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Andela's Jeremy Johnson on the value of distributed teams

Patrick Campbell Sep 14 2021

Bowling and I don’t have a good relationship. I’m terrible and while you may not care, bowling’s a bit of a thing where I grew up in the midwest. And no this isn’t an invitation to console me and tell me, “Aww I’m sure you’re not that bad.” Trust me, I’m being very vulnerable here and letting you in on the secret that whether it’s ten-pin or candlestick, I struggle immensely to knock the pins down.

That is—unless I’m using bumpers. I get it, technically bumper bowling is reserved for kids’ birthday parties, so Billy and Jane go home without bruised egos. But I think we can all pretend it’s our 10th birthday again from time to time. 

In the world of operating a recurring revenue business, there aren’t too many bumper equivalents, so when you find one, you need to take advantage. A good bumper buddy is Jeremy Johnson, the Co-Founder and CEO of Andela. Distributed teams are his specialty and as we’ve all come to learn, an inevitable reality that can actually be a powerful bumper for your business. It can be a challenging bumper to start though, but as he mentions in our talk, just getting pointed in the right direction can help mitigate the pitfalls to fuel your business success. His insight on all this, and more.


Listen now 🎧








Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.


Key term

What are distributed teams?

Distributed teams are teams that consist of team members working in multiple locations. They typically include remote workers located in different cities, states, or even countries.

Why are they important?

Distributed teams have many advantages, including being able to tap into a bigger pool of top-level talent. A pool that your organization may otherwise not have access to, if you limit  your search to just your surrounding area. Additionally, distributed teams bring diversity to your workforce, which also benefits your business in multiple aspects—from talent to ideas, expertise, and growth.


Action plan:

What to do today: 
  • Follow Jeremy Johnson.
  • Schedule a time to meet with your People Operations team, leadership, and hiring managers,  to discuss and evaluate your current talent acquisition and management processes.

What to do next quarter:

Before you begin to work on a strategy to implement a distributed team model, you need to ensure that your in-person team is well managed. Because if it’s not, you won’t be able to manage a distributed team any better. And though there are many that are still skeptical about distributed teams, they have multiple benefits of which include faster growth—but it all comes down to management. “Great management is often misunderstood, but a dependence on physical presence is one of the most consistent fallacies,” says Jeremy. 

With remote work on the rise, we want to help you improve those management skills, specifically for distributed and/or remote teams, whether you're new to them or not. So, we snagged these seven tips/habits directly from the pros themselves—Andela.

  1. Take the time to onboard. A shift to or implementation of a distributed team will require collaboration tools to be used differently and strategically. But first, make sure that team members have the tools that they need in the form of instant messaging and video conference accounts, an appropriate workspace, and high-quality audio equipment for communication. 

  2. Set communication expectations. Collaboration tools may be used sparingly in an office and instructions for how to use them aren’t necessary. When everyone is remote, these tools become the online equivalent of things like talking across a desk or over a cube wall or jumping into a conference room for a few minutes. Establish best practices for keeping the team on the same page by using the right tool for the right task at the right time.

  3. Check-in with your team members 2-3 times each day. This might sound like overkill, but it is important because silence can be difficult to interpret. You might think you are empowering your employees by leaving them alone, and they may believe that you don’t care. Always ask if they have everything they need or if they need additional support.

  4. Assume positive intent. This gets easier with frequent one-on-one meetings. Like silence, written communication can also be challenging to interpret, and it is easy to assume someone is being critical or resistant to something if you’re not frequently in touch. Assume otherwise, and you will be right most of the time. If you really aren’t sure, schedule a quick video call to diffuse any tension. 

  5. Give positive feedback about how team members are doing under the circumstances. Frequent praise and positive feedback about work deliverables energizes everyone and fosters a culture of high-performance.

  6. Have daily stand-ups with the team in the morning or afternoon or both. Stand-ups can be the life-blood of engineering teams. It can be easy for team members to be quiet during in-office stand-ups when they sit next to each other and know that they can touch base later. Make sure everyone speaks.

  7. Share documentation with your team and encourage collaboration–ask them to review your notes and tell you if you missed anything. It is also a good idea to make extra thorough notes on Jira or Trello cards or other project management tools as projects move through a sprint. If you’re not familiar with these tools, we go over them in more detail in the webinar. 

You can read the complete post here, or watch their webinar to learn how to put these tips into action.


What to do within the next year:

Implement the above actions into the daily management of your distributed teams. Actively practice these recommendations and evaluate their efficacy on an ongoing basis. And modify these practices to adequately meet the unique needs of your organization.


Who should own this? 

Team leadership and/or management.


Who's up next week?

Next week, we discuss repeatable scaling success with Drift’s David Cancel.

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By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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