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Vite Insights: How to Effectively Lead a Decentralized Team

Vite | 06.30| 9

This article is written by Vite Labs COO Richard Yan. If you have any comments, please reply to https://twitter.com/Gentso09. All rights are reserved by Vite Labs.

It is no secret that Vite Labs is a global team. Our community knows that our R&D team is based in Beijing, and our international operations & marketing team is based in Silicon Valley. In addition, one of our business development managers is in New York City. And our community managers are in Ukraine, Vietnam, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and China. The recent coronavirus situation requires many in our regional offices to work from home, which further decentralizes our team.

The geographical dispersion, timezone difference, along with cultural and language disparities create challenges for effective collaboration. But through careful planning and disciplined execution, we believe we have largely overcome said difficulties. That is, to a large extent, we’ve been able to make sure all colleagues are kept updated of the R&D progress, follow the upcoming marketing roadmap, and feel a sense of belonging in one family.

For other projects and anyone working in a global team environment, here are some tips that might be helpful.

Infrequent and effective meetings preceded by detailed agenda write-up

At Vite, team members communicate with each other via real-time apps like WeChat Work and Telegram. But we emphasize the importance of writing long-form, thorough pre-meeting plans on our internal wiki’s (Confluence). Writing helps the meeting organizer think through the outcome they want from the meeting and pre-communicates details to maximize preparation from participants. Sometimes, writing such a pre-meeting plan may obviate the meeting altogether, as all key points will have been conveyed in advance. Here, we borrowed a page from Amazon’s pre-meeting memo requirement.

The art of asynchronous collaboration

Across different timezones, inter-dependency collaborations could get frustrating. Imagine collaboration on a marketing campaign between two team members, A and B, in Beijing and San Francisco. A sends B raw materials, B adds to them, and then A finalizes the campaign document. All of this is happening asynchronously, which means when A is sending B a message, B is off the clock; and vice versa. If A does not send everything B needs to do her work, B’s progress may be blocked for 24 hours. At Vite, for cross-timezone communications, we encourage each team member to put themselves in the shoes of their remote collaborator, and be thoughtful and exhaustive about providing items the other person needs in such asynchronous communication.

Sometimes it’s not about incompleteness of communication. But mis-communication. To combat this, we encourage repetitive communications. This doesn’t mean copying and pasting the same message multiple times. Instead, this means stating the same thing multiple times in different languages (if applicable) and stating clearly the converse (i.e., “this is what I want, and this is what I DON’T want”).

For more on this, Basecamp has great insights on communications for remote work.

Regular team happy hours, or “hangouts”

Culture not only makes work fun and pleasant. Culture also gets the team so fired up about work, that they think about work during off-hours, and make positively surprising contributions (a novel idea, or going the extra mile on a project). One way to strengthen cross-timezone culture is to run regular online happy hours. At Vite, this means community hangouts on Telegram, where Beijing, San Francisco and our global community managers have a long, free-form discussion on Telegram. We do this at different times of the day to accommodate different timezones. Sid Sijbrandij of the all-remote company Gitlab (1300 employees) talks about global pizza parties that serve a similar purpose.

Chat room hygiene: Policies to separate work chats from leisure chats

It may seem trivial, but colleagues’ divergent expectations for chat room behavior can lead to unpleasant outcomes. Our more bubbly and outgoing coworkers love using emoji’s and GIF’s, or are in the habit of discussing crypto-adjacent topics in work chat rooms. Simultaneously, our more engineering-minded coworkers prefer strictly professional talk and dislike sorting through frivolous or tangential materials for essential work items. The easy solution is to create a separate chat room dedicated for fun, and set rules for discussions in chat rooms of a more serious nature.

Objective performance reviews

Pre-determined and publicized metrics, with proper definitions and weightings, make the review process less arbitrary, and make the results more easily acceptable to reviewees. This is certainly true for non-remote work, but even more so for a remote team. At Vite Labs, our sub-teams each have a review system. In general, teams with daily, in-person interactions have a peer review system; and teams that are largely remote have a manager review system. Regardless, clear objectives are set at the beginning of each review period, and managers have 1–1 with team members to share review results and collect feedback.

Conclusion

The future of work may become ever more remote, thanks to the pandemic situation we are in. Indeed, Coinbase, Twitter, Shopify and other major tech firms have announced that all or a substantial portion of their workforce can expect to work from home indefinitely. Effective management of remote teams will become an essential skill for new business leaders. At Vite Labs, we are proud of the way we have led our decentralized and international team so far. And we look forward to perfecting our practice and continuing to deliver on our commitment to the community.

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Vite Insights: How to Effectively Lead a Decentralized Team was originally published in Vite Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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