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How do we do: remote management of teams

Written by Birgit Thümecke · 3 min read >

This is part of a series of posts that will explain how we make sure that the good ship Eventerprise stays agile, lean, and on course to be the world’s most trusted events platform.

I decided to pick the rather large brain of our resident “slow coder” aka Anthony Van Beek, our Head of Development, about what is often a make or break competency for early-stage startups like ourselves – the remote management of teams.

First a bit of background. If you are an early-stage startup you usually don’t have oodles of cash lying around, to spend on an overpriced local talent market, especially if you are situated in an area like Silicon Valley were there seems to be a salary arms race going on. Fortunately, there are alternatives in our globalized world. By using remote teams, it is possible to find top talent at a fraction of the cost you’ll face in Boston, San Francisco, or London. And no, it’s not slave labour either. Have a look at the cost of living in a city like San Francisco, but only if you are sitting down …

We have therefore made sure that our DNA includes a hub-and-spoke model that gives us the best possible access to top talent without having to sell the family jewels in the process.

However, it’s one thing to procure a remote team, but a whole different story to manage them effectively. If your communication and project management is not up to standard you will soon be back to square one, and either forking out for an expensive local team or closing shop. And relying solely on fancy digital tools to do the job for you is the equivalent of claiming that a $300 pair of trainers will make you as fast as Usain Bolt. As the oft quoted Harvard Business Review states:

The success of a remote team comes down to three core principles: communication, coordination, and culture.

Only once you have those three principles covered can you focus on all the great communication, collaboration, and project management applications that are available these days. So over to Anthony now:

M: So where is your current development team based Anthony?

A: Well, I’m based in South Africa, but our main development team is situated in Vadodara, India.

M: How did you find them?

A: We put out the word that we were looking for a development team through contacts of ours and after comparing various proposals we got in touch with Atyantik Technologies based on their extensive portfolio. During the trial period, they impressed us with their abilities and we decided to take them on.

M: How did you make sure that your development team understands the Eventerprise’ culture?

A: It didn’t happen overnight, but we eventually got there. I credit clear expectations, constant follow up and open communication with getting us to where we are today. It is also important to align the available team resources with the business priorities in a way that makes sense for both parties.

M: Right, let’s cut to the chase and talk about the applications you use to make all the above possible.

A: Yes, we went through a number of time and project management formats and applications before we found the ones that worked best for us. For time management and salary calculations we’ve settled on Hubstaff, which works really well. It’s basically time tracking software that takes screenshots of each developer’s screen every ten minutes and measures their activity levels, including application and website usage. You can set time limits with it and it includes an automatic payroll system that pays the team per time tracked over the period stipulated. Team members log in and out every day just as you would clock in and out of a regular office.

M: And what about individual tasks and those infamous sprints that development teams rely on?

A: For that we use Trello, a web-based project management application. It’s fast, it’s lightweight, and best of all it’s free.

M: Yep, weren’t they in the news recently? I think Atlassian acquired them for $425 million. But doesn’t Atlassian already own a comprehensive issue and project management service in Jira?

A: Yes, they did and they do, but Trello is far less complex and for our purposes the learning curve is fairly low, including easy drag and drop functionality. Which means you can onboard a new team member much quicker than with Jira.

M: Ah, I see. What other tools do you use to run your team Anthony?

A: For a bird’s eye view of our ongoing development strategy we use the web-based project management tool, Basecamp and for top level reporting purposes, Klipfolio, a real-time business dashboard that provides minute-by-minute metrics for each business segment, as you probably know.

M: Indeed, I relish our weekly Klipfolio updates. Anything else? What do you use for communication?

A: I’m old-school in that regard. We use Skype due to its good screen and document sharing capabilities. The group chats and conference call functionalities also work very well, especially considering that there are no time limits as there are with many other video chat services.

M: Thanks for your time Anthony. Any last words?

A: Basically, you have to use all these tools in a disciplined and focused manner, otherwise you are just wasting your own and your team’s time with it. If used properly within a well-defined structure they are a definite boon.

Well, there you have it. That’s how we look after our remote teams. Teams which will increase in size as we tackle our UK, UAE, and US expansions this year. For more information on Eventerprise’s 2017 plans read our updated mission statement.