How to Manage a Blended Team

We’ve had fully remote teams and blended teams over the years. Hear some of our insight into managing remote and co-located teams: how to build trust and how to maximize effective communication.

Full Transcript Below:

Cris:

Today, we get to talk about blended teams.

Andrew:

Well, with remote work, communication is the overarching issue and challenge.

Cris:

How do you balance that schedule with remote?

Andrew:

But definitely when you’re physically removing something from someone and maybe even more so when you’re in different time zones.

Cris:

All right Andrew, today, we get to talk about blended teams. And what I mean by that is there’s been a trend as of late in the last few years. And it only seems to grow and continue forward that not everyone is in a physical office working in the same space. They could be working in a different remote office somewhere else in the world or down the street. You could have people working from a home office, people in the physical office here, but it’s always kind of this team that’s blended together that’s some combination of in-house and a remote kind of a situation. This is near and dear to my heart, because Bixly as a company, we started with this model. We started with the idea of building some partnerships with remote companies that were offshore in the Philippines, and then actually having a physical office here kind of domestic US and how we were able to kind of balance those things. So-

Andrew:

So you started out with the remote teams right from the get-go.

Cris:

We started out with remote teams right from the get-go, which was interesting. And we’ll talk more about the ups and the downs of all that. But you, now here working with us, we are completely US-based now, but again, we’re dealing with this kind of co-location of our teams. How do you, as a manager kind of help keep an eye on the remote work and what is some advice for managers that are trying to manage these remote teams?

Andrew:

Yeah. Well, with remote work, communication is the overarching issue and challenge. It becomes… It’s already very important when we’re physically located in the same office and communication kind of falls to the wayside even then, but definitely when you’re physically removing something from someone and maybe even more so when you’re in different time zones, it can just really fall apart. So we have to be very purposeful with what we do as far as keeping everybody on the same wavelength. So to answer your question, some of the things we’ll do is we’ll incorporate daily check-in calls, essentially scrum type calls where we’re asking the developer, “Okay. What did you work on since we last talked? What are you working on now? And do you have any sort of roadblock or anything that’s preventing you from moving forward?” Essentially, “Do you need any help from me or anybody else on the team?” So we’re checking in with them very regularly.

Cris:

And do these happen kind of ad hoc throughout the day? Does this happen at a scheduled time every day? How do you balance that schedule with remote?

Andrew:

Yeah, there it’s completely scheduled. It’s a very intentional communication. The developers will actually answer the questions in writing ahead of time and also share that information with their clients. And so the clients can even get that daily check-in. So they’re not only just communicating to us in writing, they’re communicating to the client in writing, and then we’ll do the phone call with the developers to kind of further explore those things. And typically it’s, you only need 15 to 30 minutes a day per project to do that. And then we’ll do, we’ll bring the client into the call once a week, where we’ll do a more extended call where we’re demoing things and getting client feedback and all that stuff.

Andrew:

So we use these regular check-ins both weekly and daily. And then we’ll also use project management tools. We use Jira a lot where we can create cards for every task, define requirements, success criteria actually see them move through progress. And so that’s just an indicator to me as the manager when I get my alert that, “Oh, John over here, this task is ready to review.” So that lets me know to follow up with them or to make sure that that QA testing is happening.

Cris:

That’s cool. So, I mean, do you see the location of the person affecting their interaction with Jira and with the project management tool, or does it not matter if they’re here in the office or if they’re overseas or if they’re in another part of the United States or down the street at the satellite office?

Andrew:

As far as using the tools, it doesn’t matter as much because with Slack that we use for chatting with each other, we’ll send messages to someone three doors down in the physical office without walking over there. Part of that is… Or we’ll send an email. And part of that is just kind of strategically choosing when you’re going to interrupt someone and also just respecting people’s time. Or maybe I’ll put it in Jira card because I don’t need an answer today, I just wanted to let them know this is what happened. This is what I need from you kind of thing.

Andrew:

But it does provide challenges. Again, as far as communication and timing, did they see the alert? If it’s been a couple of hours and I haven’t gotten what I wanted, it’s very easy for me to walk by or see someone at lunch and be like, “Hey, did you see this? What about that?”

Cris:

“Did you see it?” Yeah. “Hey, I sent this before lunch.” Yeah. And I see them, so I think about it, but if I’m not seeing the person, there’s a certain degree of out of sight, out of mind. So you have to be very purposeful about everything and really have schedules and systems in place. But that does bring up the challenge of, well, what about new people you bring on?

Cris:

Yeah. What if I just hire somebody remote? Can I do that? Should I not do that?

Andrew:

Well, I would, we, I mean, as a company, we still lean towards hiring people who are going to be able to, we’re going to be able to interact with them. I think remote work is here to stay. And so where we are evolving and coming up with better systems to be able to handle remote teams, build trust with new people who we haven’t ever maybe physically interacted with, which definitely happens, but being able to interact with people and build that community, spend FaceTime together and whatnot. I think there’s a lot of value in that, especially because it further builds that trust and makes it possible for them to relocate. Life happens and we don’t want to lose someone just because they’ve decided that it’s the best thing for their family to move to a different state. And we have that happen and still have developers that work from us from all over the United States.

