6 ways to make running a business on two sides of the globe easier

Huddle co-founder Alastair Mitchell offers tech start-ups with international offices tips on how to manage a dispersed workforce

With tablet and smartphone shipments on the rise, network providers racing to deliver high speed connectivity and office space becoming more expensive, it’s hardly surprising that analyst house IDC predicts the mobile workforce will hit 1.3 billion people by 2015.

The days of people being tied to their desks are long gone. When was the last time you sat at your desk from 9am to 5pm and stopped checking your emails or reviewing documents as soon as the office door closed behind you?

Chances are you now run through your emails on your train or bus journey into work, review documents when grabbing a coffee or you do in fact work from your home office. The benefits of anywhere, anytime working are well documented and, as technology advances, there are always more weird and wonderful ways to ensure you can connect with your colleagues.

The AVA 500 – the joint venture from Cisco and iRobot – is one of the most recent telepresence offerings, but it perhaps takes it a little too far. The remote control robot moves around the office space meeting people and carrying out inspections (!).

But often it’s not the technologies available that pose an issue when trying to work with remote teams, it’s the culture shift and changes in working practices that present a greater challenge for people. One of the dangers of having a remote workforce and geographically dispersed teams is: “Out of sight, out of mind.” With a customer success team that’s always on the road and offices in London, San Francisco and New York, here are some of my top tips for keeping the team on the same page:

1. Keep a common goal front of mind

When everyone is based in varying locations and time zones or regularly on the road, it’s very easy for people to start working in silos. Communications barriers sometimes form and everyone focuses on their personal objectives without thinking about how this fits into the wider business goals.

To make sure that everyone has visibility of the company’s aims and understands how they fit into the bigger picture, hold regular company-wide meetings. Obviously, regularly flying an entire team across the globe to meet face-to-face isn’t practical, cost effective or environmentally friendly, but consider annual company kick-offs to help get everyone on the same page.

Thanks to the wonders of live video links and projectors, everyone in the San Francisco, London and New York offices  also gets together monthly to discuss what each department in the business has been working on and what the month ahead looks like. Product, development, marketing, sales and the customer success teams all have full visibility of what’s going on across the business and what their colleagues actually look like!

2. Look to the Cloud

If you have a team on the move, everyone needs to be able to access files from wherever they are. Storing large files on a local computer or server and relying on email to send them isn’t going to help anyone get their job done.

Huddle’s inaugural Enterprise Information Landscape Study of 2,000 UK office workers – carried out by Ipsos MORI – revealed that 42% of people find not being able to send large files via email their biggest annoyance in the office. Wasting time searching for electronic documents was an annoyance for 41% of UK office workers, while more than half of UK office workers (52 per cent) stated that they want to access all of their work documents in one place.

At Huddle, we all use our own product as it gives us the ability to keep all comments and feedback on content in one place, control versioning and monitor access rights. In fact, most of the tools we use are cloud-based — from our email through to our CRM software — so everything is accessible via the web.

3. Get the team up to speed

While cloud-based tools and services are great for ensuring that everyone can access whatever they need, from any location, on whatever device they have, having a decent internet connection is vital.

People working from home can’t be productive if they’re using an Internet connection with speeds reminiscent of dial-up. If your team has the option to work from home, consider offering them a home office broadband supplement.

If your sales and customer success teams also spend a lot of time on the road, think about providing them with mobile broadband. I’ve found this is very much appreciated by people!

4. Deploy a standard, business-wide instant messaging tool

Waiting for emails to hit your inbox or playing telephone tag with your colleagues is neither productive nor fun. Rolling out one instant messaging tool across your business will ensure that information can be shared quickly and easily. Presence indicators also give you visibility of who is at their desk, busy, in meetings or not working.

At Huddle, Skype is our default instant messaging tool and when a new member of the team joins they’re instantly added to everyone’s contact list. For any quick queries, it’s a great way for people working from their homes, our London, New York and San Francisco offices to talk to each other.

5. Company-wide fun

Team days out are important from a bonding perspective. But your team won’t feel like it’s bonding if everyone based in the larger office is having fun while remote workers and staff in other offices are still working. Coordinate fun company activities so that all offices and teams get to do something.

6. Getting the time right

There’s nothing pleasant about being based in different time zones and having to get up as the sun rises or work well into the night so that you can join your colleagues, partners or customers on a conference call.

If there’s no way round it and some members of the team have to get up early or go to bed late so that they can join a meeting, why not consider rolling out flexible working hours? As an example, we try hard not to arrange meetings on Friday afternoons in San Francisco that involve the UK team. There’s nothing worse for team morale than expecting people to be on a call after 6pm on a Friday night!

Alastair Mitchell co-founded enterprise content collaboration company Huddle with Andy McLoughlin in 2006. Since then the company has raised $40m of venture capital in a series of rounds, has offices in London, San Francisco and New York, and names 80% of the Fortune 500 and UK central government as its clients. www.huddle.com

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