Be remote: distributed teams - a trend in practice

Anna Antonova, Head of the IIDF Pre-Accelerator Expert Team

About the trend and what have I to do with it

In the United States, from 2005 to 2017, the number of people working remotely increased by 115%. List of major companies whose employees are fully or almost fully working remotely is growing: Automattic, Buffer, GitLab, Invision , Toptal and Zapier - it employs from 100 to almost 1,000 remote workers. Plus, by 2030 millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce, and for them the balance between work and personal life is important, and they will require employers to work remotely.

I have been managing the distributed team in the IIDF for over 3 years. Experts from 17 points in Russia and in the world - from Novosibirsk to Minsk - working with startups in various formats. At the peak in our team there were 73 people, at the very start in the chat there were six.

I’ll talk about how the craving for experiments, the advice of seniors and books helped me put together a distributed self-organizing team of smart and motivated people: the nuances of selecting people, the rules of communication and a little bit of fakap. I hope my path will help you shed less blood in the battle for the effectiveness of remote employees.

Experts - in general, who and where do they come from?

We work at the online-advanced FRII. We communicate with everyone who decided to attract investment from the Fund. More than 2.5 thousand start-ups pass through a team of experts annually, in general, the IIDF “sees” about 20 thousand start-up teams every year. Thus, a team of experts works with a tenth of the entire Russian startup market . Conventionally, we “touch” 7 founders of startups every day. I do not know who does more.

To get into our team, candidates have to compete. We recruit through the competition - 4 stages, 13 deadlines, 30 days: for each step there is a specific date when everything should be done. I didn’t have time - litter. They also pass exams.

Motivation letter.If the candidate could not formulate why he is interested in working with us - alas, not an option. We need people who can structure and express their thoughts. We pay attention to the style of writing and the tone of communication of the candidate. If they are not close to us, we are no longer invited to the next stage. It is motivation, in addition to professional qualities, that is the basis of our community.

Summary. We are not looking at him. Only the way a person thinks and formulates thoughts about past experience. It is important that a free retelling of professional achievements be interesting to read and a desire to ask additional questions appears. We are focused on the expertise of only those who have experience working with IT products and whose practical knowledge can help the founders who come to us.

Interview15 minute Skype with video. We ask unexpected questions to see spontaneous reactions. The question that completely baffled the candidates: “How do you understand that you have achieved what you came for?” Of course, we do not forget to answer questions to us. The quality of the questions asked is also taken into account.

A two-week training using the inverted class method consists of two parts: the context of the company (about IIDF: goals and values, about our products and the relationship between them) and specialized knowledge about the formats of work. We do not teach them to be experts, we teach them to transfer their expertise.

The choice of "friends" in the dynamics

When working on a remote site, it is especially important to find people who do ten units of useful work in one unit of the time of your participation. The task is clear: less time for talking and a good result on the way out. If suddenly someone in the team “eats” more time and gives all the same ten units, then he is economically disadvantageous. Truly, this can only be seen in work. We begin to look at it from the moment of training.

Conventionally, I always divide the team into “red”, “green” and “yellow”. Greenbacks - they work and the head does not hurt. Yellow ones are people with whom something sometimes breaks: for example, they periodically miss information or take on too much. In the yellow category fall those with whose features it does not soar to work. The little red ones are those who use unconstructive communication.

Unconstructive communication takes a lot of time, but does not create any value for the system. Beacon of unconstructive communication: an hour of conversation with an employee and his “well, ok, I agree” at the end of the dialogue. Spent. I do not recommend working with people who have this style of communication prevailing. Previously, I turned a blind eye to the tendency to useless flood when a professional came. Let him have more work, but he is an ace, I thought. Such an ace has always been economically disadvantageous.

It is important for me that as a result of the dialogue, “My Universe” becomes better: there is a significant positive change in the methods of working with startups or within a team. Constructive communication also eats time. I admit, I wanted to kill people who contributed to the development of our team at the start. They asked too many questions. Forcing me to talk, they pulled out the necessary data and new things always appeared in our dialogue.

