How to build a successful distributed team

Celine Mechain
Apr 1, 2019 · 5 min read

For those about to work (remotely) we salute you!

Amongst roles that are usually not open to remote work, People Ops is probably in the top 5. Here is a fresh eye report on my first 2 years as VP People Ops at Platform.sh, a fully distributed organization -currently 120 Platformers in 21 countries and 14 time zones… and growing!

What is being remote?

There are several ways of working remotely.

  • You can be a remote worker whereas everyone else is commuting to the office. This is probably the worst case scenario as being remote usually means feeling isolated and far away from every single piece of information.
  • Teams can be distant but each team shares their own office. It is then critical to ensure smooth communication between the teams and a shared working culture.
  • You can be a remote worker out of every single other worker being distant, just like you. This is us.
    It is the most extreme type of remote work: the ‘hyper distributed” type ; and probably the easiest one to manage, and the following tells you why.

Why is being remote working well at Platform.sh?

1. Our roles are compatible with remote work.

Engineering and sales represent 85% of the team.

These roles are naturally enough compatible with distant work.

2. Our team has been hyper distributed since day 1.

We have not changed the way we work along the way.

We have not modified the company culture and lost people in the process.

3. Top down, the whole organization is remote.

We are not partly remote ; we are fully remote.

We work homogeneously across the company ; all team members share the same communication tools.

There is no coffee machine talk with the one key information you miss if you are not there.
Important information is shared asynchronously within the organization: no matter what your time zone is, you receive it.

4. We share the same values.

The team is made of 30+ nationalities.

All team members do not have the same working culture indeed, but we all have compatible working cultures and we all share the same values.

5. We hire seasoned and autonomous people.

Our team members are not waiting for a manager to tell them what to do.

They are passionate, they are not shy asking questions and sharing ideas and they need minimum guidelines to come up with results.

6. We have a routine.

Being remote means great work/life balance, yes, but does not mean caring for your new born child all day long.
Being remote means some flexibility, yes, but does not mean working night shift or day shift as you wish.

You need a routine, you need boundaries with your family, you need regular working hours and you need a dedicated distraction-free work space.

7. We invest in written communication.

Early stage IT companies usually do not invest much into documentation. As a hyper distributed organization, we are quite mature on the documentation side.

It makes sense when you think about it: when half your peers are sleeping while you are working, well you have to write things down.

Constantly.

You could literally spend your entire working time reading our 80+ Slack channels.

8. We like to meet in real life.

Regular company wide or team wide meetings are key to strengthen interpersonal relationships.

Overall, there are so many great pros and so very few cons in this type of organization that we would not imagine working differently.

The impact on the People Ops activity

People Ops usually do not come up with remote positions. As my very first hyper distributed experience, the teamwork spirit struck me first. Yes, each team member is on their own and facing their screen all day long ; yet they are constantly communicating with each other, sharing experiences and spanning distance and time difference. As this is mostly written communication, you miss the non verbal side and we are being very careful to what and how we write.

I also quickly realized that this is a blessing on my role. In a super fast growing organization, you spend the majority of your time on recruitment. And being able to hire anywhere in the world makes your job much easier: no need to chase over solicited engineers in a dedicated area. We receive a significant volume of great applications with minimum effort and we can concentrate on selecting instead of chasing.

Not only do we attract talents but we also have better retention: remote workers have a better work-life balance.

One of our main concerns is to make room for all kinds of profiles in the teams. We usually end up selecting the most seasoned profiles. Ensuring great training and on-boarding for more junior profiles will be key to support our growth: we need our teams to grow with the company.

Another concern is to realize soon enough when a team member is not fully engaged. Yes, you get the very same concern in any organization just even more so with the distance.

The impact on my personal life

First you are relieved not to waste so much time into daily commute. You do not realize it when you have no other choice but 2 hours a day with stressful, costly and useless transportation is just insane.

Then you realize you are working longer days. And that you are 100% fine with it, because even though you work longer hours, you are in your own environment and can focus more without feeling tired.

Being remote is not common overall in Western Europe, especially in France. Not yet anyway. It’s simply not in our working culture, even in the IT industry.

I received my share of puzzled looks and sarcastic comments at first. “Working from home? Ah ok… So, you are not really working, right?”
“And how do you know your team is actually working?”

Working in hyper distributed teams is not for everyone. Some people need the ambient office atmosphere, the coffee machine talk and to be in the same room as their peers.

But once you get used to it, you just cannot imagine another way to work.

Celine Mechain

Written by

People Ops specialist dedicated to fast growing international IT companies

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