How to survive and thrive with distributed, multinational teams

In this piece, Andrew Filev explores how to make the most of an international set up in your growing company.

Almost ten years ago, I founded my company, Wrike. From day one, we were a multinational team and worked remotely with one another from opposite sides of the globe. My developers were spread across a few cities in Europe, and I myself was based in Silicon Valley. This trend continued as we scaled; we added sales, marketing, and service teams in the US, while continuing to add talented engineers at our offices in Europe.

Today, we have more than 450 employees and we all work across different time zones on a daily basis. Each morning I start by calling Europe to check in on our developers, and then move on to working with our teams in Ireland and California for the rest of the day. International collaboration is a big part of our company’s DNA, as well as mine as a CEO. In my experience, there are clear advantages to scaling a company this way that are worth keeping in mind as you’re growing your business.

Access the global talent pool

One major advantage of having a business with a global footprint is that you can hire the right people for any job, no matter where they live. We are of course lucky to have such a huge pool of people who are experienced as executives in scaling companies, right here, in Silicon Valley. But Europe is also full of people with experience in local languages and cultures, and today most universities, all over the world, produce graduates with specialised technological skills. Building your company as a multinational gives you the ability to recruit and employ those individuals without having to disrupt their home lives and deal with complex human resources processes.

Grow in multiple markets at once

For a small company, being multinational gives you the chance to have a presence at a wide variety of regional events and visit prospects for sales meetings with both reduced travel distance and cost. It also gives you the ability to produce localised marketing materials and sales collateral that are not just translations of English messaging, but culturally appropriate material, relevant to a specific market. This can also be achieved by working from a single office, but the task would certainly be more difficult with uncensored results.

Distance brings challenges

Despite the positive aspects of scaling a business internationally, extra care must be put into preventing the inevitable downsides. One of those disadvantages is what I call ‘Social Road Rage’, which is when a civil disagreement turns into an uncivil argument because you’re typing to each other, and can’t sense the intent behind the words. I fight this by having critical conversations through voice or video chat, and also by resisting the temptation to project emotions and meaning onto feedback I read from colleagues, and instead ask for additional clarification if needed.

It’s important to travel a few times a year and spend social time with your remote team members as well. At Wrike, we take an annual trip to Mexico that includes members of every team in the company. This way, they can get much needed facetime to build friendships and trust in one another.

Tech empowers remote teams

This type of business would have been impossible to have and maintain 10 years ago. In fact, part of the reason I founded Wrike was to build software that could make it possible for remote teams to function as well as co-located ones. The biggest challenge for remote teams is that distance creates a lack of visibility and the potential for misalignment about goals and progress.

We conducted a survey of over 1,400 workers last year that found ‘missing information’ is one of the biggest productivity killers, and this is exacerbated in international teams. Afterall, if the only person who can help you with a project is asleep in their own local timezone, it could hold up your work for hours. Cloud technology is a must for remote teams for this reason: it’s low cost and easy to deploy, it’s accessible from anywhere, and helps everyone stay connected with the information they need to get their work done.

Building an international company is a thrilling and rewarding experience. When people build lifelong friendships across borders and cultures it is pure magic, and when they do so in a way that produces a great product for the whole world to enjoy, it’s even better. If you use technology to keep your teams strong, you too can turn your startup into a winning multinational organisation.

Andrew Filev is founder and CEO of Wrike.

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