Reds in a distributed team should not be. The balance of green and yellow depends on the involvement of the manager: how much time he has spent directly on communication with the team. The more related tasks, the less yellow should be.

Field and rules of communication

A person whose tasks include organizing work with remote colleagues is a service. In the first steps of developing our online team, I was a service available 24/7. The distributed team manager is not a king, nor a god, nor a king. It is a tool, convenient, intuitive, fast and flexible. It is this approach, from my point of view, that helps to work with the best.

At the same time, you need to position yourself as strong and equal. Remove reverence from dialogue. With the candidates, we immediately switch to “you” and this is first and foremost the culture of the IIDF. Equality is also a rejection of ultimatum communication. Everything goes in a discussion format. If I want to implement a rule or give a task, I write briefly but in detail in one message: what is the idea / task, why is it what needs to be done and how will it change the processes / will affect the goal. In the end I ask what the team thinks about this. If they say that everything is cool, then we do so. If not, then we are talking about what exactly needs to be changed and why.

What is the strength in, brother? (c) Strength - take responsibility for making the final decision and “sell” it to the team.

Another important point - the team must come to a result and I am responsible for this. I must understand where and why I’m going, where I have blind spots and why I can’t “highlight” them. And honestly, clearly and deployed to broadcast all this to the team, working out their questions.

Our translation tool is Telegram. In addition to standard messaging, we actively use channels - microblogs and automated polls, we have our own chat bot Antonina and a couple of sticker packs. Most of all in the daily routine, # tags and the ability to contact via nickname help .

Three golden rules of our work in the messenger

  1. One chat + one channel . Everything related to the direct function takes place in one understandable officially proclaimed place: we read in the channel, write in the chat.
  2. PM is evil! General chat allows you to be in one context: to transfer facts and logical connections from your head to the heads of all colleagues at once on the side of the monitor.
  3. Ethics of channel management. Publications no more than once every two hours. Already from the heading it should be clear who needs to read this. At the end - a clear call to action.

What mistakes have we made

Personal file. Guide him through each person from the team! There is no form, you just need to write down in one place what matters to you. How many children he has, what are his super-strengths and growth points, specific stories of successes and failures.

Why it is important: the difficulty that I encountered is the transfer of knowledge about the team. While the distributed team did not exceed 25 people, this was not a problem, when we doubled for the first time, I began to attract office colleagues, and when we were 70+, a small department for working with experts grew. How to decide whom to invite for work in the Beeline corporate accelerator ? All accumulated knowledge had to be taken out of my head in the process of meetings. And this is time, and time is money.

Hack 1: Keep knowledge of your remote employees in a readable form, available upon request.

Hack 2: The black book of manager Slava Pankratov - about why it is important to know the employee’s child’s birthday and another 17 pages of insights about working with the team in IT.

Quality control. The mechanics of the work of a distributed team of experts is similar to the work of the sales department: the employee should say the “right things”, and the manager should track the correlation between what was said and the client’s actions. In order to increase conversions, you need to listen to what the startup expert says and how. With the introduction of this feature, I was one year late. Facepalm. I began to regularly listen to recordings from the third set of experts and from some dialogs I wanted to fire everyone and recruit new ones.

Why it matters: Captain Evidence whispers that there is no need to stop here.

Hack 1: in quality assessment, rely on the backbone of the team. I discussed the thesis of “fire everyone” with the experts of the first set. They said that at the start they made similar mistakes and know how to treat it. With them, we have created a form for evaluating expert communication with startups. It allows you to quickly see the red, yellow and green in the dialogue. We attract the greens to auditions and subsequent training of the yellows. And we say goodbye to the Reds.

Hack 2: learn to give detailed feedback based on quality control: how to fix errors and why it is wrong. In our distributed team, this turned out to be the most anticipated moment in working with IIDF.


  1. Choose and work with the best. You can afford it.
  2. “Red”, “yellow”, “green” are a very simple and effective classification. Experiment with projections, create matrices.
  3. Communication and observation is the main task of a distributed team manager.
  4. The mistakes of your team are your mistakes. What is important in them is not what we do, but what conclusions we draw from them.

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