By Karan Chaudhry, co-founder of Comnplus and DropThought.
One of the biggest struggles entrepreneurs face early on is building a strong team. Most have little-to-nothing to pay for compensation, and the equity doesn't appear to be worth much on paper. So, how do you solve this problem? Remote teams might be an option. I am a serial entrepreneur, and over the past several years, I've built and scaled both on-site and remote teams for my startups. I have also advised several other startups on their teambuilding activities. Based on this experience, here are some strategies you can leverage for building remote teams:
Avoid development shops. Instead, get personal references.
We tried working with a few development shops early on, but it didn't work out as our incentives weren't aligned, and the quality of engineers was not that great. What worked for us, however, were personal references -- friends, colleagues, advisors and mentors are a good place to start. We've recruited some great talent through personal references from our head of engineering, who had worked with the candidates before.
Nail down a good selection process.
We filter out the majority of the candidates based on their resume. The next phase typically includes a video interview, and the top candidates from here are given at least one coding exercise with a predefined timeframe to solve it.
Here, we look more at the approach than the final solution, so we ask them to walk us through the code and the reasoning behind their logic. Those who offer a convincing enough argument move to a final meeting with multiple team members, where we do a quick check on cultural fit before making the final offer.
Hire a strong on-site manager to oversee your remote team.
I can't emphasize the importance of this enough: Managing remote teams requires expertise, skill, and most importantly, the right attitude. Since you don't meet the team in person every day, you need to communicate extensively, define the requirements clearly, monitor timelines, provide regular feedback and manage across time zones.
In our case, the fact that our head of engineering knew the initial remote team from previous experience helped a lot. But even then, we had to institutionalize multiple routines and processes to make it work seamlessly.
Conduct bi-weekly sprints and daily stand-ups.
We inherited the practice of bi-weekly sprints and daily stand-ups from the get-go, and it has worked really well for us. Daily stand-ups are short (two-to-five minutes per person), but they ensure that everyone is on the same plane.
It also helps with team building and motivation, as people have a chance to earn recognition for what they've been working on.
Leverage productivity tools.
These are essential when you manage remote teams. Here are a few we lean on regularly:
- G Suite: We use Google Hangouts for daily stand-ups and other discussions, Docs for sharing all documents and presentations, and Calendar for setting meetings and seeing other team members' schedules.
- Slack: Slack is great for team chats, and its channel functionality helps keep things focused.
- Rally or JIRA: Both are great for ticket management and sprint planning.
- GitHub: This is useful for all code-related project management.
- Asana: It's great for managing all non-developmental task lists, e.g. interviews to be conducted or vendor selection. Trello is another good option.
- Freshdesk: This tool is designed for support ticket management.
Prioritize team and culture building.
People often think that team and culture building are not required for remote operations, when in fact the opposite is true. You need to do more because you don't have the benefit of physical proximity, where your personal interactions set the tone.
Company swag (tees, mugs, etc.), casual catch-up Hangout sessions, sharing group photos and videos of team activities/events, and planning an in-person outing once in a while are just a few ways to foster a cohesive culture and a "we're in this together" attitude.
Building remote technology teams is not easy, but it can prove to be a winning strategy for startups if done right.
Karan Chaudhry is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Comnplus and DropThought.