What are the hardest things about running a global distributed team? And why still do it? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Here are some of the main challenges or considerations that we've gone over many, many times while building and growing a global distributed team.
Communication is, by far, the most challenging aspect for us. A percentage of our staff is local and discussing project requirements and goals is much easier as compared to documenting everything and discussing that separately with various members of the team around the world.
It's especially problematic once we start the work relationship and don't have a measurable way to understand how people feel, think, and solve problems. Often people spend much longer on tasks simply because they are not used to our process, tools, shortcuts, and various approaches that we take in order to automate part of the work or maximize the efficiency of our process.
That's why we always list "proactive communication" and "idea generation" in our job descriptions - they are indeed crucial for us.
As with many startups and large enterprises, we also do rely on commitment to the business, the rest of the team, our products, and our customer base. This increasingly helps with our brand awareness, determination for solving complex problems or fighting fires when necessary.
Out of the past 700+ job applications over the last couple of years (both locally, and distributed), about 70-80% of our local applicants were acquainted with our company and services and were genuinely interested in participating and working closely with us. The percentage from remote workers was less than 20 as remote working opportunities are not as common (yet) and plenty of folks simply want to get rid of the office environment without specific preference in terms of a company.
Higher Turnover Rate
Partly due to the lower brand commitment (and fewer interactions with local colleagues) and due to the fact that switching remote jobs is easier for most people, remote employees tend to generate a higher turnover rate.
That's not to say that a company next door won't attract our talent, but the bond between people working side-by-side solving complex problems is stronger than a success story posted online in our PM or collaboration systems.
That makes hiring a bit more demanding and slightly more expensive at times.
Of course, there are outstanding hires who have been with us for years and we truly admire them and love working with them.
Time Zone Differences
We have staff on 4 continents with a gap of roughly 14 hours (from the western to the eastern end). While it's often beneficial for support and maintenance activities, team collaboration is more challenging.
Some of our team members work between 3pm and midnight in order to stick to our business hours. While that's not a blocker for some, it poses some problems with social or family life every now and then.
We also try to meet weekly and sync the plan for the current sprint or priorities that we need to work on. Obviously, that's not always optimal depending on the time zone.
Running a global workforce may be quite intriguing when we account for cultural, local, or religious differences.
People who have spent the past 20-30 years accepting certain cultural habits for normal may find it hard to adapt to a different style of work or communication. We have folks with traditional or entrepreneurial background as well - some being more shy while others tackling problems in a more aggressive manner.
Scheduling calls or meetings may add another element of surprise in the event of national holidays, prayer times, or other aspects of someone's life that are not necessarily shared by employees living elsewhere.
It certainly brings a lot of value and teaches us a lot about how people live and interact across the world.
Determining salaries is also a problematic topic that has been discussed over and over by companies around the world offering remote jobs.
For example, the average salary between two countries may vary 10 times. Sometimes we simply can't afford people living in the Bay Area or the Scandinavian countries given that the local payment expectations are times lower. That also gives us an edge when estimating projects and trying to come up with an affordable price.
It's a sensitive topic for sure and a major problem for many of our US peers who are very concerned about outsourcing as a whole. Living in a global world is certainly a problem and we also lose a ton of business from clients who go to India, Ukraine, Poland, Pakistan, Bangladesh or elsewhere for a fee that's a few times lower than what we could offer.
This wasn't a problem at first, but the more we grow, the more it adds up to editorial activities or delaying customer reports and content production due to the lack of proficiency in English. Most of our staff isn't comprised of native speakers but we tend to ask for advanced to fluent proficiency and the ability to communicate clearly with the rest of the team, clients, and users.
Varying Connectivity and Gear Standards
According to different sources, the average Internet speed in my city is over 30Mbit/sec. Most professionals rely on 60Mbit/sec or more.
That's not always the case with some applicants who are not as fortunate, though. Living in a country with an average download speed of 4Mbit/sec or an insanely expensive Internet access to a house in a small village may be a blocker for running a productive business. That also includes backup connectivity, access to proper and affordable hardware and software, access to major websites online (which is also not the case in certain countries).
Same goes with natural disasters, flood when living near the ocean/sea, or other aspects that we try to consider both during the application review process, and during interviews.
That said, there is certainly a benefit running a distributed force around the world. Providing 24/7 support is more feasible, reaching out to local clients in certain countries may be less expensive. Building the brand internationally through conferences and meetups increases exposure.
Finding talent usually takes less time and onboarding may be quicker. It's cheaper in terms of rent and office equipment which allows for reinvesting in different activities. It's far easier to find experts in a given technical stack or a business niche, or get freelancers involved for a project without having to restructure your own management model.
It's also beneficial in terms of working from home or traveling while keeping in touch with your team without losing track on progress.
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