The rapid growth of remote work around the world is a topic we're keenly focused on here at Owl Labs. Another growing workplace trend we haven't dedicated as much time to is the growth of distributed companies and office, where companies operate out of several different office locations around the country. While these companies may employ remote workers who work out of their homes or co-working spaces, in many cases, these teams have to maintain a balance between operating a productive office while still keeping different offices connected and working in-sync with one another.
The challenges companies with distributed offices are facing are similar to ones faced by hybrid teams and companies, but usually at a much larger scale: Globally or nationally distributed companies can have many office locations around the world, along with thousands of employees who work there, who speak different languages, follow different customs, and cater to different markets.
To start sharing more strategies and best practices for leaders and individual contributors on these distributed or global teams, we decided to survey folks who work at organizations with multiple nationally or globally distributed offices to learn how they're successfully keeping teams and individuals connected. Keep reading to learn the specifics from different companies to see if any would be effective to implement on your team.
Doist, the productivity software company that created Todoist and Twist, is a fully-remote distributed company, with more than 60 employees working around the world in 25 different countries (and counting). To do this successfully, they rely on over-communication to ensure that conversations, strategies, ideas, and debates are catalogued for all relevant company stakeholders to review and respond in their time zones.
Doist People Operations Generalist Andrew Gobran explains that "you can never assume what your colleagues do or don't know, so communicating in great detail is always better than leaving out important contextual details that may or may not be known."
Some of the strategies they use to achieve this include holding internal discussions exclusively via Twist, Doist's team communication and collaboration tool, so team members are less reliant on ad-hoc conversations and instead must transparently share ideas and feedback in channels where everyone can stay in the loop. Doist also accomplishes this by scheduling meetings sparingly, and using them only when face-to-face communication is needed for 1:1s or organic brainstorming sessions. By not relying on meetings for work to get done, Doist is able to be more inclusive of its global employee base.
At Pendo, a product experience platform company, company culture has been front-and-center for the company since its inception, which has helped facilitate productive communication and collaboration as the team grew across multiple office and country locations. Pendo makes sure its employees who work remotely or in office locations other than company headquarters can participate in company or personal celebrations wherever they're located.
Jeremy Smith, Pendo IT and Facilities Operations Manager, emphasizes the importance of company culture for keeping its global offices connected. He explains that Pendo even has a "ministry of culture," where employees serve as cultural ambassadors for their office locations or for other remote employees, to make sure company culture programming and company-wide initiatives are inclusive of employees who are spread across different locations. Simple things like acknowledging new hires and work anniversaries via instant messaging app and all-hands meetings where new employees and offices can introduce themselves go a long way for making teams feel more connected.
(To learn more about Pendo, read our interview with VP of People Leslie Neitzel.)
At Flock, a team communication and collaboration app company, teams use their own product to build communication channels specifically for not working.
Mimi An, Director of Global Content Strategy, explains how Flock created "watercooler-style channels to create conversations around things outside of work so that we can get to know each other on a human level." Teams that know one another and have relationships and friendships do better work together than those that don't, and when these connections can't be built with in-person time, distributed companies can foster them with technology, like instant messaging channels or employee pairing tools that introduce employees to one another. By taking time away from explicitly doing work, distributed companies can actually achieve better results by talking about last night's episode of TV or people's pets.
When employees are busy traveling or being on-the-go, it can feel easier to take a quick phone call or send over a few lines of an email when you need to connect. Vice President of Clarity PR, Sherry Smith, encourages always striving to use video conferencing, even during those busy times, to facilitate connections and better understanding among people working together who may not spend time together in-person.
"When we hold meetings with people in different locations, whether in a different city or if they're simply working from home, we find video is always more effective," explains Sherry. "With voice only, it's too easy to start multi-tasking. Seeing people eye-to-eye is much more conducive to staying focused."
Video conferencing improves focus during meetings that voice or text-only communication lacks, which helps prevent confusion and streamline the work distributed teams are doing.
At CoreView, a SaaS management platform company, remote or distributed employees are asked to always keep their video camera turned on during distributed meetings so they're able to connect more effectively and have a greater voice during team meetings.
"I have remote team members across the U.S. and Europe," Tahlor DiCicco, Vice President of Global Marketing explains. "I suggest that we have video on during meetings so we can see each other. We are people who are working together -- let's put a face to it."
Using this strategy ensures remote meeting attendees still have the same share of voice in the conversation as co-workers gathered around the same table in a different office.
Marketing agency Impulse Creative holds daily team stand-up meetings via video conference to ensure the team is always running after the right goals and outcomes to meet deadlines and objectives for clients.
CEO Remington Begg echoes the importance of "over-communicating" most things to keep things open" amongst its various distributed teams and team members, and more frequent, quick meetings can help achieve that -- especially when working on projects with many different moving parts and stakeholders.
Revenue River, a marketing agency, uses regular company all-hands meetings to provide distributed and remote employees frequent avenues for company-wide visibility and communication. It's time well-spent if it helps teams stay better connected and do better work together.
Sales Systems Architect Jason Levy explains that at Revenue River, they "have regular company-wide meetings with all remote personnel in attendance. It all seems so normal now that we don't know or care if we're meeting with someone in the office, in Boston, New York, or Paris." This strategy is particularly valuable if company leadership is concentrated in one company headquarters so distributed or remote employees get the chance to interface with executives they don't get to work with in-person.
At Reward Gateway, an employee engagement and recognition software company, employees attend hybrid meetings together with everyone tuning in on their own computers, so everyone has the experience of being a remote meeting attendee, regardless of whether or not they're all sitting together in the same physical location.
Head of Growth Marketing Rachel Weeks explains that this meeting hack "makes it feel like we're all in the same room together," even when people are tuning into meetings from around the world. This can be a great setup for teams booking meetings on-the-go -- just remember to mute computers when you're not speaking to avoid voice echoing.
Alternately, distributed companies can achieve the same effect as everyone joining a meeting from their own computers and webcams by investing in inclusive video conferencing solutions so every conference room makes it easy for remote meeting attendees to contribute and collaborate.
Greg Linnemanstons, President of Weidert Group, explains that the agency achieves connections across its multiple national office locations by using the right video conferencing hardware and software to foster inclusive meetings. They use video conferencing tools like Zoom and the Meeting Owl video conferencing camera to make sure hybrid meetings are as beneficial for remote employees as they are for in-person employees.
Do you work at a company with distributed offices that does a great job of keeping them virtually connected? Share your ideas and strategies with us on Twitter, and we'll keep updating this post with your suggestions.