Remote-first startups have quickly become the ecosystem’s new normal. In A16z’s recent survey, 86% of early and late-stage founders said they’re opting for remote/hybrid teams, excited by the potential of a global talent pool and the added flexibility of working from anywhere. With input from some startup veterans and remote work experts, here’s what every founder needs to know to build a happy, high-performing virtual team.

Screen talent for remote-friendly skill sets. Remote work widens your talent pool to anyone, anywhere. However, your team’s happiness and performance rely on your ability to hire talent equipped to excel in a remote environment. Outside of job-related skills, experts suggest hiring talent with above-average communication and organizational skills, tech-savviness, and a self-starter mentality for the best remote team. Posting openings on remote-specific sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co, and Remote OK will also help you attract virtual-ready workers.

Be realistic about time differences. Leading a virtual team includes building trust and camaraderie between people in different time zones. Even though you can hire from anywhere in the world, time zones can get complicated fast. Keeping your team within ~6 time zones makes attending meetings, collaborating, and connecting with their teammates easier on remote-first teams.

Take onboarding seriously. Onboarding is much more than ensuring your new employee has all the necessary equipment to fulfill their role. To set new hires up for success on a virtual team, be sure to include the following in your onboarding process:

To keep your team engaged, create opportunities for impromptu connection. One of the biggest issues with remote-first teams is that it makes informal interactions more complex, resulting in increased social and professional isolation. To keep your team’s morale, collaboration, and creativity high, create virtual alternatives for impromptu, unstructured break room chats. These opportunities to connect can be as simple as adding buffer time to meetings for non-work conversation, adding apps like Donut to your Slack channel, or hosting regular coworking Zoom sessions.

Prioritize working “out loud.” An easy way to avoid siloed workers is to prioritize regular, company-wide updates from every team. To protect everyone’s time, make these updates brief and high-level. Experts suggest weekly highs/lows or holding daily check-ins covering topics like: What did you work on yesterday? What are you working on today? What is blocking your progress? Celebrating small and big wins in a group thread is another great way to keep motivation high!

From recruiting new talent to retaining longtime employees, virtual team management requires a focused and intentional approach to building culture and clear communication. With the right leadership, your remote-first team culture will translate into increased employee engagement and better organizational outcomes. Remember, remote work doesn’t mean working alone—connection matters even more in a virtual environment. 

When challenges arise for early-stage startups, VCs often advise founders to hire or build their way out of trouble. But with limited funds, people and time, early-stage founders must be strategic in their problem-solving. So, while the weight of your neverending to-do list may make hiring and building seem appealing, we recommend reaching for a quicker, more efficient tool first: optimize, optimize, optimize!

Like a good Swiss army knife, optimizing should be every founder’s go-to tool. By optimizing what’s on hand first, founders can quickly cut deadweight and adapt to changing conditions on the go without wasting time or capital. Instead, try the 5 following optimizations before sinking time and money into more intensive solutions. 

  1. Prioritize everything by impact. Before you add any new variables to the equation, take stock of your teams’ current goals, projects, and to-do list items. Rank all of your startup operations by how much they affect your North Star Metric’s growth rate. Once ranked, kill or delay low-impact projects to ensure every team member is working on an essential element of your startup’s growth.
  2. Assess team performance. Similarly, take stock of each team member. Is everyone carrying their weight and contributing to the growth of your NSM? We often find founders keep underperforming team members around for too long in the hopes that they’ll reach productivity and avoid a firing. But, as the founder, assembling an effective team is mission-critical to building a successful business and, ultimately, your responsibility.
  3. Get all hands on deck. In the early days, the entire team should be working toward your NSM whenever and wherever possible. Avoid any siloed team members by soliciting input from everyone while problem-solving and assessing team members for additional capabilities. For instance, your engineers may have insights on which features to spotlight in marketing campaigns, and your sales team may have insights on how to best streamline customer service. With everyone tackling problems together, you can quickly troubleshoot and resolve issues as they arise.
  4. Look for low-hanging fruit. To avoid overextending your team and limited resources, always ask yourself, “What’s the lowest-effort solution with the highest impact that will keep us on track?” Making a habit of looking for the low-hanging fruit first will force your team to get creative and avoid overcomplicated solutions that waste time and resources.
  5. Hack it with free or low-cost tools. The more free or low-cost tools your team can hack together, the better—especially in the early days! Before splurging on a new tool with all the bells and whistles, assess which features actually contribute to your NSM versus the nice-to-have features. Then, research low-cost or free alternatives for those must-have features to get the job done while keeping cash burn low.

Now, this is not to say that adding new team members is a bad move—it’s just not a quick one. Plus, after the months you spend on recruitment, interviews, and onboarding, there is no guarantee that your newest team member(s) will be the silver bullet you’d hoped for. Similarly, building new-and-improved versions of your solution will eventually be vital to scaling your company, but it’s all about timing. It’s a resource-intensive process that will quickly burn the finite funding and resources currently at your disposal. When it comes to choosing the right moment, be sure you feel confident that it’s feeding your NSM directly.

So, before you jump to hiring or building, reach for your optimization Swiss army knife. Founders who make a habit of optimizing what’s on hand first will stay agile and preserve resources to outlast the competition.

© Outlander VC. 2022.