Discover more from Startup Pirate by Alex Alexakis
Leading Remote Teams
Remote work from the manager’s seat, Athens as a remote work destination, investments & exits in 2021, jobs, hiring your first PM, 2021 in 69 crypto charts, and more
👋 Happy Friday! Hunting Greek Unicorns is back after a mini-break with newsletter #45. I’m Alex, a product guy turned VC, and every two weeks I send out a newsletter with everything you need to know about the Greek startup industry.
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How to effectively lead remote teams with Zaharenia Atzitzikaki, Design leader and management consultant
In the past couple of years, remote work has clearly experienced a renaissance due to the pandemic. The number of companies operating either hybrid-remote or full-remote is massively accelerating, and there seems to be no turning back. Teams have realized that physically being at the office full-time isn’t necessary to produce great results. Nevertheless, this transition hasn’t come without its challenges. Remote teams operate in a different way and it takes a different set of leadership skills and strategies. It's a discrete skillset that leaders, who transitioned from in-office, have to build.
I’m really excited to have Zaharenia Atzitzikaki on Hunting Greek Unicorns to discuss remote work from the manager’s seat. Zaharenia has been a remote worker and manager for over 11 years. We met at Workable back in 2015, where she used to lead the design team (remotely). She’s currently supporting teams to navigate the challenges of remote work and managers to effectively lead remote teams.
Let’s get to it!
Successful remote teams… how do they look like and what are some key practices they follow?
A successful remote team should be aligned and productive. Resilience and flexibility are essential, especially after the turmoil of the last few years. I would also argue that a successful remote team respects people's distinct priorities. Its members work towards a common purpose, having a powerful sense of belonging and connection. They also come from various backgrounds and use their diverse lived experiences to boost creativity and innovation.
To achieve this, it's crucial that management supports employees and helps them grow. Remote managers should first acknowledge the difference between remote work and working remotely due to a pandemic. They have to embrace that people might be burned out and not reach their fullest potential right now.
COVID or not, asynchronous communication is critical for distributed teams. Remote work requires flexibility, so managers should revisit performance management to make it results-based. We shouldn't be counting the number of hours someone spends in front of their screen. Any processes should be simplified and streamlined as much as possible to foster adaptability.
Another key practice of successful remote teams is intentional communication. These teams always suffer from limited social connection, impacting employee morale and engagement. A remote manager should make the extra effort to bring their team together and maintain alignment.
Communication plays a critical role in building great teams. How do you effectively communicate as a remote leader and how can you establish successful communication methods?
Let's talk about the elephant in the room: remote teams are at a disadvantage. They pay a hefty communication and culture tax in exchange for ease and flexibility. As their manager, your job is to reduce this tax as much as possible.
Most newly remote managers make the mistake of trying to recreate the office environment with always-on video calls, impromptu meetings and constant synchronous progress checks. When your team consists predominantly of people on a maker schedule, this shatters their workday into a million tiny pieces. Switch to write-first instead of speak-first and invest heavily in documentation, which is asynchronous by nature.
Asynchronous communication often makes managers uneasy, as it tends to prolong discussions. There's also the issue of trust - are they even working if they don't reply to my messages right away? However, requiring people to be checking their chat app at all times is a sure way to prevent them from doing any deep work.
Speaking of chat apps, don't let your team communication channels blend into each other. I often say that every work-related Slack channel is one meme away from becoming the #fun channel. Work with your team to set ground rules and map communication channels to specific needs. For example, you could keep all your code-related conversations to Github instead of posting them on Jira or asking questions to the Slack nether.
Trust is a hot topic too. How do you build trust in a remote team?
Trust is bidirectional. Employees should trust their manager to lead them with intention and empathy, and managers should trust their team to do their work.
Managers should double down on communication to help their team avoid "remote paranoia", where you double-check every word because you lack the visual cues to understand the rationale behind it. People will feel left out, so you have to create opportunities to meet each other outside the strict work bubble.
Visibility is critical, and I'm not only talking about it from a "who does what" standpoint. Systematically and consistently sharing information is key. What is our mission? Why are we making these decisions? How does our work connect to the great picture? These are all questions that managers will have to answer again and again to keep their teams aligned.
Finally, and that might be the UX person in me talking, I'd suggest prioritising empathy. Nothing boosts trust in remote teams as much as a manager that shows they care about you. Be there for your people.
