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The debate over the efficiency of remote working structures and the geographic spread of employees within a company is long standing.
While I personally believe there is no single correct answer for any company, my group-travel startup Travefy has flourished through our early stages with the team split between New York’s Silicon Alley and Nebraska’s Silicon Prairie.
When I first founded Travefy I began working with a brilliant and passionate developer. However, while I was in New York City in business school, he was living and working in Lincoln, Nebraska. This geographic split obviously raised some concerns at first, but we both loved the concept of Travefy and working together, so we went for it.
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In many ways, it’s turned out to be a huge advantage, even as our team has grown. We’ve been able to capture the significant advantages each region has to offer including strong business development and partnership opportunities in New York, as well as the sophisticated and economically-efficient technical talent in Nebraska.
Additionally, by managing our geographic distance well, it has actually contributed to our creativity and team bond. Here are four valuable lessons I’ve learned for managing a geographically dispersed team:
1. Keep the lines of communication open. Set regular meetings with your team. This drives structure and accountability, while also cutting down on ad hoc meetings that lack purpose. However, you must keep the lines of communication open at all times. Questions arise, things break and problems need collaborative solutions. This ensures that you’re never a bottleneck for innovation.
2. Manage milestones. When someone is comfortable, they produce their best work. Although any startup requires 24/7 engagement, our remote structure has allowed us to encourage everyone’s different working styles and tempos. To ensure we have controls, however, we then manage for milestones (or results) as opposed to purely managing for process.
3. Leverage technology. Not only is Travefy a technology company, but technology is our best friend. We’re able to use technology to compensate for some of the disadvantages from our remote structure. For example, we recognize the value of physical cues in any team discussion and use video chat for as many meetings as possible.
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4. Don’t forget team development. You can develop true team spirit and consistent culture when geographically split. However, you need to make it a priority and a regular focus. Whether it’s starting meetings with genuine personal conversations or maintaining scheduled team off-sites, never lose sight of the importance of team development.
What are your top telecommuting tips? Share them here in the comments section.
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David Donner Chait is a second-year student at Columbia Business School and the co-founder of Travefy, a free online tool that helps groups simplify their travel. He previously served as senior policy advisor at the U.S. Small Business Administration and worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. He holds a B.A. in economics-political science from Columbia College.