A New Way of Managing Remote Teams at Scale
A better way to manage remote teams when the entire company is remote.
“I made a lot of costly mistakes in the beginning,” said Alina Trigubenko, Co-Founder of Awarenow, a startup that is creating business management software for coaching organizations.
As Alina and I sat down to talk about her experience growing her company, she spoke about the benefits and challenges of having a remote-based workforce:
No corporate B.S.
“Everyone gets to pick their comfort zone,” said Alina, “and that makes work personalized.” She is building a distributed startup with a team spread throughout the world.
Articulate, a SaaS development company, is another distributed business that conveys their remote-first policy on the hiring page of their website:
“Work where, when, and how you want. There’s no corporate office, no corporate B.S. Nothing between you and your best work.”
This is part of a wave of remote-first policies that empower employees to show up exactly how and when they want to produce their best work possible.
While big companies like Yahoo and IBM are calling back their remote employees to the workplace, startups like Zappier, Github, Buffer, Consensys, and GrooveHQ are pushing ahead with an entire virtual-based workforce.
What they’re finding it that it’s an open playbook of experimentation with remote-first workplaces.
From experimenting with no titles to having no managers to being entirely transparent over compensation and other information, startups are pushing the future of work into the remote space. And finding new ways to manage their remote workforce at scale has become a common challenge.
Distributed networks of purpose are the way. By redefining employee management, distributed networks of purpose can scale as a company does and create the new future of work for talent management.
The Traditional Management Approach Fails
Distributed companies have employees throughout the world.
Technology has enabled these companies to communicate, manage, and retain this talent. But not every company is set up for success in managing their remote-based teams.
As Abraham Maslow once wrote in Maslow on Management, too much freedom and lack of structure in the workplace can be a bad thing:
“The fact is that a certain portion of the population cannot take responsibility well and are frightened by freedom… The fact is that an unstructured situation, a free situation, a situation in which people are thrown back on their own resources will sometimes show their lack of resources…. What this means for organization theorists is that in all their calculations in moving over to the newer style of management, they should assume that a certain proportion — as yet unknown — will not respond well to good [unstructured] conditions.”
Clear guidelines and principles help teams in distributed environments work their best, and the older management theories and ways of organizing people are not keeping up with the changes in remote workforces.
What is a distributed network of purpose?
Fusing a mission-driven ethos with organizational development strategies, teams have a clearer idea of how their work is influencing the company’s broader mission.
Distributed Networks of Purpose are useful for two main reasons:
- Inspiring individuals to rise above their self-imposed limitations and any self-serving agendas they may have to create mission-driven attitudes, and
- Create creative teams where multiple people at once, from different business units, can work toward the seemingly impossible together
As more companies experiment with entirely remote-based workplaces, they need to replace outdated structures with ones that replicate it or compliment it, even if loosely, in a virtual environment.
“What I find interesting is that we have chosen to build out our functions as a traditional company,” said Sarah Durlacher, head of ConsenSys Lab’s Organizational Design & Development Team, “and we have these archaic systems as stop gaps because we don’t have something else.”
ConsenSys Lab, which has a remote workforce spread out throughout the globe, is addressing the challenges remote-first companies are having. Sarah’s role is to find new ideas, test them, organize their people while still keeping departments like Legal and Human Resources relevant.
As I spoke with Sarah she mentioned that her “goal, as well as my team’s goal, is to set the operational structure for a more decentralized system while making all of our own decisions without the least amount of replication possible,” showing how important it is to have innovation while keeping checks and balances in place.
A distributed network of purpose achieves this by presenting a clear hierarchy of decision-makers while providing workers freedom with a guiding purpose to influence their day-to-day decisions.
Building distributed networks of purpose
Most companies are organized like the traditional hierarchy model above, with a decision-making process that flows from the top-down.
A distributed network of purpose takes this model and creates self-organizing teams that converge on a singular point at the top. This becomes their mission (or key performance indicators) that guides their work.
From here, multiple teams from the same company then create a distributed network that spans various areas of the organization.
The top central nodes are top leadership, directors, and other lines of business or departments that report up the chain of command.
To introduce this in a company, top leadership must first create self-organizing teams with a leader that facilitates their organization.
Executive sponsorship of the key performance indicators would funnel downward, creating the mission, and the self-organizing teams would then execute on the vision.
Team members on these teams would contribute bottom-up feedback to inform the project’s goals, tasks, and deadlines, breaking the project into critical segments. The manager (or facilitator of the self-organizing team) would shift his or her role into one of coach, helping the team by rallying resources, maintaining accountability, and keeping everyone on task.
The dual fluidity and structure of a distributed network of purpose would allow multiple projects to occur at once while giving a clear vision for what needs to get done.
Challenges to a distributed network of purpose
The essential challenge of a distributed network of purpose — getting everyone on the same page.
“Getting everyone to understand the value chain is a big struggle for managing remote teams,” said Levon Brutyan, Co-Founder of Collectly, a healthtech company with a distributed workforce, “you have to push feedback and make it transparent so the engineers know how the feature they are building is affecting the customer.”
Building team cohesion when team members lack face-to-face interaction is extremely important. It requires that the purpose of each team member is aligned with the mission of the team.
But remote work isn’t for everyone, however.
As Awarenow’s Co-Founder, Alina, mentioned, people who excel in these environments are “independent thinkers who can make their own decisions” with the “personality that can get the job done no matter where they are located.”
When you’re communicating with team members in different time zones, issues will pop up. And knowing you can trust your team members to get the job done no matter what is crucial to the team’s success.
The trust factor will sustain the team for the long-haul.
Big distributed teams that have an allure, like ConsenSys, have no trouble attracting top talent. What keeps people together, however, is the empowering company culture and team environments where trust is a top priority.
“Most corporate environments don’t motivate people. People aren’t excited, climbing this superficial ladder. We’re good at getting talent because of our remote-first decentralized environment empowers our people,” said Sarah from ConsenSys.
And she’s right: the significant challenges that are associated with remote-first work are merely opportunities waiting to be transformed. Policies that support this, and a new way of organizing and managing talent, help push the remote-first ethos forward.
As companies shift from rigid structures and adopt more distributed teams, the question is not how they will do this, but in what way will they accommodate the change.
The future is here, and as more of our work becomes automated and hyper-specialized, employers will look across the globe for talent to accomplish their business goals.