Two years after I sold my company VerticalResponse, I decided to dive in head-first into a new company, Dasheroo. It's a business dashboard startup my husband co-founded with some stellar people, and I was lucky enough to be brought on with co-founder status.
We've started companies in the past, but this one was meant to be different from the start. We wanted people to have lives, and do their work from where they want to be. We have one small office in Austin, TX where we're building out a development team, but in general all 13 of us are on our own to deal with our distractions in our own way with one main rule; get your sh*t done, people are relying on you.
Benefits of building a distributed team? For one, we're in the SF Bay Area and while there is a ton of talent out here, there's also some really great talent in Milwaukee, Chicago and Atlanta, so why not talk to those folks as well? You find you get a variety of different types of people and to me that helps breed a diverse,innovative company.
There are a many things we're learning that you need to focus on in order to have a successful distributed team. I'm going to focus on communications and the tools that enable it.
Over-Communication is Key
The one thing we've learned is that you all need to be regularly communicating, and in some cases over-communicating. You need to be as transparent as possible and share as much as you can across your company.
1. At Dasheroo there is a daily 15-minute meeting everyone attends. The purpose of it is for each team member to tell everyone the top 3 things they did yesterday, what they're going to accomplish today and if there are any blockers that need removed.
2. There is a weekly meeting with the co-founders to go over any strategic opportunities, what's on the roadmap, if we need to pivot from the roadmap and why, or if any big decisions need to be made.
3. We have company-wide meetings – Since we're all over the U.S. we've done a good job at meeting up 2-3x per year and we'll try to stick to that. It's important to bond. Have half-fun half-work days so that you can really get to know each other. It makes people happy to have fun with their co-workers and get to know them on a different level. And fun doesn't have to be at the local amusement park – try for a day of volunteering. The playing field is always leveled when everyone has to do the same tasks.
Tools of the Communications Trade
What does a business do with all that money they saved on rent? Spend it on tools to communicate! Kidding, there are some really great tools that are inexpensive when you start out and affordable as you grow. Here are our choices and suggestions based on our experience.
4. Digital Face-to-Face Time - This is very important to get access to a bunch of people or one-on one. For our daily meetings we've used Google Hangouts & Skype (free) but we really are loving Zoom. It seems very reliable and free for meetings up to 40 minutes. Zoom lets you have 25 people on the line, share screens and record, for free. GoToMeeting is good but costly for a small business.
5. Real Time Communications – You need a replacement for jumping up over a cube wall to ask a quick question or to post some general information everyone in the company needs. Dare I say it's somewhat replacing email for our team? Wow.
We're huge fans of Slack, you get private "channels" you invite people to or public areas to post. It has integrations with lots of other applications we use, namely Zendesk. This is cool because we can all see any support queries coming into the company real time. It's free and somewhat limited but for $1000/annual it's a steal.
6. Demos/Presentations – Not all companies need a tool for this but if you've got a presentation to do (we use Google Slides, it's free and great) you can use Join.me (free version) or Zoom to do just that.
7. Projects – We have a ton of "areas" of the business we need to be transparent about to our team. For instance, if someone needs access to a logo or a visual it needs to "live" somewhere and that "somewhere" should never be on anyone's desktop. For this we use Basecamp, they organize by 'projects'. We've set it up so that people have access to New Employee Onboarding docs with notes as to how to use them; another is a "Weekly Updates" project, so everyone knows what everyone else's focus is. We have about 40 projects and Basecamp allows you to control access on a project level. We even have a project with interesting industry articles and research we post.
8. Documents – Everything we publish is in a shareable Google Slide, Sheet or Doc. Why? The days of passing Microsoft Word or Excel documents via email are long gone and now the world is an easy shareable and searchable place isn't it? We'll let the lawyers and finance people stick with Microsoft. Plus we can easily post these docs right into Basecamp projects.
Hey it's not for everyone, some people can't work from home or a coffee shop, distractions are abound! Plus there are people that really love to be in an environment where they can interact with people face to face on a daily basis. But if you want your distributed team to be a success you can't go wrong with this communication strategy.