It’s another one of those Sunday evenings. I pick up my bag, trolley, and a small suitcase, kiss my three kids goodbye, and walk with my wife to the cab that is waiting outside our house. Yep, another week of her taking care of my family while I go and take care of another family of mine, our San Francisco based team.

A lot has been written about managing remote teams in startups. For companies that begin their journey in Israel, the most common path for international growth is the opening of a U.S.-based office that usually houses the sales, marketing and business development teams. Meanwhile, the R&D team continues to grow in Israel.

We have followed this common path and we opened our U.S. office over a year ago. Managing a remote team obviously has its challenges, and most of the time we underestimate the effort that is required to ensure that the teams are happy and productive. While those challenges may (and most probably will) vary from one company to another - depending on factors like the company’s age, status and size - I believe there is a common theme across many of them that I thought I’d share.

Remote management is fine - to a certain extent

We are so used to communicating online these days - with tools like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp - that it is easy to forget that face-to-face interaction is even required.

We are so used to communicating online these days - with tools like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp - that it is easy to forget that face-to-face interaction is even required.

Here’s a newsflash: it is.

As convenient as online platforms are to facilitate remote working and remote management, we still have not developed a technology that will allow us to perfectly imitate a real-world meeting, a handshake, a team lunch or a group discussion where everybody sits around the same, physical table. And since we are still not in possession of such a technology, the reality is that, if you need to manage a remote team, you need to be there. Physically, and quite frequently. Once a quarter is an absolute minimum, more frequently is better. As a manager, you will see the difference in an instant. There is so much more you can capture while simply being there that the question of should you be there becomes a simple no brainer - you should.

Work environment is critical

When you start building a remote team, it’s tempting to avoid renting office space and let your team members work from home. You save money and you don’t need to deal with the bills, maintenance and other overhead costs and resources associated with owning a dedicated workspace. At Xplenty, we started looking into a formal office space when the team grew to three. Team growth was the tipping point for us, and it was clear to everybody involved that the interaction between the team members needed to be more intensive than just daily online meetings and weekly gatherings at a local coffee shop or a temp office room.

We chose WeWork, and it proved to be a great success. There is something about WeWork locations that simply does the trick: everything is taken care of regarding the office space, you don’t need to worry about any administration overhead, and the vibes and fellow office dwellers make all the difference. The team is much happier these days, and we are just about to move to a different, larger location.

Gather the entire team together at least once a year, if not more

Getting the entire company together for a week, at least once a year, is something we have found to be extremely beneficial. Nothing beats the face-to-face interactions, having lunch together, or an evening beer at the local watering hole. It’s those interactions that our employees continue talking about for months after. We usually make sure to dedicate a whole day to non-work activities as well, so it’s not just about productivity, it’s also about the social interactions.

Use technology to its fullest potential

There are a ton of products and services that help with managing remote teams. At Xplenty, we use some of those tools. Here is a list of the top tools we use to collaborate and get things done:

  • Zoom - a great video conferencing tool. It has good audio and video quality and we even use it to hold webinars and demo sessions for our prospects and customers.
  • Uberconference - for audio-only conferences, we use Uberconference, a simple phone conference service that gets the work done, with dial-ins from most of the countries in the world.
  • Trello - this is a great collaboration tool, which we use heavily not only in our R&D department, but also amongst our sales, marketing, and customer success teams. One of the main advantages of using it is the visibility it introduced to every process and project that we have going on.
  • Slack - Slack rocks. Nothing to add.

Talent demand and supply, business needs, market, technology - these are just a few of the parameters that force companies to consider setting up remote offices and working in a distributed fashion, as opposed to the very centralized way businesses used to operate just 20 years ago.

It’s a challenge to set up, grow and manage remote teams, but if you manage to overcome the hurdles, the benefits usually considerably outweigh the disadvantages. Keep in mind that technology does not solve everything, and make sure to facilitate real human, face-to-face interactions, and you’re probably on the right path to success.