Cris:

Yeah. And I think it’s also important having a criteria of what you are looking for from an individual, whether you hire them in-house or at a remote office or wherever it is. So that way they know what they’re accountable for and that’s how you can test that trust because if it says, “Well, I need you online every day at this time. I need you to have your notes posted at this time.” So on and so forth, they know what they need to do. And that right there, for me, from a management side, I can say, “Well, of course I trust you because you do this every day consistently.” And it helps build that.

Cris:

I mean, what kind of other communication can we do to also just build the rapport? There’s so much more that I feel like I kind of get to know somebody if they’re in office. And like you said, I’m rubbing shoulders with them over lunch, we’re playing video games together or whatever it is, that can be harder to do with these remote people. So how do we go about interacting and kind of building that team?

Andrew:

Particularly with the remote team.

Cris:

Particularly with remote, yeah.

Andrew:

Yeah. Well, I mean the big concern is that people will just be isolated, disconnected, not really feel like they’re part of the team or I’m here until somebody else gives me another remote opportunity that looks a little better on paper. So we really want to engage people and have them not just be these kinds of like mercenaries that are here until it’s no longer convenient. So we want them to be plugged in. So we’ll do things like have monthly meetings where the people in office will be here, but then we’ll bring out a big screen and webcams and actually have all the remote people-

Cris:

Video conference with everyone in it.

Andrew:

Yeah, yeah. Conference and have them be part of it and part of the conversation. And I mean, you’re particularly good at getting people to engage, so I think that works out. It works out surprisingly well. So we’ll do things like that. We’ll do… We like to bring people into town when it’s practical. People who are out of state, try-

Cris:

Visit the mothership as we [crosstalk 00:08:02].

Andrew:

Yeah, yeah. Get fly people in when we can, so they can spend a week or whatever here with the team. And even just, we started doing game nights.

Cris:

Yeah. Like virtual, digital type stuff.

Andrew:

Virtual games, virtual game nights. Yeah, yeah. So that’s been a pretty cool way too, to do a virtual escape room with other people and get to have fun and problem solve with them. Yeah.

Cris:

Yeah. All that stuff I think is extremely helpful. And then I think from a company’s standpoint, is it’s the understanding of treating your employees as employees, regardless of where they are. And so everyone that works for Bixly it doesn’t matter where their office is at, they are eligible for the same medical benefits and for the same investment benefits to the company and they’re eligible for all the perks. Buying t-shirts. Everyone gets a t-shirt. I might hand it physically to someone in the office, but I might also mail it across the United States. But keeping those sort of things and not playing favorites with the team, I think is extremely important to make sure you have a healthy co-located and blended team.

Cris:

Any other final thoughts on this? Drawbacks-

Andrew:

Pros, cons.

Cris:

Pros, cons, things that people should be aware of when they’re trying to either pivot more towards being a remote blended team or even hiring someone that is in that spot.

Andrew:

Well, I think we’ve touched on the challenges of remote teams with communication, different things like that, and having to be very purposeful about that. But the most common pro I hear is that you’ve got this wider pool of talent you can pull from. So, and that is true. And I do believe that being remote doesn’t need to harm the quality of the work. Technically, you can produce the same great quality stuff remotely or here.

Andrew:

But the very real con is it’s just harder to build relationships with people you can’t sit next to at lunchtime. And so as a company, we’re really big on relationships, we’re really big on being part of the same team, knowing what’s going on in each other’s lives, playing video games together, all that stuff. And so I think that’s something that we really value and we really try to cultivate. And so I see us gravitating towards having people in-house so we can rub shoulders with them and play video games at lunch. But yeah, I mean, there’s definitely some real upsides to having remote teams and having this big pool of talent and also to not losing people because they move.

Cris:

Yeah.

Alexandra:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Andrew and Cris as they talked about some of the nuances of managing a team that’s blended both here in the office and with remote team members and what the landscape of employment really looks like as we’re going into this new dawn of increasingly remote work. And if you have any questions about anything that they talked about, or if you want further insight from us, go ahead and leave those in the comment section down below. And don’t forget to check out the description box down below. We have a ton of really helpful links for you guys, including a link to our free custom software guide that just kind of gives you some tips and tricks and walks you through the process of planning out your own app idea.

Alexandra:

Now, if you feel like you’re ready to get started on maybe developing that app, or even just seeing if Bixly might be the right fit for you, check out our website, bixly.com. Right at the top of the homepage, there’s a button that says “get my roadmap” and what that allows you to do is actually set up a free 60-minute meeting in consultation with Cris himself. He’ll give you all of his insight and feedback on your app idea, maybe even some estimates and just seeing if we’re the right fit for you. Until next time, this has been an episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday.