Does a Distributed Team Work?: Why It’s Best for Pixc

Holly Cardew
Jul 4, 2017 · 8 min read
Image via Unsplash

Pixc has been an adventure since the beginning. Honestly? It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before, and that’s what’s been so exhilarating. I’m learning new things every day. But finding the right people for the company? That was something I had to learn how to do very early on and a distributed team was exactly the right way to do it.

A team’s nothing without amazing people to stand behind it. As James Cash Penney, the founder of JCPenney, once said, “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” I realized just how true that was when I wanted to start growing the team with fresh faces.

At first, I tried to hire people locally. But here’s the thing: I wanted to grow quickly, but I didn’t have the easiest time finding a lot of like-minded people in my neck of the woods. So I had to figure out a new approach… and fast.

Enter Upwork. The online freelancing platform allowed me to post job listings and consider applicants from all over the world. And, because I was able to meet people from a huge variety of backgrounds, it became so much easier to find passionate people who shared my interest in eCommerce and technology.

There’s a lot of value in building a distributed team, and it just may be the ideal solution for you.

What is a Distributed Team?

To keep things simple, your company has a distributed team if the majority of your workforce works remotely — away from your main office.

Source: Blossom

Members may be miles or even entire oceans away from each other. But despite any differences or cultural barriers that exist between the members, the team’s still able to come together and make something great.

How Balasmiq Inspired Me

Good design is one thing I appreciate above anything else, and I love the way that Balasmiq designs not only their beautiful widgets, but also the structure of their company. Most of Balasmiq’s employees are remote.

Balasmiq founder Giacomo Guilizzoni has always believed that work should be fun. And since no one likes commuting, he decided to build a distributed team from the ground up. And it works.

Even the way Balasmiq promotes their products shows how much they love the idea of individuals doing their work the way they want it, wherever they are. Employees only need their ideas, some coffee, focus and a good attitude to reach a brilliant idea:

Source: Balsamiq

I think we can all learn a few things from Balasmiq’s remote culture. Primarily, that work can be fun. When employees are able to have a better life/work balance with commuting off the schedule, they’re able to focus more time on doing their best. Productivity will increase with morale.

This has certainly also been my experience. My employees like to be able to be in new places, whether that’s travelling or working from a new cafe or coworking space. They can work when they want to work, and they are satisfied having full control over their time.

One of my favorite Balasmiq practices is how the team hires new employees together (something I have yet to try). This helps to ensure that all new members will have an easier time fitting into Balasmiq’s culture. Plus, it helps build a culture of trust and transparency. The new guys know they aren’t the anomalies — they are not only typical, but essential.

The Advantages of Building a Distributed Team

So I decided to take a page from Balasmiq’s book when I built my own distributed team. Along the way, I discovered that there was a lot to gain from having one. Here are just a few few reasons why:

It’s cost-effective

Say good-bye to renting an office space. You can have an incredible team without having to worry about finding a space to keep everyone. And because they work from home, they’re able to save on time and petrol (aka gas) that they would otherwise be spending on the commute.

And you, like Pixc, don’t have to blow your budget on workspace amenities or prime locations. You can use that money to reinvest in your business.

Moreover, if you choose to hire freelancers, you also lower other employer costs including your human resources budget. There’s also a lower cost per person when you choose to expand — you can do so incrementally and quickly, without waiting for the traditional in-person job interviews and scheduling that normally slows things down.

It grants you access to global talent

It’s not always easy to find local, talented employees who are an ideal fit for your company. But if you build a distributed team, it’s an entirely different story. You can bring people in from all over the world.

With team members distributed across time zones, you’ll even be able to get more out of your team. While some developers sleep, others can work on code testing. Customer support can even be provided 24/7.

Pixc has a team of hundreds of freelance photo editors who work for us all over the world 24/7. This would not be possible (at least, it would be significantly more expensive) without a distributed team system in place.

