Virtual Startups: 5 Ways to Make Long Distance Relationships with your Team Work

Our company's workforce spans across a seven-hour time difference, from Palo Alto to Africa. Here’s how we make it work.

Long-distance relationships aren’t easy. Especially when it comes to business.

But if you’re committed they can work; especially as your building a solid business foundation, which starts with a few steps — mainly, recruiting fresh new talent and accommodating the rock stars you’ve already hired.

I’m familiar with the concept, because my husband and I initially spent a full year apart (for our careers) before deciding to launch our business.

We soon became a remote team during the first two months of business, when our third business partner moved across the country to be closer to his girlfriend (now fiancé) while she was in medical school. A year later, my husband and I moved to Michigan and left another team member behind in Chicago. This year, we kept another team member on part-time when he decided to move to Senegal to be closer to his girlfriend while she completed a program there.

Our company now spans across a seven-hour time difference, from Palo Alto to Africa. Crazy? Maybe — but here’s how we make it work:


1. Meet with team members individually and often.

I hold a weekly status meeting, and connect individually with my team members via Skype on a consistent basis, to walk through projects and progress.

You can also utilize productivity tools such as Google Docs and WebEx to make your virtual meetings more seamless by meeting online via mobile devices, sharing destkops, files and more.


2. Share tasks virtually.

Whenever we have a series of projects with multiple action items, I’ll set up a shared to-do list online. There are numerous task and project-oriented apps on the market that make collaboration easier for small businesses such as Asana, HiTask and others.

The entire team works closely on projects, so it’s a great way to share responsibilities without bulky software or endless emails about who is doing what at any given time.


3. Create an online water cooler.

For our remote team members, “stepping into the office” is as simple as logging into HipChat. We use HipChat to maintain team camaraderie, share ideas, post interesting articles and ask questions.


4. Develop virtual hangouts.

We recently started recording short weekly Google+ Hangouts around industry-related topics. It has been an amazing bonding experience. We all have a blast hanging out virtually, and it keeps us on our toes when it comes to industry news.


5. Meet face-to-face if possible.

If possible, pull out your passport or tap into your frequent flier miles and make a trip to meet in person.

Not all team members or employees can handle working remotely. Our team members started out locally and once they showed they could handle it, we let them work from home on their own schedules on occasion. From there, we’ve built trust, based on performance, that allows our team members to take the next big step toward full location independence.

The global workplace has officially changed. As leaders and innovators we have to adapt in order to hire and retain the best talent. Attractive perks go well beyond a paycheck these days.

The new workforce is craving flexibility. Are you prepared to offer it?


Allie Siarto is the co-founder of Loudpixel, a social media monitoring and analytics firm. She also runs a project called Entretrip, co-traveling for location independent entrepreneurs. Connect with Allie on Twitter.



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