Employee productivity is always a challenge, but how do you manage productivity when your team is overseas? Today’s guest post tackles the challenge of telecommuting over thousands of miles and a half dozen time zones.
As the cofounder of my start-up, I’m also the current acting VP of Product. As such, I work with our front-end web development team to design, code, test, and deploy every single page of our website. When an opportunity to outsource our engineering to Russia presented itself, I took it, mainly because of lower costs, the ability to work around the clock, and access to a phenomenal talent pool. However, there have been a number of challenges to managing productivity. Here are some tips on how to manage the distance:
Work from visuals. I will often think that I have given a very clear vision, but end up with a product that is different from what I envisioned. Because I’m not around for them to check every step of the way, it’s hard to redirect early in the process when something starts to stray from the original intent. The best way to avoid this is to have great Photoshop mock-ups complete with every possible state. The clearer you can be with what you need done, the better. Although something tells me this is true whether your development team is half way across the world or at the next desk over. Clarity is always king.
Set clear schedules and deadlines. Something I didn’t consider at first was that Russia has different holidays from the U.S, and it can be difficult when the entire Russian office takes off a week for a holiday. If they are working on a project with a team here then the U.S.-based team is a bit stunted while they are gone. This can also be an opportunity, if managed well, to have a team working for you while the U.S-team is gone for 4th of July weekend or another holiday. Either way, setting clear deadlines upfront and asking reasons why the team may not be able to meet that deadline is a good way to uncover cultural issues that could get in the way of a launch.
Communicate over phone and video conference. Nothing beats face-to-face communication. Get used to Google Hangouts and buy some Google Voice money as a backup. For the most part, we’ve been happy with Google Hangouts. They are free and you can see everyone at once. Latency can still be a problem on certain days so Skype or Google Voice serve as nice backups. Email and phone conferences do not make up for seeing someone’s face. Some tools like GoTo Meeting allow you to share screens, which can help with the visual communication discussed above.
Have someone who speaks the language: Our Russian team is (mostly) fluent in English but every once in awhile there will be a nuanced question where the language barrier comes into play. Having a Russian speaking CTO and VP of Engineering makes this workable. I have also learned to speak slower to help in this communication and have picked up a few Russian words along the way.
Have an emergency local front-end team member. Every once in a while there will be an emergency fix needed, so it’s really important to have at least one person locally who can step up.
Kate Endress is the CEO and cofounder of DITTO.com, an ecommerce site selling designer prescription glasses and features cutting-edge video “try-on” technology. Kate is also a graduate of Stanford University and was previously a private equity investor before becoming an entrepreneur.