Be distributed because it’s cooler, not cheaper

There are two motivations that drive the creation of distributed teams or companies:

  • it’s cheaper
  • there just isn’t any available people locally

There’s nothing wrong with these motivations as starting point, but if they become your sole driver for being distributed the results are probably going to end badly. Remote workers will be treated as cheaper handicapped workers and nobody likes being on that position. Soon they’ll find another better company to work for.

Also, if you expect that a distributed company behaves the same way as a local one, you’ll end up with a dysfunctional organization (something that’s happening to a lot of companies during the pandemic, they are now distributed but they behave as if they are not).

To build an effective distributed team engage the cool factor: we are all different, we are more diverse, we bring variety and we feel very strongly about living where we live. Celebrate the distributeness. This will not happen automatically and as a manager/leader at a distributed company, you have to make it happen. Same thing with socializing and bonding: it will not happen automatically as it might if you are all in the same room, and the manager/leader is in charge of making it happen.

Here are some examples of things you can do:

  • Create a Slack channel where people can share pictures of their food. People will show off the good and bad of the food of where they live. People might end up exchanging recipes.
  • Follow news of the countries/cities where your staff is located and if something major happens, reach out to check on their well-being. Send the signal that you care about where they are, not just that they are far away.
  • Create optional and mandatory engineered social time for people to hang out together. A small amount of mandatory bonding is a good thing, because otherwise it may not happen at all (there’s no water cooler), but don’t force people to be away from their families for a gaming night to avoid losing status at the company.
  • Embrace hobbies, activities and lifestyles. People that work remotely they often care deeply about somethings, like their families, living in rural areas, having more free time, being able to work with constraints, hobbies that are location specific. Celebrate all of that.
  • Allow extra flexibility: don’t expect them to work 9 to 5, but know that they can still work hard or harder and even for more hours. Allow someone to break away from work to go pick up the kids from school in the middle of the day but they fixed a ticket in the middle of the night.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend The Year Without Pants. If you want some help distributing your company, feel free to contact me.

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