This post originally appeared on scottbarstow.com
I am a huge fan of building distributed/remote teams as a way to get the best people onto your team. It’s among my list of must-haves for creating a successful startup. I’ve been hiring and working with distributed team members for the last 12 years. I don’t know any other way. The ability to both hire for and then manage a distributed team, particularly on the technology side of your business, is a mandatory executive skill. The days of being able to find who you need locally, regardless of where you live, are either gone or about to be gone. This is a practice that, if you get it right, can change the trajectory of your company. It’s that important.
This is part one in a series of posts on building distributed teams. For purposes of this series, I will be talking specifically about building distributed technology product teams.
If you asked 100 CEOs of technology product companies what the No. 1 problem they’re facing is, 99 of them would say, “Finding and building a great technology team” and the other one would be lying. It is the subject I am asked about every single day, without fail. I believe that one of the best solutions to this problem is to intentionally and thoughtfully build a distributed team. Why?
The Best People
Far and away, the No. 1 reason to consider building a distributed team is getting the best people. There are brilliant people all over the world looking for the next great opportunity or idea to work on. Do you want them working with you or with your competition? They might live 100 miles from you or halfway across the world. It doesn’t really matter.
We’re now living in an era of (for the most part) ubiquitous reliable internet access. Gone are the days of plastic bags covering exterior circuit boxes (yes, I’ve seen this) and large-scale network outages. Even in developing countries, the connectivity is remarkably reliable.
The most commonly misunderstood reason for building distributed teams is “It’s cheaper.” This may, in fact, be true and many times it is. Beyond just the cost of labor, you also have to factor in the other costs of coming to work in one location. What about commute times in your city? Are your employees going to have to sit in traffic for 2 hours a day or more? How much does that cost you in lost productivity, and cost them in grief and stress?
Additionally, if you move people to where you are, you are paying moving costs, additional housing costs, and the emotional costs of uprooting.
As we move to a more nimble workforce, you don’t want to be the company that says “moving is required” when your competitors aren’t.
When you get this right (and you’ll be able to by the time we’re done with this series), a high-functioning distributed team is like listening to beautiful music. Particularly if you hire from geographically diverse locations, it will seem like work never stops. You’ll wake up in the morning to a bunch of new work already done, before you ever start your day. It feels like magic at times.
If this all sounds too good to be true, and you’re thinking “Yeah but I’ve heard the horror stories from my friend who said this never works,” hang with me through this series. Even if, at the end of it you decide to keep hiring exclusively local, you’ll still learn things along the way about how to operate that team more effectively.
In future posts, we’re going to explore, in depth:
- The ideal distributed team member
- The necessary skills you need as the leader of a distributed team
- Individual team members vs. pods
- Where the black holes are that make this model fail
- Why and how to bring on people who don’t speak the same language as you
- How to “land and expand” in a particular geography
Stay tuned. I promise you that you’ll learn something, even if you’ve been at this for a while yourself.