Originally published February 2016, updated July 2020.
Never mind dispersed. The Alliance Virtual Offices team is what you might call ‘globally scattered’.
The company is spearheaded in the U.S. with a CEO in Newport Beach, California, and the Chief Marketing officer in Lexington, Kentucky.
Over in Las Vegas, you’ll find our CFO plus a talented team of receptionists.
A few thousand miles further south is our Director of Operations in Monterrey, Mexico. Head south again to meet our Managing Editor in Guatemala who regularly ‘meets’ (virtually speaking) with our marketing and editorial contributors in the UK.
We also have a travel-loving digital nomad who is constantly on the move. One week he’s in Spain, the next in Germany, then he’s back home in sunny Florida.
Not to mention the location of our clients of course. Most are based across the U.S., with a sizeable proportion in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, and other European locations.
Collecting the pieces
Given that we’re virtual by name, it probably comes as no surprise that we’re virtual by nature too. In fact, we’ve been working across geographical borders for years.
The question is: How do we bring our globally scattered team together?
It’s all down to a bit of tech, a dash of calendar planning and good ol’ fashioned communication.
Okay, it’s not always that easy. There are frequent challenges involved when distance and time separates you from the people who are integral to driving your business forward.
“You never completely replace the benefit of sitting right next to your colleagues,” says Mike Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer at Alliance Virtual Offices (he’s in Lexington, KY).
“Sometimes I come up with an idea and I need to share it with the team immediately. But when it’s 4:00 pm here, it’s 9:00 pm over in England and midnight in Dubai. So it has to wait.
“That’s frustrating and disruptive. But rather than let it become a problem, we came up with a way around it. Because working this way is so much better and more productive for us than the traditional, centralized 9-5.”
So here’s how we do it:
1. We Use the Right Tools:
The right technology is essential for every business, but especially those with dispersed teams.
GoToMeeting is ideal for large group and formal meetings, particularly those that involve our CEO; the screen-sharing ability is particularly useful.
We are testing Slack which is so far proving an excellent collaboration tool, especially between small project teams. We use it for chat and sharing files, but we’re still discovering the seemingly bottomless pit of helpfulness that is Slack Bot (these Slack hacks are coming in handy).
Most recently, we’ve been braining up on Slack tips from the team at Troops, who came up with this excellent guide on how to leverage Slack for sales teams. On the social media side, we’re currently trying out Social Media Tracker to help us fine-tune our social marketing strategy.
And Asana helps keep projects humming along nicely. We’ve been using this tool for years, mainly to assign tasks to each other and set deadlines. Asana sends timely reminders about upcoming deadlines and new tasks too, which means less person-to-person chasing.
2. We Share Documents:
Email is so yesterday. We use Google Docs to share documents easily, as our marketing team works on a lot of website content together. With this technology we can discuss and edit documents in real-time. We also use Dropbox, which means everyone can access the same documents securely and also receive notifications when changes are made.
Whenever we have a call together, we make a point of keeping meeting minutes or project plans in our Shared Drive. It helps with visibility because any member of the team can look up a document and see the latest revisions.
And, instead of sending company lead information via email, we use our Zoho CRM system. Data is automatically entered which is much more secure and saves a massive amount of time and resources compared with the back-and-forth nature of email.
3. We Schedule Regular Catch-Ups:
Everyone has a recurring conference call in their calendar (using Skype, GoToMeeting, Hangouts, or plain old telephone). For most people it’s weekly, for others it’s two or three times per week, depending on workloads and projects. This is really important. It gives each team member a deadline to work towards, because no-one likes logging into a meeting without something to report.
It’s also a ‘watercooler’ moment and a great way to catch up with each other. Because however tech-savvy remote companies and teams are becoming, there’s still no substitute for face-to-face communication.
4. We Have ‘Alliance’ Days:
Alliance Virtual Offices employs permanent staff alongside freelance workers. The right freelancer can bring plenty of skills to the table – but the downside is they’re not 100% focused on our brand.
We sidestepped this issue by assigning mutually agreed ‘Alliance days’, ranging from a few hours to full days. That means we have clear visibility over their responsibilities and we can contact our freelance staff during the day without encroaching on their other work.
5. Communication is EVERYTHING:
The glue that holds everything together is communication. Whether it’s by chat, phone, email, or video – you really must keep it going as often as possible.
“A lot of our people work at home, or in a flexible workplace like a serviced office or coworking space. It’s easy to lose sight of objectives when you’re not sharing the same space as your team,” said Mike. “So we communicate as often as possible to keep priorities fresh and to gain visibility over tasks and deadlines.”
“We’re not a conventional company, so the conventional 9-5 doesn’t work for us,” added Mike. “This does. It’s flexible, agile, and it suits our virtual business. It suits our clients too, as working across time zones means we can react to things faster.
“These processes we’ve implemented have really reduced the number of iterations and time between iterations dramatically. One simple document that used to take 3 weeks to complete, now can be done within 3 to 4 days with much higher quality output due to the improved focus and process.”
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