It makes your employees happy

Since employees can work from home — or really, from wherever they would like — they don’t have to choose between the best place for their careers and spending time with their family. They can have both! And because they have the ability to work from anywhere, proven they have Internet, they can even travel on the job.

Moreover, more and more people are looking for the kind of flexibility that distributed teams provide. According to the media trend analysts at PSFK, there’s a large group of workers called the “Nomad Class” who want to work remotely for companies like yours. PSFK have even released a whole report on who they are and how to target them.

In my experience growing Pixc’s team, there has always been a wealth of applicants looking to apply for every position we have offered. These are the jobs people are looking for.

Some Challenges to Building a Distributed Team

All that being said, there are some challenges you’ll want to consider before leading a distributed team.

It’s harder to build a shared culture

Because everyone’s working from different places, it can be harder to build a shared culture or for employees to bond. Remote employees can sometimes feel like second-class citizens, especially if you have an in-office, local team.

The key is making sure they feel included at every level of organization. A team Slack channel and the occasional retreat, when possible, can make a huge difference. Buffer also has some great tips for running a retreat for distributed teams.

I also do my best to send birthday cakes to team members, just like I would if they worked in the cubicle outside my door.

Language and cultural barriers can cause confusion

Diversity has its challenges, but navigating cultural and linguistic barriers certainly isn’t impossible. You can make it a company policy to only hire employees who are fluent in your company’s native language and/or ensure that you’re hiring multi-lingual employees who can help translate when possible.

Whatever you do, be sure you’re practicing clear communication techniques to minimize the potential for misunderstanding.

A Few Best Practices to Keep In Mind

Ready to lead your own distributed team? Great! Here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to help keep things running smoothly:

1. Hire the right people

Distributed teams need employees who are:

Passionate — You’ll want to make sure that the people you’re hiring are as excited and as passionate about your company as you are. Passion is key — it’s what drives innovation. I firmly believe that no company is complete without employees at every level who are passionate about your vision.

Self-Motivated — Make sure that your employees are also responsible and motivated enough to work without supervision. Strong leadership skills are a plus. Ideally, you’ll want to hire employees who have had previous work-at-home experience.

It can be an adjustment, and it’s not always easy to find a good groove with remote working if you’ve never done it before. Granted, this shouldn’t be your only criteria for hiring someone, but it’s something you’ll want to consider while building your team.

Skilled in Written Language — And, of course, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re hiring people who are competent written communicators. After all, most of the time you’ll be communicating over instant message or email. You have to make sure that your conversations are clear at all times.

2. Value your employees

People, by far, are your company’s most important resource. Providing the support they need is key. Be sure that you take a genuine interest in their lives and are open to investing in their skills.

Being willing to play a role in your employee’s professional development will do much towards making sure you’re building a culture of trust and encouraging retention.

3. Remember that communication is your most important tool

Distance affects everything — how you feel about people and what you know about them.

That’s why clear communication is vital in making sure your team can get things done. Remember how I talked about cultural barriers earlier? Do everything you can to make sure everyone’s on the same page. It can be very helpful to have regular meetings to discuss what needs to be done each and every day.

Encourage a direct line of communication between everyone on your team. When misunderstandings do arise, (and it will happen, let’s be honest), strong communication helps clear things up.

Passion is What Matters in Every Kind of Business

Talent is universal. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my time at Pixc.

Distributed teams allow you to fill your company with talented people from all over the world. Location doesn’t matter. Instead, it’s passion and creativity that will fuel your business, just like it fuels Pixc.

Pixc wouldn’t be anything without our distributed team. And I’m proud to say that, for me, a distributed team was the best solution to helping Pixc grow.

Open your mind to the possibilities. You just may find your most talented engineer or designer an ocean away.

Holly Cardew

Written by

An entrepreneur and startup founder who loves eCommerce, the future of work, design, food, and travelling. Currently growing

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