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Building a Remote B-to-C Support Team

Thomas Stocking

Chief Information Security Officer at BlueWhale Research

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Problem

"When taking on building this remote support team, I started with minimal resources and expectations; and that was good, because I didn't know the product and couldn't train new hires. At first, I tried hiring experienced managers whom I thought would do that for me, but this didn't work at all."

Actions taken

"Managers are good at managing teams, and the more experience they have doing that, the less time they assign to learning product functions. This product was subtle and required deep specific domain knowledge to support - the manager I hired simply couldn't get the detail. After 3 months, I let them go, and used the budget to hire two entry-level technical resources. By that time, I had learned enough about the product to get these two started, and in the process of training them, I was able to complete my effective training and become a 'working manager'."

"The biggest challenge was that they were remote - i.e. in other states. As the team grew, I hired more people in time zones across the country to spread the support shifts out and get better coverage. This worked, but made the communications more difficult. I needed a way to address the teamwork aspect."

"I started having quarterly meetings of the whole team, at first just 4 people, then 5 and 6, and finally 7. We established a routine where we would travel to a city (I had the team propose where), and get a space for a two days. There we would work together around a table, helping each other and sharing learned tips, reviewing each other's work. I combined this with a company briefing where I shared the latest news from the headquarters, strategic outlook, and plans. Finally, we would do something fun together as a team-building exercise. That turned out to be the hardest thing to get right, as some people didn't like to be outside, didn't like travel, crowds, walking, beer, etc. While a challenge, this also led to greater understanding of the people involved, and ended up building trust as intended."

"It also exposed the troublemakers. I had to make more tough calls, and let low performers go. If it was unclear that someone was doing low-quality work while remote, bringing the team together for the intensive collaborative sessions made it obvious."

"As the team grew beyond 7, this approach became impractical, and we moved most of the team to one office. The remaining remote people still joined the main team once a quarter, until we grew internationally and travel became too problematic."

Lessons learned

  • "Be careful who you hire"
  • "Remote teams can work (if you do it right)"
  • "Learn your product until you can do the job yourself, because sometimes you will have to."

Be notified about next articles from Thomas Stocking

Thomas Stocking

Chief Information Security Officer at BlueWhale Research


Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyCulture DevelopmentPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesTeam & Project Management

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