A geographically diverse team is one connected by a mission instead of a location. For companies in towns like Iowa City, this can bring experience, background and networks together from across the country or around the world to overcome challenges and drive the company forward. Building a geographically diverse team is more than simply having a few remote employees who videochat and requires effort to build a culture that supports this environment.
Here's our top 10 tips for building a geographically diverse team:
1. Identify a strong leader who is aligned with the founders. This person can be located anywhere in the country but they need to be actively communicating with the local team and willing to show up in town when needed. It's critical that his or her personality should fit with the founders as well as possible and that the founders respect the leader's background. Too many teams fracture with a mismatched leader and founders.
2. Budget for travel. Virtual meetings are great but there will be a disconnect unless you can get the whole team together on a regular basis. Plan for non-local team members to come to town monthly or quarterly depending on their role and the current state of the company.
3. Have a strong working agenda when team members are in town but schedule in some down time, too. There should be a defined purpose for the team member while they are in town to avoid feeling like the trip was a waste of time and money. When the work is done, go out for drinks, dinner, coffee, Jazzfest, bowling-- whatever fits your team culture.
4. Identify company milestones by quarter, put them on the wall in all locations. Check them off as a team. Alignment is key with geodiverse teams and the best way to stay aligned is the simplest-- have a clear path and stick to it. Listing milestones on the wall gives everyone a regular reminder of what the team is working towards and a sense of achievement when they get checked off. The milestones at Headquarters should match the ones in the shared working space or home office of the remote team members. Get them printed so they look nice and stick to them.
5. Implement a daily team huddle. The concept of a team huddle has been around for a while-- each morning go around as a team and give your priorities and any "stucks". The meeting should last no more than 10 minutes. This keeps everyone accountable and moving forward. It also helps those in other locations stay in the rhythm of a "regular" work day.
6. Set clear expectations. Use online calendars, shared documents and examples of expected works to keep both local and remote team members on the same page regarding quality and timing of work. Also, schedule quarterly mini-reviews to make sure everyone is progressing and address any issues before they fester.
7. When possible, set up dedicated remote workspace. Identify dedicated workspace for remote team members in either a local co-working space or in a small office. The designated space helps the remote workers separate "work" from "home" which will increase productivity and decrease fatigue. Co-working spaces can also lead to improved networking which could strengthen the company's resources.
8. Prioritize functional video conferencing. Both local and remote team members can become frustrated quickly by poor conferencing technology. Make sure everyone knows how to work the software to mute their lines as appropriate and that the audio and video inputs are all sufficient so everyone can hear and see all team members. Using video conferencing whenever a larger group is involved reduces distracting multi-tasking and the software often has a better ability to make sure everyone can be heard.
9. Consider team management software. Team management software (e.g. Slack, Podio, Quip, Trello, GroupMe, etc.) can help keep communication lines open and both local and remote team members engaged. Finding the right software might take a little time and making sure everyone uses it regularly is critical to its success. Some teams will find it easier to implement the use of a software than others so don't force it. If it works, use it but if it's burdensome, find something else.
10. Have Fun! Don't forget the softer side of working-- getting to know your co-workers and enjoying being part of a team doing amazing things. Incorporate quirky little things into the company culture. Company t-shirts, good-natured non-work competitions (ie photography contest), taking pictures of a company figurine while on vacation, talking about your kids/hobbies/dogs/music/tv shows.