Work without an office: how to establish and maintain cohesion in a distributed team

    After the article “How we organized work without an office at Alconost” appeared, I was often asked how to make remote employees work as a single coordinated mechanism. Let me remind you that the Alconost team has about 20 “non-production” employees (project managers, marketers, programmers) and more than 300 executing employees (translators, editors, broadcasters, video designers). All work remotely, on a free schedule, without monitoring the hours worked.

    Of course, we still have to grow and grow, but on the whole I see that such a model of the company’s work is quite viable: complex projects are carried out successfully, internal tasks are solved promptly, the company is developing, customers and employees are satisfied.

    Today I, Alonost COO Kirill Klyushkin, will talk about our principles of building a cohesive and efficiently distributed team.

    1. Quality people

    Without quality self-motivated and self-organized people, all efforts to build a distributed team lose their meaning.

    Each employee should have the skill of understanding "what, how and why I do, and how it affects the company and me personally." For example, a quality employee understands: if you take advantage of the lack of control and work less than 40 hours a week, then, firstly, sooner or later it will become noticeable to colleagues and the leader; secondly, the company from this develops more slowly than it could (longer lead times for projects, fewer satisfied customers, lower efficiency). Accordingly, in a year or two the employee’s place of work will not be as steep as it could be.

    The team should have a certain number of people-motors - these are sources of energy and impulses of action that “turn on” the rest of the employees. I believe that although this is an innate quality, it can and should be developed, and the head of the employee plays an important role in this.

    And quality people usually resolve issues on their own. And even if they ask questions, then the answers to them do not take much time from colleagues and managers.

    As for the self-motivation of employees, we have it perfectly checked by working on a free schedule without monitoring and accounting for hours worked. A free schedule helps a high-quality employee to fully feel the responsibility and work not for the sake of reporting, but for the sake of the result. Low-quality people at this stage are either corrected or eliminated.

    For some time now we have given the right to hire executing employees to managers, but we are trying to select, test and interview managing employees on our own. This is due to the fact that when testing a performer we check professional qualities, and when testing a manager - personal ones.

    2. General mission and goals

    It sounds pathetic, but understanding and constantly remembering the company's mission is very important. This helps employees raise their eyes on current affairs, see a global goal and feel responsible for achieving it.

    The company’s mission should always be in the employee’s mind: “I’m writing a script for the video not because I get paid for it. And not even because I like it. But because in this way I will help the client sell his product better, thereby I will do a good job and this will make the world a better place. ”

    If the vision of the mission for all employees is the same and everyone looks at their work from the same angle, this removes many questions from the category of "what to do, what to answer." This means that the client will always receive the same communication experience, no matter who of the employees he contacts.

    3. Responsibilities are selected, not assigned

    To do something in the company, you need to earn it. Employees must gain responsibilities, take initiative and take them away from management or colleagues - this is how personal responsibility and special attitude to the matter appear. Of course, such an initiative should find support from the leadership.

    4. Monitoring and presence “near”

    No wonder they say prevention is the best treatment. A team is like a living organism: it is important to monitor its condition so as not to miss emerging problems. The increased response time to letters from clients, increased deadlines for projects (or stages of projects), marriage at work, inappropriate behavior, complaints from clients or colleagues - calls that “something is wrong”.

    In each case, it is worth spending time and figuring out what is the cause of the problem. If the root of evil is in tools or processes - debug processes, change tools. If the catch is in people - think what to do with people.

    And you also need to make sure that employees do not break away from the team, do not remain alone with their tasks and problems. You must be present nearby: solve common problems, share company news, ask for opinions and advice, and also offer help in solving problems. The worst thing that can be done in a distributed team is to leave the remote employee alone in his problem. At least the process, motivation, and result will suffer. As a maximum, an abandoned employee decides to leave the team.

    Remember the feeling of an ordinary office when there are a lot of people around and everyone is talking to everyone? This is the same feeling that remote employees should have: colleagues and management are always there, constantly reminding themselves, no one is alone - in general, the feeling of an elbow is online.

