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Lola Baltaeva for 6nomads

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Distributed teams — the future that’s already come for the IT-industry

Originally published on our blog.

At 6nomads, we have developed a tool that helps hire remote workers, because we firmly believe the future lies with distributed teams. We were very passionate about promoting this idea, but were met with undefeatable resistance in the face of seemingly progressive managers. You might relate to them more than you expect.

In part 1, Control-freak managers are getting in the way of evolution, we talked about: why there are so few valid startups, like good weather days in London; offices disappearing the way of the pager; and, finally, why specialists aren’t as eager to work in IT-corporations anymore, and how no combination of baristas and cats will fix that. We decided that all of these problems stem from the hard-headedness of leaders and managers.

This statement is supported by the comments under our first interview on remote work:

Ware Wow: Why doesn’t the article mention the long list of companies that turned away from remote work or severely cut it. Personally, I’m not sure you can really squeeze the maximum out of people if they’re working remotely. Yes, the choice of specialists is a lot wider, but they change the work so that it accommodates them.

Whitesunset: Why squeeze the maximum out of people?


Squeezing more words out of a copywriter per hour will not make anybody rich. On the other hand, if it writes a great ad slogan, success awaits.
— Remote

Gleb Kudryavtsev, evangelist of remote work and product-manager of the kid’s branch at Skyeng, believes: those, who are not able to control a remote team are not effective leaders in the office.

If you’re not allowed to work remotely, it’s a wonder you get any projects at all. If you’re so unorganized, why are you able to talk to clients, write text for ads, design new products, rate inquiries about insurance payments, or do taxes?

Remote work is a test of quality for any specialist, not to mention manager.

The thing is, office lords are often deceived when they see a room full of people, sitting at desks (who have no problem putting on very serious faces while browsing Facebook), place too much importance on organizational aspects (key cards, meetings, bureaucracy, etc), while remote work focuses on the result, not the process. When the spotlight shifts from the work to the result, all the little mishaps of the management and the workers start to show. Work cannot be imitated, just like a manager cannot be talked around.

Fooling colleagues is a lot harder than fooling bosses. When talking to a project manager, who doesn’t really know every twist and turn of programming, programmers can turn what could have been a routine task that would take up a max of thirty minutes into the equivalent of a week-long expedition to the North Pole. However, if a programmer hears the same fairytale, the ploy will immediately be out in the open. Fooling colleagues while working remotely is a lot harder.
— Remote

David Tabachnikov, CTO ScholarshipOwl, for example, has completely rejected the idea of limiting workers’ vacations. His team consists of specialists from 19 different countries, each one of which has its own policy on the length of workers’ vacation per year. It was a little weird to allow some 16 days for a break, while others get 36. That’s when the company decided against limits altogether.

However enraged control-freaks may be, no one slacks off, because remote workers are completely results-oriented and care a lot more about the fate of their project. They, themselves want to be kept in the loop. It just so happened that, on average, they take about 20 days of vacation, in David’s observations, they still check up on work documents and chats.

The same thing was reiterated time and time again by Richard Branson, Virgin Group:

I put it like this: “You need to see how much people have done, not how long they’ve worked. If we don’t have a strict 9 to 5 work day, then why would we need a strict vacation regime?”

Alex Korolkov shows discipline in a different manner — he limits workers’ access to work tools for the time they are on vacation, as a last resort, he could disconnect a worker altogether if there is noticeable, albeit, voluntary exhaustion, in order to prevent burnout.

After reading articles about failed remote work experiments it might seem as though the main reason they were unsuccessful is the loss of effectiveness and sudden appearance of laziness in workers. In actuality, underperformance is not the issue, overworking is the true enemy.
— Remote

Aside from hiring the best specialists, there’s also an issue when it comes to keeping them, as turnover in IT is an unbeatable occurrence. On average, developers in Moscow change their workplace once every eighteen months. When we talked to leaders of remote teams about turnover, most of them could barely remember any previous employees. CTO’s are all for getting rid of those who are simply not up to the company’s standards, and think that is one of the keys to the success of a remote team, whereas strong specialists don’t leave these kinds of teams on their own.

First of all, they hold on to working remotely on a project that’s interesting to them: there are still few quality offers, and managers, who are willing to hire remote workers and pay them a competitive salary are at a very clear advantage.

Second of all, on these teams, developers feel their own contributions a lot more, and that is often the determining factor. If you are a manager and are still convinced employees lean towards a larger salary, you know nothing about your subordinates.

Daniel Pink, author of “Drive: what really motivates us”, declares that, for example, in a creative profession, money is only one small part. Autonomy (ability to decide for oneself), the opportunity to become an expert, and mission (to be a part of something big) are the real currency.

When you work for a big company, you understand that you can be as cool as you want, make cool jokes, and still, some five levels above you there’s always that “director of something or other”, who ultimately decides what the product is going to be. In the end, you don’t feel useful at all.
— CTO Scentbird, Andrew Rebrov

We are genuinely happy if while reading this, you didn’t see yourself as that control-freak manager, which are sadly the majority. It’s disappointing how they stunt the development of their own companies and entrepreneurship, encouraging young workers to seek work elsewhere.

Playrix is a Russian game-development company, that doesn’t add to those reasons and attracts the best into their workforce. Thanks to their choice of distributed teams, Playrix has become one of the top 10 biggest mobile game development companies in the world and has undoubtedly become leaders in the CIS, at the same time planning to be on the same level as Blizzard. Take into account, that they’re a team of about 1000 and are open to hiring the best, wherever they may be — that sounds like a plan, instead of a strong, but unrealistic idea.

At Playrix, all teams are distributed: they consist of remote workers and those, who work in an office. This allows us to have truly strong and unique teams. If it wasn’t for this, these people probably would never have worked together.

With the way things are, it’s important to give people more freedom. We believe freedom gives way to creativity and optimizes our results. That’s why our colleagues may work wherever they please, they’re not tied to a specific location. The same goes for their work schedule: it’s whatever they make it. It’s been a long time since we’ve stopped tracking the hours during which they work.
— founder of Playrix, Dmitry Buhman

Every entrepreneur knows that in order to be successful, you need to do something, that no one around you is doing: like hiring the best or trusting your subordinates, but not being hard-headed managers with a ridiculous need for materialistic power — it’s pretty mundane.

People have this unique ability to exceed your highest expectations and be completely responsible, if you let them.
— Remote

Too often do we see bosses, who, nostrils flared, try to convince us that remote work is a dead-end, that their project (which is just so different from everybody else’s) is fundamentally incompatible and how they simply can’t hire a remote worker, when they could spend another three months searching for a candidate on their street. We could give you a long lecture on the simple tools and advantages of such a step, but instead we could just ask a completely boring question:

Today, in the 21st century, is two workers writing code in two different cities so much more inconceivable than the same two workers doing the same on different floors?

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