I manage 3 folks out of the office. 2 in the US, 1 in Europe.

Biggest problem if they are making prototypes for field testing, it takes a day to ship (Europe only works within Europe, no over the pond shipping). Also, I am a big proponent if you need something for a different department, you physically go to their work space. Kind of hard to do when you are out of state. Other than that, weekly project meetings are done by gotomeeting. Weekly department meetings are done the same way.

Keep your vendors close, 3d modeling is done local to each person. Other vendors ship. Receiving paperwork needs to be emailed to the receiving department. Signing invoices is also done electronically.

Europe comes to the home office a minimum 3 times a year. US comes to the home office a minimum of 12 times a year.

Honestly, I wonder why us locals come in so much but we are a sales culture. I’m happy not to wear a tie.

I’ve never had the same situation but I’ve had a few permutations:

  • I’ve been working with the team at Icon 4x4 for about 7 years and have always been remote and most of the team is remote.
  • When I was running Converse’s Portland based team, my boss was at Converse HQ in Boston, and the 10 of us were located on Nike’s campus
  • Then I was design director at Converse in Boston, but half my team was based in NYC
  • Now we have our engineering labs in Baltimore including our major prototyping facility, and our design center is in San Diego

In all of these cases I’ve learned a few things:

  1. email less, call more. Stuff gets messy over email. Pick up the phone
  2. call all the time. I have a routine where I take a walk by the ocean every day at 7am and most days I’ will try to call someone on the East coast and just chat, unstructured. I get more done on those calls than the scheduled meeting conference calls
  3. travel. You just have to go there. When I was running the Portland team for Converse I was in Boston 1 week out of every 6. When I fist joined Sound United I spent the first month in Baltimore then one week every 6 for the first year. Now I try to get my team there.

Human relationships are fragile things. Distance can give you time and space to think and work, but you will have to work extra hard to get that “water cooler time”. If you really actively maintain the relationships, it can be done and might be of benefit. A housewares company with a designer in NY sounds like a positive asset if you can make it work.

Good luck with it!