What are the different approaches to model compensation?
Most companies follow one of two remote compensation methods: they either adapt salaries to employee location or pay according to where the company's headquarters are.
Paying a remote employee according to their location makes sense on first thought. Why spend more money on an employee with living costs significantly lower than others? However, keep in mind that the war for tech talent is at an all-time high right now. Most employees will consider it deeply unfair to be paid a lower wage for doing the same work as their peers living in a costlier place. That can cause resentment in the team and significantly affect employee engagement and retention.
On the other hand, paying salaries based on company locale can make it challenging for companies outside the boundaries of the traditional tech bubble to attract the best talent. It is also problematic in cases where companies don't even have a physical presence like an office - it feels arbitrary to pay people according to pay ranges of a place where you've never even been.
If you feel you can't answer the compensation problem simply, it's because there isn't a straightforward answer. Even FAANG companies can't solve this without causing an uproar. I think that as remote-first companies increase in number, we'll see new ways of approaching compensation, free from previous restraints.
Unless you've negotiated a different compensation package, I wouldn't advise paying your remote employees less than what you spend on your co-located ones. That is the best way to shatter their trust in you irreversibly. Try to find ways to adapt compensation to your employees' lifestyle (e.g. remote-specific benefits, commute stipends).
Great employee onboarding can significantly improve employee retention. How can we make sure that we onboard remote team members properly?
Onboarding a new team member to your distributed team should be a fully orchestrated and documented process.
Imagine your first day at your last office job, when you sat awkwardly at your desk trying not to look as lost as you felt. Now replace the office surroundings with your room walls and imagine staring at your screen, having zero idea what to do, refreshing your email every few seconds to see if there's a Teams invitation to get started. Not a good first day at work.
Some ideas for onboarding remotely:
Don't improvise. It's crucial to have a detailed plan for your new hire's first day, week and month, complete with a calendar of meetings that they should attend and projects they can take up.
Use a buddy system. Make sure they have a person to turn to when they have questions or stumble into problems. As their manager, it's best not to assign that role to yourself because new hires might be hesitant to ask their manager for help.
Consider onboarding partially in person. If possible, try to schedule all your new hires' first week to be in the same space, to form better connections.
Take advantage of pre-onboarding. Don't ignore people until their first day. Keep in touch by sharing news about the team and the company and expressing your eagerness to work together. A little goes a long way here.
You have been a remote worker and manager for more than a decade. Are there any productivity hacks you have found particularly useful?
The only productivity "hack" that always works for me is the Pomodoro technique, which helps structure my workday and keeps me motivated. Even after all those years (11 and counting) of working from home, I still get low energy days when I'm particularly prone to distractions. Working in 25-minute segments and then taking 5-minute breaks helps me maintain a rhythm during my workday. You can do anything for 25 minutes, so why procrastinate?
A common mistake by most newly minted remote workers is putting in longer hours than when you worked in an office. If you had a commute, you know how necessary it was to use it to shut down for the day and keep work behind. Use your "commute" time to create rituals that help you decompress and stop thinking about work. Avoid eating at your desk, in front of your screen. You can use that time to take a walk or have lunch with a friend.
The most challenging part of working in a fully distributed team is the lack of social connection. It helps to create a network of peers that you can confer with whenever you need some good old fashioned face-to-face contact. Taking the time to know more about your fellow team members and forging strong ties with them will also help with morale and boost teamwork.
There's an abundance of newfangled software that can help you thrive when working remotely. I've used and loved Loom for exchanging feedback asynchronously. Miro is essential for creative teams - I've used it for everything from brainstorming sessions to hosting online workshops. Milanote is also interesting for visual communication, especially if your team uses mood boards. Slack is my chat drug of choice, and Geekbot is one of my favourite Slack-based tools for running asynchronous standups. If you design collaboratively, you can't beat the ease of Figma. Lately, there's buzz around Butter, a tool that supercharges meetings, but I haven't tried it yet.
Looking for your next opportunity? Check out job postings from Greek startups in Greece, abroad, and remotely. Company information is also available.
Greek startups turning strategic investors! Blueground led a $14m investment in the Brazilian proptech startup Tabas with a focus on the LatAm market.
1 click to checkout software for eCommerce, Simpler. announced a €1m funding round led by VentureFriends.
