The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a remote work revolution practically overnight. As companies adapted to lockdowns and social distancing policies, fully distributed teams became the post-covid norm. But successfully managing a productive team across time zones and cultural divides requires forethought and care from leaders.
In this extensive interview, Matt, CEO of the crypto startup Summit, shares hard-won lessons from guiding his company’s growth from 4 to over 40 employees spread globally. Read on for a masterclass in building a cohesive remote team while avoiding common pitfalls.
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What is Summit?
Summit is a crypto investment company founded by Mathieu Vincent, a professional trader with years of experience in the finance industry. The Ireland-based company aims to make crypto investing accessible to more people by building a transparent ecosystem and community.
Summit offers various crypto-related services including mining, asset management, research, and education. The company highlights values like transparency, expertise, community, fairness, and security.
With a team of over 20 crypto enthusiasts and professionals, Summit manages mining operations and helps clients invest in blockchain technologies. Members can partner with Summit's mining pools or access high-potential crypto investments and educational resources.
Frustration Leads to a New Philosophy
After Summit's initial Initial Coin Offering (ICO) to its investors finished, they had the funding to allow them to scale their team. Matt began by delegating recruiting to an incoming COO with a strong operations background, but soon saw that their approaches to hiring diverged significantly. “He had a completely different vision from me on how to recruit and who to recruit and why to recruit,” Matt explains.
The new COO focused intensely on instituting robust processes and documentation. But in a still early-stage startup, Matt felt this premature structure and role specification stifled agility and organic product-market fit discovery.
Hiring managers were instructed to “create a guy to do this, a guy to do that, a guy to do that, that, that, that...” without synchronising talent influx to core business objectives. So ultimately, Matt reflects, “in the whole team that we recruited, there were some people that were fitting perfectly and others that we didn’t necessarily need in the company.”
These impacts ricocheted through Summit culture. Teams with mismatched or disengaged members lacked cohesion and productivity. As Matt puts it, “we had a team that was not necessarily very productive, they were busy with some stuff but at the end of the week or the month...there was nothing done.”
Eventually, tensions mounted until Matt had to part ways with the over-engineering COO. This marked a turning point toward renewed focus on purpose-driven growth. “Now we are considering again who we need to keep and not in the company,” Matt says. “We cleaned a little bit of the teams to have the team we have now.”
Stressing Communication and Connection
Reflecting on lessons learned, Matt singles out communication as especially vital when working remotely. Yet too often, leaders pay it lip service without truly prioritising meaningful connection.
“You need to be clear, and that’s the trick, on what you call communication and what you do to make the communication important and solve issues and not just say, tell everyone, ‘OK guys, communication is important,’” Matt notes.
For Summit distributed teams, Matt facilitates casual bonding through a social channel for humor and camaraderie. For him, one of the key elements he put in place was one-on-one talks to ensure he connects with his whole team. “I do have, me as a CEO, one-to-ones with my team ...every morning for half an hour, to ensure I meet the whole team”
This allows Matt to gauge work satisfaction and productivity while also showing genuine care for employees’ overall wellbeing. He explains, “A person is not going to come to you, especially remotely, oh look, I feel a bit bad because this, this, this...No, it’s only when you talk to people 1-2-1 that you get this kind of psychological safety.”
Guarding Against Hidden Costs
Hiring remote workers often promises financial savings through tapping international talent or cheaper cost of living areas. However, Matt argues short-term savings can disguise “hidden costs” which lose money over time.
“In general, they are good for low execution jobs, which means you don't need to think much, you do that over and over,” Matt says about more affordable overseas hires. But for strategic roles requiring complex analysis or creativity, bargain talent may lack necessary skills.
Matt recalls one disaster designer who came highly-touted from an elite French brand but utterly floundered in creating Summit desired aesthetic.
He continues, “If you want a high quality job, in general, you need to pay the price. It's very rare to have a discount on quality.” Matt opts to thoroughly vet candidates rather than assume remote workers in lower income regions automatically deliver premium work at a steep discount.
Making courageous calls
Instilling robust communication channels helps surface issues early. But leaders must still make difficult decisions addressing revealed personnel problems. Matt embraces quick but compassionate action here.
If someone repeatedly misses objectives after attempts to clarify expectations, “Decision can be about firing people,” Matt says. “It is for me a hidden cost” to retain subpar performers as though hoping the situation improves on its own.
This decisive yet humane approach extends beyond skill deficiencies too. Matt once had to part ways with a talented employee whose severe health issues completely disrupted reliability and presence. However, he did so respectfully after giving chances to correct course.
Setbacks into New Methods
Through Summit growth tremors, Matt transformed perspectives on optimal remote team building. He now wholly embraces simplified objectives and key results (OKRs) to sync workers to overarching goals. “At least that’s my definition, that’s my vision of things. And since we have this new approach, I think it helps keep everyone united,” Matt explains.
Matt also looks at hiring and performance management through a lens of risk management from his finance background. Much like containing trading losses, he cuts losses fast with misaligned workers while monitoring for red flags.
Additionally, Matt scaled back premature bureaucracy that burdens early-stage startups. He focuses on pursuing product-market traction first before complicating operations. “When you are quite small, what matters is to make more money, not like to have a perfectly organised whatever software and team for this or that.”
The Revamped Summit Method
Matt generously details hard lessons so fellow leaders can refine their remote management playbooks. Above all, he believes through the Summit method that:
- Ongoing one-on-one conversations foster a healthy culture and surface problems early
- Hiring the cheapest remote workers risks low quality and hidden costs
- Regularly realigning workers to objectives through OKR’s boosts productivity
- Making courageous decisions quickly contains morale and momentum damage
- The remote genie won’t return to the bottle anytime soon. But thoughtful adaptation of management philosophies to distributed teams can net out performance results.
“Since we have this new approach,” Matt concludes, “I think it helps keep everyone united around shared objectives and moving Summit.io forward with crisp alignment.”
Have you got a globally distributed team? Planning to onboard international teams? Teamed can take care of all your global employment needs from payroll to compliance to benefits. Get in touch with one of our sale teams.