Are you looking at starting a remote company? Has running a remote company been one of your dreams? It wouldn’t surprise me. After all, remote teams enjoy some big advantages, including increased workforce diversity, a larger talent pool, and a more liberal schedule, to name a few.

But building a remote company isn’t a walk in the park. Remote teams have unique qualities that make them particularly challenging to manage.

Here are a few things I wish I had known before taking the plunge and starting a remote company.

Time zones are a constant challenge.

When we started our company, my co-founder, Tom, was in England and I was in San Francisco.

I didn’t have much experience working across time zones at this point, so it was a bit of a challenge. Luckily, Tom had some experience with his previous company, Buffer. The first thing he did was alter his work schedule to make sure we had at least a few hours of crossover each day. He also made sure that he was generally available during his evenings, in case I needed him.

This worked really well in the beginning, but eventually our team grew to span four different time zones across the globe. This made things more complicated, to say the least. But I think the key for us has been ensuring crossover and always over-communicating.

There are even ways we’ve learned to use time zones to our advantage. Time zones give us a developmental advantage, since our engineering team can literally be coding at all times. This leads to a big decrease in development time. Time zones are also great for ensuring customer support coverage. This allows us to reply to most support requests within an hour, giving us a huge leg up in customer happiness.

Tools are everything!

Over the years, we’ve learned that great communication is essential to a remote team, but you’ve got to find the right tools to facilitate it. The key here is to be open to experimentation. That’s how you build a system that works.

We’ve tried plenty of different apps and programs, but we’re always careful to not bog ourselves down with too many tools. Our current tool set only includes things that have proven to be essential:

  • Github Issues for tracking coding tasks
  • 
Trello for non-coding tasks in marketing, HR, etc.
  • Do.com for managing meeting notes and generating team goals
  • Speak for standups and quick discussions
  • Slack for text chat

Developing a personal relationship is harder on a remote team.

When your team is remote, you don’t get nearly as much face time. This makes it tough to develop a personal connection with them. Luckily, there are a multitude of video and audio conferencing solutions out there that can help. But what’s really important is setting aside time to just hang out.

We’ve experimented with a few different techniques at Speak. When the team was small, we would encourage every team member to speak with every other team member at least once a day. This was great for making sure that individual social ties were created and nurtured. Not to mention, it can sometimes be lonely working on a remote team, and these impromptu conversations really helped minimize that.

We also dedicated an hour each week to just hanging out as a team over video chat, which was a great way to break up the monotony and get to know each other better.
 Sure, we might sacrifice a bit of productivity during these meetings, but the cultural gains are well worth it.

Company perks have to be more creative.

On a remote team, there’s no kitchen to stock and no virtual equivalent of a Ping-Pong table, so you have to get more creative. Here are some things we’ve tried that have worked well for us:

  • We offer a monthly coffee/snack budget. Every employee has a credit card with a monthly limit. They are encouraged to use it for things like coffee, lunches, and snacks. Basically anything that will push them to get out of the house.
  • We pay for coworking space. If a team member finds a coworking space that they like, we’ll cover the price of a desk. This is another attempt to encourage our employees to get out of the house.
  • We send birthday surprises. Since you can’t surprise remote employees with a cake in the break room, you have to employ some other techniques. In the past, we’ve had cupcakes and pizza delivered, and had gift cards sent over.

Starting a remote company and building it has been a great experience. We’re happy to be a part of the future of work and wouldn’t change it for the world. But I’ll be the first to admit that building a remote company can be a challenge, especially when you’re just out of the gate. Hopefully you can learn from our experience and hit the ground running with your own remote company.

eric biellerToday’s guest post comes from Eric Bieller. Eric is the co-founder of Speak (Speak on Remote.co), where he is changing the way remote teams communicate. Follow his remote working adventure on Twitter.