Ferto raised a funding round to deliver products from local retailers right to your doorstep in 20 minutes, led by Plug and Play Ventures (investors in Dropbox, Rappi, N26).
Sperax raised $6m led by Amber Group and Alameda Research to build the first US-dollar pegged stablecoin on an Ethereum Layer 2 solution.
Venue One closed a $3.4m financing round to revolutionise decentralized prediction markets on Algorand.
Cultos raised $3.4m in funding to help brands reward customers for social media engagement with community tokens and exclusive NFTs.
Soraya Darabi and Marina Hadjipateras raised a $64m fund to invest in technical and sustainable solutions, the care economy and the future of work.
Obrela Security Industries acquired the cybersecurity company Encode.
Based on NomadList data, Athens had a 2x increase in remote workers in 2021, while 2022 looks very promising too. In fact, it’s #3 in the list of destinations that are growing fast in the last 5 years with a large number of remote workers there now.
A list of 14 startups that entered the accelerator program of OK!Thess.
Startup competition Envolve Award Greece is accepting applications until the 8th of March.
The full report of 2021 investments and exits for Greek-founded startups from Chris Gasteratos, Associate at Marathon Venture Capital. Another record year on many fronts, setting the tone for what comes next!
A thread that went viral on Twitter with the 69 most interesting charts in crypto for 2021 by Elias Simos, Protocol Specialist at Coinbase.
How the Greek startup ecosystem can evolve by Andreas Stavropoulos, Partner at Threshold Ventures, touching upon the culture of equity economy, tax and legal framework and connections with the Greek diaspora, here.
Hiring the first product manager for your startup by Babis Makrynikolas, VP Product & Pricing at Blueground, here.
Lessons learned from the first year building a micromobility startup in Greece from Adam Markakis, CEO & founder of Kineo, here.
eCommerce in Greece is growing with the latest estimation showing a turnover of €14b in 2021, compared to €11.5b in 2020 and €9b in 2019.
A beginner's guide to getting started with journaling by Tanya Sharma and Dafni Chontou, founders of Wonderpath.
The different types of technical interviews, outlining their strengths and weaknesses by George Psarakis, Software Engineer at Panther Labs, here.
An interview with Nikos Fountas, Director of Operations at Hack The Box, on all things recruitment in the cybersecurity industry.
What's the utility of an NFT collection that people use as their online profile picture by Panayotis Vryonis, here.
Maria Chatzou Dunford, founder & CEO of Lifebit, on democratizing the analysis of medical data for the diagnosis of diseases and development of drugs, raising Series B by Tiger Global, building a team in Greece and more, here.
A very insightful podcast with Chris Douvos, founder of Ahoy Capital, on the current venture landscape.
George Hadjigeorgiou, co-founder & CEO of Skroutz, travelled back in time to talk about the initial vision for the platform and pitch to Guy and Lakis, here.
Mikri Kouventa episode with Antonis Kalipetis and Paris Kasidiaris discussing how to fill the skills gap in the tech industry.
A vlog by Jon Vlachogiannis on what is a DAO and how it all started.
“Innovation in Greece and institutions supporting it” by NBG Business Seeds on Jan 22
“Influence, Communication and Managing Teams and Stakeholders as a PM” by Product 360 on Jan 25
“59th Athens Agile Meetup” by Agile Greece on Jan 25
“Digital Marketing Analytics and Attribution” by BI & Analytics Athens on Jan 27
“Lambda functions in C++” by Athens C++ Meetup on Jan 29
“UX Greece welcomes Kara Pernice” by UX Greece on Feb 2
“The Modern Testing Principles” by Ministry of Testing Athens on Feb 3
Hot European Deals
Starting from today, I'm adding a new section to bring you a shortlist of Europe’s latest hot deals. Focus this week is on web3.
Coinhouse | French crypto platform that raised a $17m Series B round
Ready Player Me | Tallinn-based cross-game avatar platform for the metaverse raised a $13m Series A round
Interlay | Austria-based team enabling users to invest, earn and pay with bitcoin on any blockchain that raised $6.5m
Allbridge | Ukrainian startup building a bridge for cross-chain transfers of digital assets announced a $2m funding
anotherblock | Swedish provider of a blockchain-based music rights marketplace raised $1.2m in a pre-seed round
NFTScoring | NFT intelligence platform from Prague got funded by Y Combinator
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Thanks for reading and see you in two weeks,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