What Is a Distributed Team and Why Is It Challenging in the Crypto Space?
There's pride in the counterculture movement created by the new and innovative projects and businesses cropping up in the cryptosphere. Blockchain is a revolution, but it's not only evolving cyberspace, it's changing how and where we work too.
There’s pride in the counterculture movement created by the new and innovative projects and businesses cropping up in the cryptosphere. Blockchain is a revolution, but it’s not only evolving cyberspace, it’s changing how and where we work too. Just as blockchain is decentralizing the internet, it’s also providing a model for decentralizing our office spaces.
Crypto is a fast-paced, rapidly growing market, so a traditional office setting is probably not the ideal environment for teams working within this space. So, what is a distributed team? TLDR partner Graham Friedman sums it up in a nutshell:
“It’s a business place where the office is the internet. A distributed team is an organization spread across the globe. Fundamentally, it means that no two people are geographically close enough to have an office.”
Unlike remote working, where only a portion of workers aren’t office-based, a distributed team is completely decentralized. There’s usually no main office space and the team are a global network, spread around the world. TLDR use the distributed team model, spanning the globe, yet all working towards a common goal. Here, TLDR partners Eugene Kan, Graham Friedman, and Alex Yamashita share their insight on the strengths of decentralized working, as well as some of the more common pitfalls and how it all fits into the crypto space.
TLDR: The Global Team
The evolution of TLDR into a decentralized team was a really organic process. It started out as a group of four international friends with a shared vision. Graham Friedman explains:
“I met Jon Knipper through NYU and then he met the other two co-founders Tom and Alex and they became friends in Hong Kong. This is a friendship built and maintained in the modern era — online. Through shared conversations, the four of us identified a common interest and goal. So, through Telegram, we started building the base layers of our project and from there it grew into a business.”
As the team was already spread geographically, it made sense to remain that way rather than relocate. So, the choice to decentralize became intentional. Eugene explains the thought process behind this:
“The very nature of crypto at its current stages requires a lot of so-called ‘ground game’. The team itself is split across North America, Europe, and Asia, and this allows TLDR to be in a lot of places at once. Also, a lot of the team has existing roots somewhere. It would be challenging for everybody to uproot and start in a new city while needing to manage expectations.”
At TLDR the focus has always been building the best team, and by removing geographical restrictions, you open a wide recruitment pool allowing access to high-quality team members. Alex expands on this:
“We did look into a centralized office space, but ultimately longer term we realized, we’d built up this infrastructure and this organization to optimize and maximize having a distributed team so it only made sense to double down on that. It comes down to, would you rather spend money on an expensive office or would you rather spend money on people? And for us, the choice was clear — the latter.”
The International Vagabonds of Crypto
There’s a reason that the cryptosphere is seeing a rise in the number of distributed teams in the industry — it’s a great fit. To keep up with the pace of the industry, crypto entrepreneurs need to live an almost nomadic lifestyle, moving from hotspot to hotspot. Graham likens it to touring with a band:
“I think everyone in crypto is almost homeless to some degree. I think it’s very common to the crypto space; to live from a backpack. A lot of people have spent time trying to figure out where to live, or even if they want to settle permanently somewhere. Many teams just live in hotels and travel together — they’re like a band. I’d say it’s pretty common to see this kind of international vagabond.”
A distributed team as a global network means the reach it can offer is a clear benefit. Alex explains how it can benefit the crypto space:
“I think projects in the crypto space like working with a decentralized team. Especially when it comes to projects going through a tokenization process, who need to be in a lot of different locales to meet people constantly. They like that it means that there is likely somebody based in one of the geographical regions that they’re going to. There’s a touchpoint there, and ultimately meeting somebody personally makes a difference because it’s relatively rare. We’re used to communicating digitally, so getting to communicate in person means a lot
It’s true, even in the digital era, a face-to-face meeting allows for more profound business and personal connections to be made, far more so than a phone call or a thread of instant messages.
In a recent poll, nearly 100% of people say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships, so it’s still vitally important to reach out and make those in-person connections _—_even in an age where we can rely on technology to keep us in touch.
Strength vs Weakness
The key strength of a distributed team is coverage _—_both geographically and digitally. By having a global reach, you not only have a team available for networking and meetings across the world _—_but you also cover a range of time zones. This means you can offer a 24/7 reach, which would be either impossible or prohibitively expensive from a single geographical location. Graham explains the benefits of this wider geography:
“Our projects are coming from such varied geographic backgrounds, a decentralized team allows us to have someone close to them. It’s much more amenable to our various clients. And this way, if we pick up a new client in Asia, we have the Asian team that’s available for them during work hours. We’re really able to cover the 24/7 calendar. Crypto is such a global thing, it knows no boundaries, so an international reach is definitely a positive.”
It’s also cost-effective, as Alex explained earlier. By cutting out the overheads of expensive office buildings and maintenance, you can switch the focus to building a strong, capable team. Of course, no team comes together without its challenges, and while a distributed team packs the strength of a global network, flexibility and low costs, it can have its pitfalls.
Eugene, Graham, and Alex all agree that one of the common problems to be conscious of in a distributed team is the ability of each team member to self-manage. There’s no-one to micromanage, so it relies on team members being driven and invested in the project. Eugene explains the structure and how TLDR minimize their risk:
“The overall hierarchy of TLDR is currently very flat and so everybody is expected to self-manage and be responsible for everything on their own. Thus far, everybody we have hired has generally been within one-degree of separation. This element has been important for TLDR culture. I’d say that we’ve generally maintained an extremely high-level of self-awareness that ensures that we’re keeping a high standard.”
Graham expands on this:
“Everyone has to be self-motivated, there’s no managerial structure to check in and make sure that you’re doing work, so you have to hire the right kind of people. People that you know are going to do the work on their own because they want the business to succeed.”
There’s no denying that a 24/7 office is useful when dealing with projects dotted around the world, but even that can raise challenges. Alex covers scheduling issues:
“It’s the typical hurdles that need to be overcome when you don’t have a centralized team. So, that means scheduling — being able to communicate ad-hoc whenever you want to with someone in the office. There’s been times where people maybe have to take calls or speak at times that aren’t 9–5 or the most convenient. But we understand that having that flexibility is still way better than being chained to a desk or being chained to an office. So, it’s a small price to pay for a very, very large benefit.”
As is usually the case, strong and clear communication can soften, if not remove barriers. TLDR was built on friendships, and that culture still remains _—_creating a communicative and flexible global network _—_thriving as a decentralized team.
The TLDR Recap
- A distributed team is an organization spread across the globe. It’s “office space” is the internet.
- Being a distributed team allows you to inhabit many different geographic locations at once.
- Removing the cost of a central office frees up money to recruit a high-quality team with no geographical limitations.
- Regular global travel is standard in crypto. A distributed team can provide various geographical touchpoints for projects as they travel.
- Meeting somebody in person can really make a difference. In the digital era, this kind of personal interaction is rare.
- A distributed team can cover the 24/7 calendar.
- Everyone in a distributed team needs to self-manage, be self-motivated and be flexible and amenable to working outside of the routine 9–5.
If you’re interested in finding ways to collaborate and partner with TLDR, don’t hesitate to reach out here.
Find out more about TLDR. Check out our social channels below:
This article is based on views and information held by TLDR on publication date and may be subject to change, although TLDR does not undertake to update them. Nothing contained herein constitutes investment, legal, tax or other advice, nor a recommendation or solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. No representation or warranty, express or implied, is made or given by or on behalf of TLDR as to the accuracy and completeness or fairness of the information contained in this article.