“New year, new approach to managing a global tech workforce.”
Sounds good in theory, but when it comes to implementing a distributed team and managing it successfully, it’s a lot easier said than done.
If you have a resolution of building a better team, start thinking outside the confines of your region to search for talent.
Tech leaders around the world are preparing for an incredibly competitive global market this decade, and one way in which they can gain an edge is through the normalisation of remote work.
With the right technology and a successful team culture, location-agnostic flexibility can improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction, and reduce the tech industry’s infamously high employee turnover, not to mention adding valuable diversity to your organisation.
But learning how to lead and manage these borderless workforces is imperative if we want to reap their benefits.
The rise of the distributed workforce
Remote work has become an undeniable element of modern tech culture.
In fact, telecommuting grew 115 per cent over the last decade, and isn’t set to slow, with companies that support remote work showing 25 per cent lower employee turnover than those that don’t.
When Auth0 – the business I work for – emerged in 2013, our founders lived 7,000 miles apart in Seattle and Buenos Aires.
Today, approximately half of our 600-person team work remotely.
This globally distributed workforce helps us build teams based on the skills and values that best serves our goals and culture.
In fact, we hire for skills, timezone, and location – in that order.
Hand-selecting people who share your values – taking pride in their work, making each other better and caring deeply helps to inform a shared mission.
For distributed teams like ours, this “one team, one score” mentality is essential in binding the workforce together, in spite of oceanic gaps.
But ensuring that everyone is on the same page is even more important from the top-down.
Special support for managers
Virtual managers have the complex task of getting the most out of their teams across time zones, making sure their people function as one unit, all while supporting each individual’s different skillsets, personalities, and ambitions.
Contrary to popular belief, leading a virtual team means investing more, not less, to keep employees connected and engaged.
We’re luckily well-versed in the technological nuances of cloud-based leadership. Our virtual communications tools (Zoom, Slack, and Atlassian tools like Jira and Confluence) allow us to collaborate and lead with agility, unhindered by processes and software.
Slack, for example, has a ‘do not disturb’ mode that allows employees to appear online when they’re most productive and remove themselves from the virtual room when they need to concentrate.
It takes the pressure off answering messages after hours too – especially when working across time zones.
But in practice, managing a virtual team is more than just good technology.
It’s about nailing the complexities of remote professional relationships, and improving how well they collaborate.
Face-to-face remains important
No matter how good your culture is, there is really nothing like a real human conversation.
We know how important a physical office is for this very reason so regardless of level, all new employees fly to our headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, for a week of onboarding where they get immersed in the company, values, and culture.
Also, some people just prefer to base themselves in an office environment.
And for those who live near a physical office, they have the choice of whether they want to head there or work from home, for any given workday.
Bringing everyone together is also crucially important when operating a largely remote workforce. We’ve found holding an annual company offsite – where we fly everyone to one location for a week of in-person collaboration, learning, and bonding – has been hugely beneficial.
For the rest of the year, we keep to ourselves, location-wise.
This balance is not for everyone.
While we do our best to ask the right questions and hire people who will thrive in our culture, we continue to learn and improve upon our remote-friendly culture.
Even within our company, our approaches have had to evolve and differ from country to country.
But as we start 2020, one thing is certain: if we can continue to invest in making our teams successful across borders, we will continue to stay ahead of the global curve.
Richard Marr is APAC General Manager at Auth0.