Master Class: How to grow your company using remote teams – with Jason Fried

Tim Bray co-founded two companies and helped invent XML. Then he went to work for Google, a job he loved. So why did he quit?

Google wouldn’t let him work from home.

“[Many of today’s job seekers] actually like their current job,” says Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp and author of Remote: Office Not Required. “But they don’t want to have to go to the office every day. They don’t want to fight the commute and the traffic.” Or, like Bray, they don’t want to move to another city.

And that’s good news for companies that allow telecommuting. “There are great people all over the place,” says Jason, “and when you permit yourself to hire anybody, anywhere, you’re just increasing the talent pool available to you. What business wouldn’t want to have access to more talented people?”

In his Mixergy course, Jason shows you how to manage a remote team. Here are three highlights from the course.

1. Make Time for Rapid Fire

One of the biggest problems with a remote team is time zone differences.

“Let’s say you’re working in Chicago, and someone else is in New Zealand,” says Jason. “It ends up taking about 24 hours to ever get feedback on something, and that ends up being too slow.”

So how do you speed up communication?

Add some overlap

Team members who work together should have a few hours of overlap.

“You want those moments during the day when you can have rapid fire back-and-forth,” says Jason. “But then the rest of the day, the next five hours, or whatever it might be, you can go off and do your work in a quiet environment where you’re not being bothered.”

2. Don’t Let Them Flatline

Regular check-ins are critical for remote teams. But over time, most team members just start going through the motions.

“You end up either doing busywork or…there’s nothing really to talk about,” says Jason. “[There’s a] feeling like we’re forced to talk about something.”

So how do you have more useful and engaging check-ins?

Take their pulse

“Roughly every week…write what we just call our Heartbeat,” says Jason. “It’s basically a summary of what’s been happening since the last Heartbeat, and what we’re planning on working on next.”

But what makes Heartbeats different is that there aren’t a lot rules about how to do them. Team members can include video, screencasts, images or just text. “If we prevented people from having unique ways of presenting their own work, then we’d all be doing the same thing all the time,” says Jason. “And we wouldn’t have a chance to grow, and new ideas wouldn’t come up.”

3. Blow Off Steam

Remote teams need systems and schedules, but it can’t be all business all the time.

“If you want to build a strong team and a loyal team and a team that understands each other, [they need] moments of letting off steam,” says Jason. “Getting to know each other on a deeper level…is not only valuable, it’s critical.”

But how do you facilitate team bonding with a remote team?

Build a virtual water cooler

Give them an online space to goof off a little.

“We use our Campfire chat rooms for all sorts of stuff that is crazy,” says Jason. “We have a room called All Pets where people post silly pet pictures. We have a room for comic book lovers. We have a room for film nerds.”

And the chat rooms bring his team closer together. “[In the chat rooms] you’d find a lot of things that make sense to us, that are inside jokes,” he says. “People bond over these things more than they bond over work.”

Tweetable Insight

”What you can offer top talent that Google doesn’t.” Click to Tweet

Get the rest of the course here.

Written by April Dykman.

  • Internet Geeks

    Interesting. I am also building my remote team. Currently we are only 3 working from home. I hired people from my own country (own city to be specific). Thanks for advice. Can you suggest some cool FREE chatting app?


  • James Ferguson @kWIQly

    We are a team of five now in three countries, with four external advisers (including a fourth country).

    For us it works – Not mentioned above is trust (there is no point accounting for holidays and hours – but results must matter)

    We have a bi-weekly chat and sub-teams co-operate as necessary.

    There are weaknesses (sometimes sitting together round a desk or over a beer is essential).

    But the strength from flexibility and avoided waste time plus wider geographic coverage is significant.

    Overall I would not want to run a bricks and mortar company again unless it was inherently location oriented.