Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Secret Sauce for Running a Distributed Model Company: 6.5 Tips to Implement Now

Some call it “working remote,” some refer to it as  “having a virtual company”, but the cool kids call it a “running a distributed team.” Distributed companies are the way of the future.  The days of brick and mortar are quickly dying.  When set-up correctly a distributed company can be more successful and have much happier employees (and management).  My client, Summit CPA Group, said goodbye to the brick and mortar model over three years ago and hasn’t looked back. Not only is Summit CPA Group a disruptor in the accounting sector, they are an early adopter of the distributed model. Jody Grunden, Virtual CFO & Co-Founder of Summit CPA Group, shared with me his advice and secret sauce to making it work.

1. Schedule weekly meetings and with transparency
Weekly team meetings are crucial within a distributed company. Scheduling 30-60 minutes once a week—preferably Monday mornings—with the entire team is a great way to start off everyone’s week. It’s an opportunity for each team member to share something good and something bad about the past week, and what they are looking forward to the coming week.  Weekly team meetings keep the whole team in the loop and connected and allows management to keep a pulse on what’s really happening. The same goes for weekly one-on-ones with your direct reports. 

2. Host company retreatsCorporate. Leadership. Retreat. Are you cringing?  Do the words “trust fall” and "ropes course” come to mind? Are you having nightmares of a very cold (or very hot because someone is always complaining about the temperature) windowless hotel ballroom? Are you envisioning yourself staring at four walls for eight hours every day while being talked at by a lifeless presenter clicking through Powerpoint decks? Wake up. It’s 2017.  Corporate Retreats should incorporate compelling facilitators, interactive peer-to-peer learning, fun activities and relaxing downtime -- all at a refreshingly unique venue in an unforgettable destination. If you’re not planning at least one of these for the entire team annually, you need to start. Hosting a retreat for your leadership team in Q1 will help set the tone and objectives for the entire year, and you can then build upon those lessons and outcomes with an entire company retreat later in the year.

3. Offer awesome benefits
The traditional benefits of wages, health insurance, and 401Ks are not going to cut it. You need to offer benefits beyond the cookie-cutter givens. If flexibility isn’t included in your benefits package, add it now, and make it number one on the list. The benefits of flexible days, flexible location, flexible hours is absolutely imperative. Employees can work as needed to accomplish their job and goals in a timely manner.  Flexibiity allows your employees availability during the day to pick up kids, go to doctor appointments and allow them to work later at night if needed. And going back to the basic benefit of wages, be sure you’re paying your team based on national average.

4. Implement communication platforms
This perhaps should be number one on this list. It’s vital. The key is to remember that it is not “us vs them.” Everyone must be on the same playing field—whether you work in Hermosa Beach, California or Charleston, South Carolina, or in the Fort Wayne, Indiana. Everyone must use the same communication platform.  If you do have a few employees that do work in the same building, its imperative they use the same platforms to communicate as 40 people spread through the country. No one is “missing” anything by being distributed. Everyone is treated equal. Tools like Sococo video chat, and Slack offer employees opportunities to “chat” both formally and informally.  

5. Find the right partnersFlexible is the way of the future.  Flexible works as long as you have the right communication platforms in place and have access to quality people who are looking for flexible work. Partnering up with companies like FlexJobs,, Yonder, and Virtual Vocations will help with a more positive experience and allow companies to get ahead of the curve and reap the rewards of employing a talented, happy staff.  FlexJobs can help eliminate one of the risks for growth: finding talented people. And we all know that sifting through hundreds of resumes is time-consuming. With FlexJobs, you’ll spend less time managing resumes. is an excellent resource that provides expert insight, best practices, and valuable support for organizations exploring or already embracing the distributed model. Virtual Vocations is a great website where employers can post flexible jobs such as telecommuting, freelance, and part-time and flextime jobs. The Yonder podcast features interviews that discuss the advantages and also the difficulties of distributed teams.

6.     Set a cool company cultureWhen working with a distributed team, it may take an extra effort to keep people feeling like they are part of the team, and they are valuable to the overall success of the team. Using the communication channels we noted above, it’s important to include a non-work related communication channel. There’s no tangible “water cooler” when you’re distributed, therefore having  a “water cooler” channel on Slack where employees can share the photo of their new kitty, or ask for recommendations for dining in Colorado Springs during their next holiday brings that “water cooler”  feeling alive.  It’s also important for management to share the vision of the company. There’s no better way to get employees excited than to share your vision and how they are all part of and contribute to that vision. Involve everyone on the team in important projects or events. Perhaps someone on the team is really interested in helping with the company retreat (see #2)—let that person liaise directly with your marketing events director.  Develop a cool, unique, but meaningful way to recognize special occasions like birthdays and work anniversaries. It’s an easy (and fun) way to acknowledge employees, and goes a long way.

6.5  Have fun!Yep! You read that correctly. The last tip is to have fun. Life’s too short to not enjoy it. And besides, if your employees are having fun, they are going to work harder and smarter. They are going to stay at the company longer and help promote the awesomeness that sets your company a part from all the rest. Your best advertising is happy employees.