7 Examples of Virtual Teams Who Broke The Mold and Made It Big

Having a virtual team is not about working in your pajamas, it’s about flexibility to innovate more with less constraints on location. Here are a ton of tips and tools from virtual teams that have made it work.

They go by many names: virtual, remote, distributed, even global. They’re the new reality of today’s workforce in the digital world. These companies build remote teams, from the CEO down to the newest hire. Feeling skeptical about their output? Well, surprise—it’s working like a charm. And no, people who work from home don’t all work in their pajamas all day, so no need to 

Successful examples of virtual teams are popping up all over the place, from small startups to brand name companies. A recent report by Aon Consulting shows that organizations using remote teams see an increase of productivity anywhere from 10 to 43 percent. Plus, they note that employee retention rises with these working conditions.

7 examples of virtual teams who continue to pioneer the modern workforce revolution

The growth of the telecommuting workforce is difficult to ignore. Virtual business culture is becoming a cemented reality of everyday life. Here are a few statistics from Global Workplace Analytics for 2016:

  • Regular work-at-home positions have grown 103 percent since 2005.
  • 3.7 million Americans now work from home at least half of the time.
  • The employee population, as a whole, grew 1.9 percent from 2013 to 2014, while the telecommuter population grew by 5.6 percent.

In other words, change is happening. You can see examples of virtual teams breaking the traditional molds everywhere. None more so than these players below.

1. Basecamp

Although this list isn’t meant to be hierarchical, there’s a reason Basecamp sits at the number one spot. Started in 1999 (way before remote teams were popular), this company started with four people. Now it has fifty employees located across the world.

Their website says it all: “Our headquarters is in Chicago, but everyone at Basecamp is free to live and work wherever they want. Many of us love working remotely – we literally wrote the book on remote working!”

It’s true—Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Hansson published Remote, a comprehensive guide to running a remote company, in 2013.

According to a recent blog post by Jason Fried, Basecamp’s employees are encouraged to work from anywhere in the world. Due to their mostly remote workforce, Basecamp offers unique benefits to their employees. For instance, if you want to purchase a standing desk for your home office, the company will cover the cost, which is a great bonus incentive for recruiting employees.

Are you looking to diversify your team out of the office? Subscribe to Sophaya’s Virtual Leader membership. You’ll receive immediate access to a series of courses that train you to be a more effective remote team manager. You’ll also get access to a monthly virtual coaching sessions, access to our virtual leadership webinars, the Remote Nation Community Forum and our newsletter. Sound good? Let’s get started.

2. Buffer

Buffer is quickly gaining market share in the social media world. This company’s purpose is to help you schedule your Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn updates and more during the most optimal times of the day. Only six years in, Buffer now has a core team of 25 employees spread out across the globe.—Hong Kong to London to Cape Town to NYC.

They’re proud to say that they’ve been a “distributed team” since 2012. Founder Joel Gascoigne has since said, “I am in love with the choice we made.” He even wrote a blog post to describe the top benefits of having an entirely virtual team.

Here are his top six benefits summarized:

  • The team is more productive. Joel knows that working from home takes self-motivation, so they incorporate a 45-day trial period to monitor new hires.
  • Everyone is happy with their freedom. Buffer makes it a point to encourage their teams to take adventures, spend more time with family, and share travel photos.
  • They’re on the curve of the future. His teams use online chat, virtual conference rooms, and instant messaging every day to keep productive.
  • Buffer is a diverse group of people. They get to hire individuals from different backgrounds and cultures and learn new things from each other.
  • The team gets together for retreats three times a year. The team considers traveling part of their culture, meeting up in a single location in spots across the globe.
  • Timezones have turned into assets. Because their team is spread out in different areas in the world, Buffer never stops working.

3. Zapier

Started in 2011, Zapier grew from a part-time side project of three college buddies to a hip, small company of 20 full-time employees. They filled a useful and smart niche—getting all your apps to work together. As you may have guessed, everyone works remotely. Like Buffer, Zapier prefers the term “distributed” team because no one works “remote” or alone—they’re in contact all the time.

Zapier is an influencer for the virtual workforce movement. So much that they put together a free, comprehensive guide to creating and sustaining a completely remote company. This 14-chapter guide combines all of their knowledge for running a distributed team.

Being a company that loves technology and works to connect apps for clients, Zapier likes to share what types digital tools they use to keep their team productive.

  • Slack is Zapier’s virtual office. They use this digital chat room to keep in contact, update workflows, and maintain a sense of camaraderie.
  • Async is a tool the built themselves to keep track of important conversations that may get lost in Slack or other apps.
  • Trello serves as their to-do list, business roadmap, and to keep track of their editorial calendar for their blog.
  • GitHub is the tool they use to house all their code-related project management.
  • LastPass Enterprise makes life easy for a company that uses (literally) hundreds of digital tools. With this software in place, you can login automatically without a sweat.

That’s only the beginning, folks. Zapier is one of those examples of virtual teams that raises the bar for the rest of their kind.

