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Solomon Osadolo

So the future of work is distributed, you say? We agree — and this “future” may be much closer than you think.

According to recent reports, the number of employees working remotely has more than doubled in the past ten years. If you’re thinking “we don’t do remote,” consider this: Companies that have adapted to the distributed model save an average of $11,000 per employee per year. Oh, and this: Automattic, the parent company of WordPress (which powers 16% of the internet), is entirely distributed.

That being said, working with distributed team members has its challenges. Here are some tips we’ve found helpful in overcoming them:

#1: Communication is Key.

Daily (or even twice daily) meetings can be incredibly useful to maintain team cohesion. At Andela NYC, we have daily video stand-ups with our colleagues in Lagos and Nairobi every morning at 9:30am where everyone is required to state (briefly) yesterday’s accomplishments and today’s goals. Aside from requiring everyone to be awake and mentally present by 9:30am (what kind of startup is this?!), stand-up ensures that everyone is on the same page and aware of what other team members are up to.

Buffer, a social media startup whose employees are distributed across the U.S., U.K. and Asia, took this idea a step further by developing an algorithm to pair different teammates together each week for a one-on-one video chat. The result: Some really effective relationship-building.

#2: Start Off On The Right Foot.

Effective remote communication relies on close relationships between team members. This is something we recently realized at Andela, which is why we’ve committed to flying our developers out to your company HQ for two weeks as part of our on-boarding process. We can all agree that video chatting with people you don’t know is uncomfortable — and so are tense conversations that result from misreading sarcasm via text.

To keep its distributed team members engaged and in the loop, Intuit actually employs “Engagement Specialists” to coordinate a variety of programs and events for remote employees.

#3: Set A High Bar.

Drive a culture of universal accountability at the outset: “Work from home” does NOT mean responding to Slack messages while binge-watching Game of Thrones. It goes without being said that remote employees must be independent, high-performing and self-managing. So, define clear goals and milestones, and always check to make sure that expectations are met.

#4: Use the Right Tools.

Slack, Google Chat and other communication platforms are the lifeblood of a distributed team, but you can also overdose on them. We’ve found that picking one platform and sticking to it is the most efficient — simultaneous notifications from Slack, GChat, Skype and the like can cause even the most focused employee to descend into ADD.

For project collaboration, we’ve experimented with Trello, Basecamp and Asana (Trello wins, hands down). We’re completely dependent on Google Drive, and Google Hangout is essential for helping us connect with our teams in Lagos and Nairobi.

Make sense?

This is by no means a complete list — we continue to iterate on best practices every day and are always looking for new tools to make our lives easier.

Have any tips for us? Get in touch.

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