5 Tips to Manage a Completely Virtual Startup Team

boy at work by Giorgio MontersinoMillions of people worldwide are in long-distance relationships. And most find themselves facing the distance because their jobs or other commitments don't allow them the flexibility to be location-independent. After enduring a one-year long distance relationship with my now husband, we'd had enough, and decided to build our own business in a way that could accommodate location flexibility with our team.

We became a remote team within the first two months of our founding, when our third business partner moved across the country to be closer to his girlfriend (now fiancé) while she was in medical school. A year later, my husband and I moved to Michigan and left another team member behind in Chicago. This year, we kept another team member on part-time when he decided to move to Senegal to be closer to his girlfriend while she completed a program there.

We now span across a seven-hour time difference, from Palo Alto to Africa. Crazy? Maybe -- but here's how we make it work:

  1. Meet one-on-one and often. I keep weekly status meetings on the calendar by meeting individually with my team members via Skype every week, at the same scheduled time slot, to walk through projects and progress.
  2. Share action items virtually. Whenever we have a series of projects with multiple action items, I'll set up a shared to-do list via Ta-Da Lists. When a team member "grabs" a list item to take care of, he/she simply checks it off the list, and we always know what is left to be done. We tend to work really closely on projects, so it's a great way to share responsibilities without bulky software or endless emails about who is doing what at any given time.
  3. Create an online water cooler. For our team members who work remotely, "stepping into the office" is logging into HipChat (we used to use Skype, but we found that it was unreliable, and messages were getting lost in the ether). We use HipChat to maintain camaraderie as a team, share ideas and interesting articles and ask questions.
  4. Hangout as a team. We recently started recording short weekly Google+ Hangouts around topics related to our industry, and it's been an amazing bonding experience. We have a blast doing it, and it keeps us all on our toes when it comes to industry news.
  5. Don't forget the face-to-face. If you can, start working locally, or at least plan trips to meet in person. Not everyone can handle working remotely. In most cases, our team members started out working locally, and once they showed that they could handle it, we let them work from home on their own schedules here and there. From there, we've built trust based on performance that allows our team members to take the next big step toward full location independence.

The workplace has officially changed, and we all have to adapt in order to hire and retain the best talent. Attractive perks go well beyond the paycheck these days -- the new workforce is craving flexibility. Are you prepared to offer it?

Allie Siarto is the co-founder of Loudpixel, a social media monitoring and analytics firm. She also runs a project called Entretrip, co-traveling for location independent entrepreneurs.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.

About Allie Siarto

Allie Siarto is the co-founder of Fare Oak, an online women's clothing company that donates 5% of every sale toward scholarships to send kids to summer camp.

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