4. Batchbook

Batchbook was built to help small businesses streamline sales processes and connect with customers. Based in Providence, R.I. and maintaining a workforce across the U.S. (and outside the country) this CRM company uses virtual and on-location teams. Their mixed workforce seeks to harness the best of both worlds and has gained attention, too. Zapier wrote about Batchbook’s co-located workforce, and how it builds a supportive company culture.

As it turns out, Batchbook started as a fully remote company and decided to integrate a home office after a few years. In an interview with Remote.Co, Christelle Lachapelle explains that building strong employee relationships is difficult with 100 percent remote teams. “It can be difficult to connect with co-workers on a personal level,” she says. “Those personal interactions…are lost when people work virtually.”

Now they’ve worked out a 50-50 solution: “We have weekly full-staff meetings where local employees will come into the office and then remote folks are on Skype. At least once a week the whole staff gets to check in and hear about what’s new. We also try to get the whole staff together in person at least once per year.”

5. Automattic

You know Automattic by their flagship website-development company, WordPress. A giant in the web-based industry, Automattic is the epitome of a “distributed” workforce, with over 100 employees in 43 different countries. In a recent interview, CEO and Founder Matt Mullenweg said, “[WordPress] currently powers 24 percent of all websites in the world.” Mind you; WordPress is only one of Automattic’s flagship platforms. This merry band of developers also runs WooCommerce, JetPack, Simple Note, and many others.

Mullenweg believes email is largely on its way out. Instead of sending emails, they developed a free WordPress plugin called P2. It’s the “center of gravity” for employees to communicate each other in real-time throughout the day.

A completely distributed team handles everything. How do they make it work? Here are some other tricks Automattic uses to keep their company culture and productivity growing:

  • Employees receive the “latest and greatest Apple products” to work from home.
  • New employees receive a $2,000 stipend to improve their home offices.
  • The money saved in real estate is put towards a travel budget for individual teams.
  • Once a year, Automattic has a seven-day “Grand Meet Up” to bring everyone together.
  • They have an open “time off” policy, where employees take whatever time they need.

6. Trello

Are you wondering how these examples of virtual teams organize their day-to-day business goals? Insert Trello, a free software used as a digital conference room. It organizes all of your current projects with visual “cards” your team can see, interact with, and update. You can upload documents, create checklists, make due-dates, use pictures, write comments—the whole package.

Trello runs a 50-50 operation with remote and on-site employees. Their marketing department is a 100 percent virtual team. Stella Garber, Marketing Manager at Trello, has quite a few things to say about running a successful distributed team. She breaks down her top four points like this:

  • Running video meetings is essential for teamwork and connectivity. “Our team meets three times a week,” she says. “This time together keeps us connected as a team and fosters the kind of relationships that more naturally develop in an office setting.”
  • Her team uses Trello to stay up-to-date on progress and current projects. “As a manager, it’s important to keep the flow of information about what’s happening individually, on a team, and in the company transparent and available for everyone to see. We do this on Trello with many different boards.”
  • Digital communication tools serve different purposes for the team. They use Slack for day-to-day conversation, Trello to track projects, Google Docs to store in-depth information, Appear.in for video calls, and Sunrise Calendar for scheduling.
  • Managers have to stay in-touch with individual team member workflows. Garber understands that managing a remote team requires individual attention, but also more work to motivate everyone towards a common goal. She solves this by “being very chatty on Slack” and constantly discussing strategies for success with her team.

7. UpWorthy

UpWorthy started with the idea that important stories should be noticed, read, and shared. Co-founders Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley started this company in 2012. It’s since become one of the fastest growing media companies in the world. Their remote core team and writers have logged 1.5 billion minutes of attention online, covering as vast range of topics.

“At Upworthy, we believe the key to motivating folks to thrive at work is a clear, meaningful mission, the freedom to do work whenever and however they see fit, and (offering) a sense of camaraderie with great colleagues,” says Co-founder Peter Koechley.

How do remote teams like UpWorthy keep motivated? Koechley dubs his team as “Upworthians” who are empowered to make the world a better place to work and live. He breaks down his methods for creating a maintaining a motivated remote workforce into seven core points:

  • Give your team a mission they care about.
  • Hire people with entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic.
  • Embrace the freedom of working from anywhere, anytime.
  • Remind your team about the value of their work.
  • Find ways to build strong relationships between employees.
  • Encourage your team members to take a vacation.
  • Build a sense of camaraderie and meet up for a company retreat.

There are examples of virtual teams popping up every day—will you join the movement?

These companies above are burning a new trail. As time goes on, it’s likely that examples of virtual teams will be too many to count. The question is how traditional companies and their employees will adapt to the emerging remote culture. Luckily, there are experts in the field to help companies make the transition in strategic, profit-friendly ways.

What’s your opinion? Do you know of more successful remote-based companies? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo by Pablo Lancaster Jones

Are you looking to diversify your team out of the office? Subscribe to Sophaya’s Virtual Leader membership. You’ll receive immediate access to a series of courses that train you to be a more effective remote team manager. You’ll also get access to a monthly virtual coaching sessions, access to our virtual leadership webinars, the Remote Nation Community Forum and our newsletter. Sound good? Let’s get started.