I recently shared some insights with ClassPass on building and managing remote teams while expanding into new cities. I've been a fan of ClassPass since they launched in 2013 and am impressed at how quickly they've been able to launch new markets.
Below are a few highlights and you can read the full article here.
Do Initial Research Remotely
Of course, you’ll need to travel to the second location you’re planning on opening at some point. But Vollman says that in the early stages of expansion, utilize remote resources for determining your business strategy in the city you have your eye set on. “Conducting market research and initial business development conversations can all be done from headquarters,” she says. “Companies can begin to gauge demand by digging into how many website visitors, newsletter subscribers, inbound inquiries, and social media followers are in that city.” Key things to look at in a new area for a fitness studio could include the presence of other fitness studios, availability or public transit/walkability, how health-conscious area locals are, and more.
After you’ve nailed down your target market, Vollman suggests booking a trip to evaluate further. “Once those initial steps are taken, it’s important to take a trip to the new city to start face-to-face conversations and gain perspective on how to structure your launch,” she says. “Understanding neighborhoods, public transportation, and how target users live, work and play becomes clear when you’re physically on the ground in a city.”
Create A Hiring Strategy
Your first hire in a location you’ll be managing remotely is integral to the success of your new space. Vollman says there are a few ways for going about getting a team in place when you can’t be physically present for every interview. “One strategy is to move a current employee to that city to serve as General Manager so they can bring their institutional knowledge to a new market,” she says. Alternatively, if you don’t have an employee who’s willing to make that move, Vollman recommends sending an employee from your main headquarters to spend a month or two there to help get things up and running. “Regardless of how you structure the team, I’ve found there’s typically a period of two to three months where you’re either traveling back and forth from headquarters or have a ‘launcher’ planted in that city to ramp up marketing and operations,” she says. “I always recommend looking for that first key hire immediately after deciding to enter a new city, as this process can take months, but can dramatically impact the early success of a market. Look for someone who knows the market well, has local connections, has held a leadership position and is able to grasp your brand quickly.”
As far as the rest of your staff at the new location goes, Vollman recommends making the trip to meet with candidates after they’ve gone through a remote vetting process. “I typically start with a phone screen, then set up a more in-depth video call between the candidate, myself, and one or two colleagues,” she says. “If they’ve made it past those rounds I’ll meet with them in person during a trip to the city.”
Stay Connected While You’re Away
To keep tabs on your second spot without actually being there, Vollman suggests setting up meetings that help you stay connected with your staff remotely. “I’d recommend weekly video meetings and quarterly visits to the location,” she says. “In the early stages of a market, monthly visits might be necessary. But once the business is up and running quarterly visits should suffice.” Vollman also stresses the importance of making your presence known at the location you’re managing remotely. “Ensuring your remote team knows you’re supporting them and that their voice is being heard at headquarters is important,” she says. “Open communication is crucial to your remote team’s success, as it’s easy to feel left out from decision making when you’re not located at headquarters.”
If both sets of staff have projects that they’re working on in tandem, there are a few online resources that can come in handy. “Trello is a great visual tool to help create and prioritize projects,” Vollman says, “and Slack has made it much easier for remote teams to communicate and work together efficiently, almost like a remote office.”