Distributed team management experience, communication and control tools

Hello! I decided to share my experience in managing a startup team. The team consists of five marketing managers and a couple of developers. I joined the team as a marketing consultant, and then the owners proposed to take up project management. I would like to share my experience and management tools. Perhaps such an experience will be of interest to novice managers or those who are going to form a team. I would be very glad if in the comments you shared your experience in both management and teamwork.

1. Formation of a distributed team.

The way communication is organized in a distributed team is a consequence of the quality, professionalism of the team itself and the challenges it faces. Universal management tools involve setting goals, setting goals, deadlines for them and, if necessary, adjusting them. But the foundation of all these processes is people gathered in a team, their professionalism and motivation. When forming a distributed team, increased requirements for the selection of employees should be presented.

The hiring process should be treated much more responsibly. Remote work can catastrophically strengthen the negative character traits of an employee. Many employees simply cannot work productively without constant monitoring and without the physical presence of their boss. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, the team had already been formed, had been working for over a year, people had already grown into the processes, and it was no longer possible to dismiss ineffective employees. Now we have to carefully and slowly change the situation, gradually load people with the right tasks, and remove them from suspended animation by our own example.

If you begin to formulate a system of communication and reporting tools for a team of irresponsible and weakly motivated people, the results will be significantly worse than if all these people were under control in the office. The system of remote control and reporting will have to be built much more rigid, authoritarian, and it will enter into a strong reaction with the relaxed state in which the remote employees are. This will lead to the need for more frequent layoffs, the search for new employees, loss of pace of development, loss of experience and knowledge (if they are not collected and are not formalized in the company as a wiki for important information and internal documentation), will increase the time and cost of training and introduction of a new employee.

When selecting remote employees, more attention should be paid to the psychological characteristics of the applicant. If you need regular communication, and a person turns out to be an introvert, unable to quickly respond to messages on Skype or by email, then you will have to part with such a person or choose specific tasks for him.

The advantage when forming a distributed team is that you are not limited by geography in the search for the best candidate. The whole world is open before you, and you can really collect the best. This will give a qualitatively different result both in management and in the results of the team.

Before you type a team, you need to answer a number of questions. For example, will there be more freelancers or permanent employees on the team? Before hiring a freelancer, you need to think carefully about what quality result you want to get. Each new person is an additional risk that he will either not get in touch, break deadlines or do poor quality work. In addition, if a deep immersion in the project is required, an understanding of the intricacies of a particular market, then working with a freelancer can lead to unsatisfactory results. If you have non-standard tasks, the solutions of which you need to come up with for which a high concentration is required, then freelancers performing several projects simultaneously will not suit you.

It is necessary to consider how the process of accomplishing tasks and projects will be organized. For example, you need to understand that if you assign two projects to one executor in parallel, then productivity and time will not be shared 50 \ 50. Speed ​​can be reduced three times. There will be time and effort spent switching between projects.
It is necessary to answer the question of what will be the optimal team size. The optimal team size can be 2-4 people. A team of 5-7 people already requires the organization of formal procedures for setting goals, monitoring, additional meetings, etc. The smaller the team, the less likely it is that the information will be lost or distorted. In a two-person team of programmers, it’s more difficult to say: “I didn’t write this code” or “they didn’t tell me that.” The growth of the team leads to the bureaucratization of work processes, the difficulty of communication. But this does not mean that a team of 2 people can work, agreeing “in words”, who, what and when will do it and what results have been achieved. Even in this case, you need to keep records, albeit in the simplest form. Need a list of tasks, setting deadlines and recording the results of the implementation. For instance, the manager maintains a list of calls to customers with a record of the results of negotiations. Records of daily duties should be kept.

2. Tools for communication and monitoring the work of a distributed team.

The choice of management tools directly depends on the tasks of management. Selection of tools is carried out under the specific requirements of the project. The size of the team, its “quality”, ways of motivation, the general management style in the company, the tasks facing the team, the degree of aggressiveness of the competitive environment - all this will affect the choice of tools.

Two important aspects of communication can be distinguished: technical and management aspects. Technically, the task of communication in a distributed team is solved quite easily today: voice and video communications, instant messengers (including those with the possibility of group chats, audio and video conferencing), transfer of any kind of data, joint work with documents, task and time trackers.

It is important to establish the rules and make everyone follow the rules. For example, to agree that if an employee is at a computer, then he must read what they write on Skype. And answer at least “OK” if there is no time or need to answer deployed. Or arrange that the employee should be ready to contact the general chat daily at certain hours. It is not necessary to make rallies twice a day. Rather, such obligatory daily events, at which the results will be discussed and tasks set the next day, will speak about the ill health of the project. Most likely, people do not understand the strategic goals and objectives, do not understand what and how to do. But the opportunity to be in touch daily at a specific time should be.

It is also useful to set specific hours for checking email. Since constantly arriving e-mails are very distracting, you can, for example, set the interval for checking e-mails every two hours. If there is not enough information in the form of text, voice, then you can install a program that provides remote access to your desktop.

The problems of the time difference and the lack of personal contact are solved in the first case by clearly planning the time when it is necessary to get in touch, and in the second by periodic meetings offline or the correct selection of employees from the psychological point of view who do not get tired of work alone and do not get bored by communication.

It is important to emphasize that if you do not control who does how much and who works more efficiently, then the team’s productivity will drop several times in one month. When a team grows, when it becomes more than 2-3 people, keeping records in calendars, Excel, Word or google docs may already become insufficient. It may be necessary, for example, to introduce daily reports on the time spent by the hour, with a record, for example, of at least 3 tasks per day. Time tracking for tasks can be done using time tracking software, for example, Time Tracking primaERP or Toggl. It is necessary to set the deadline for sending a report to the head (for example, 12 a.m.). It is necessary to set limits for delays with a report, after exceeding which an employee will have to leave. Or, as a more humane option, do not pay for working hours for that day.

All employees, those who work in the office and those who work remotely, must keep time records. Control should be the same for everyone. If an employee suffers from procrastination, he will do it in the office.
To control and plan the load for the next months, you can use a variety of task managers: Trello , Basecampetc. Trello is a pretty good application with an iterative approach to project implementation. For each iteration, you can select, for example, a week and write a fixed list of tasks. If the tasks manage to move from the left side to the right during this time, then the week was a success. You can use a simple table in which short, medium and long term goals and objectives will be described. If you do not fix goals and objectives in writing, then goals and priorities begin to “float”. The company begins to move in a direction convenient for employees, and not in the direction where it is necessary for the business.

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