either, especially if you can use delayed-time video to converse across widespread time zones that make real-time live talk difficult.

4. Schedule Regular Team Check-Ins

Even though you may be tracking project tasks or sales metrics online, don’t neglect to schedule regular check-ins with your team. A weekly phone call or daily email allows employees opportunities to ask questions, helps prioritize their workload, and gives them an opportunity to connect with other team members on a personal level.

To help keep our remote teams organized, we have regular check-ins ranging from weekly stand-up chats to monthly all-hands meetings. Weekly stand-up or sync-up meetings are often brief check-ins where each team member states where they are with their individual tasks, keeping everyone in the loop and allowing for other members to assist when necessary. Our all-hands meeting takes place between our Menlo Park and Athens offices and is usually conducted through a video conferencing platform so we can put a face to the name of new members. This is also a time for teams to share what they are working on, discuss new product launches, and speak about any concerns in regards to current systems or workflows. And gathering such a large group together, we’re always bound to share a few laughs, too.

Prioritize a Yearly Conference or Gathering

In a perfect world, it’s great to meet in person with your entire team at least once per year. This can be in the form of a meeting, convention, or company retreat, ideally combining business with a bit of fun, so people who don’t have the chance to socialize the way they would in a traditional office setting can get to know each other better. Last year, our California and Athens team met up in Rome for a conference that was both fun and educational.

Have Policies for Other Expectations

Be sure to set policies for any other work-related communication expectations too such as:

  • Work hours
  • Sick days, vacations and dealing with things like last-minute emergencies
  • Response times for customer and coworker correspondence
  • BYOD (bring your own device) rules for employees using their own computers, tablets or mobile phones to transmit work data

The global workforce is the wave of the future. If your startup or small enterprise takes the time to consider connectivity issues up front, you can all but eliminate communication problems and focus on growing your business. Have other tips on how to keep a remote team connected? Be sure to share them below!

Dimitris Glezos

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