    5. Virtualization

    The importance of face-to-face meetings is hard to overestimate. No matter how far the employees are located, it is worthwhile at least sometimes to collect them all in one physical place.

    Some of our employees are located at their side in Minsk. We regularly meet with them, communicate, drink :)

    A good occasion for personal meetings with remote employees is the events held in the employee’s region. For example, we go to Apps World in London and invite our British translators to spend a couple of days with us at our booth.

    In the process of such meetings, employees communicate on vital topics, get to know each other better, build relationships that will later help in the work.

    It’s damn nice to do this while sitting with a bottle of whiskey in the bar until the morning, but, unfortunately, it is often not possible to gather all the employees in one place. Therefore, it is worth adding personal informal communication to the daily workflow: it is always appropriate to ask how are you, how is the weather, what is new, what has happened in an employee’s life, to share your news. It brings together.

    Our managers know, for example, how yesterday’s concert was held with our Portuguese translator (concurrently, a drummer in a local metal band), or how our American announcer was a jury in court, or how our video designer from Kiev began to get involved in glider flights, or how our American copywriter bought a red Alpha Romeo 78 convertible. We have employees whom I have never seen live, but I know so much about them, as if we had been friends for several years.

    Of course, not all of our employees know each other. This is normal if not all employees are familiar - the main thing is that those who have to regularly contact at work should know each other.

    6. Cultural differences

    Employees can be in different countries of the world and on different continents. Therefore, the universal rules of communication will not work here.

    For example, the Japanese are in no hurry to share their personal achievements, especially by telephone, Skype, and email. But the American does not ask how you are doing - it means being rude. Do not write please, if you ask an English-speaking employee to do something - to be rude is akin to “hey, march to do it immediately”. Instead of “don't do this anymore” it’s better to say “it would not be the best idea to do this again” (or, as our editor tells me, “it would probably be best for you to not do this again”). By the way, we recently translated a useful article “ 12 rules of good conduct in business communication in English" It’s a pity I didn’t read it before when we lost an excellent American translator just because there was no please and a positive attitude in my letter, but only “do this and that”, which looked like rude and arrogant.

    7. Cohesion = doing something together

    A team becomes united only when it does something together. For example, Ice Bucket Challenge . Just kidding. In fact, working with each other in full view, separation of tasks and joint discussions really bring together.

    For this, we have, for example, constant group chat rooms in Skype: marketing, videos, mobile project development ... Everyone is always aware of what is happening “in the meadow”, which means they look in the same direction, speak a common language, understand each other strive for a common goal.

    Overall, Skype is good for quick discussions, “short tasks.” For the “long”, we have Trello. He stands on the mobile phones of all employees, all are subscribed to their boards. As soon as someone moved the task, wrote a comment, or changed the status of the task card, everyone receives notifications by e-mail and push messages to the phone. It does not matter where you are - in the car, at a party - you see that the work is going on, you can react, participate. I’ll say from myself that it’s a damn cool feeling when you sleep late in the night, hear a series of “djin-djin” through your sleep and understand that people work somewhere, tasks are being done, the company is developing.

    When everyone around is busy with business and everyone is in front of each other in plain sight, a person with a healthy conscience has practically no chance to fly away. We do not build walls where bridges can be built: we have a common project accounting system and everyone sees each other's work. We have single public mailboxes for departments, for example, for marketing and general issues, for working with translation / localization orders. These boxes are checked immediately by a dozen people who see the general correspondence, take an example from colleagues, correct each other. A kind of collective drive, growing with each new letter.

    And not so long ago, an online chat appeared on our site, where we communicate with site visitors in real time. This is another place where our employees from different departments intersect: for example, localization guys in this chat answer customer questions on videos. This helps to delve deeper into the work of other departments, to feel even more useful, to hear the needs of customers instead of just guessing about them. And most importantly, serving the customer together is the greatest degree of cohesion that can be.

    About the author

    Alconost localizes applications, games and sitesinto 60 languages. Native-language translators, linguistic testing, cloud platform with API, continuous localization, project managers 24/7, any format of string resources.

    We also make advertising and training videos - for sites that sell, image, advertising, training, teasers, expliner, trailers for Google Play and the App Store.

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