Table of contents
- What are some features of distributed teams?
- Why do organizations have distributed teams?
- How do you manage a distributed team?
- Are distributed teams the same as remote teams?
- How can you build trust with a distributed team?
- With a distributed team, how many hours does everyone need to overlap?
- What software and collaboration tools are good for working with distributed teams?
- What are the main challenges with distributed teams?
- What are the key benefits of working in a distributed team?
- What style of management is best for distributed teams?
What are some features of distributed teams?
Some features of distributed teams are employees that are based in several different cities, states or countries, or employees that all work remotely.
Why do organizations have distributed teams?
Organizations may have distributed teams for several reasons.
An organization I used to work from had an interesting story in that one of the top executives moved to another country.
That executive used his geographic location in that new country across the world to start a new corporate office that quickly grew. This led to the first distributed team that was far away from the headquarter office.
Organizations may also form as remote-first companies and prioritize having remote teams. Why? The answer is clear, for some organizations. Employees may be chosen for very specific skills, and during hiring, the recruiters are able to cast a wide net over the entire US, rather than a very specific city that would require someone to commute.
Organizations also have distributed teams to prioritize budgets and funds: if the company does not need an office, then there is no rent to pay, no cleaning staff to hire, no building security to oversee and no need for anyone to ever say they got stuck in traffic and will be late.
We agree with lots of these ideas in our list of the ways working from home will benefit you.
How do you manage a distributed team?
You manage a distributed team with patience — that’s how!
Managing a distributed team can be challenging, and nobody said it was easy. You’ll be managing employees who you may have never met face-to-face, and you may manage employees who come from different countries and different cultures.
You also may deal with employees who formed cohorts or groups back when the office was a physical place where employees could meet one another.
Managing a distributed team takes a lot of patience, organization and communication. You may have to be available throughout the day, to overlap during many time zones. You may feel like you never catch a break.
However, if you’re managing a distributed team and it is getting stressful, look to other colleagues who have done the same thing, or start virtually networking to find others who have shared experiences. You may learn some skills for managing a remote team in many cities, states or countries.
Are distributed teams the same as remote teams?
Distributed teams may signify several definitions for people, depending on how they have used the term “distributed” in the past, and if they equate it with completely remote teams.
“Distributed” means spread throughout various areas, while remote means, of course, working remotely from anywhere except a physical company office.
For this reason, distributed teams may be the same thing as remote teams, when the terms are applied to a company at which all employees work remotely, with no two employees in the same geographic place.
How can you build trust with a distributed team?
To build trust within a distributed or remote team, start with the shared empathy of everyone working apart from one another, physically.
In fact, I used to work with distributed teams in such a way that the company I worked at had about five different geographic offices in three different companies, and three remote employees as well.
I hit it off personality-wise with two of my colleagues across the ocean, and even felt that despite the thousands of miles and six time zones between us, they were my closest coworkers and we worked together best. We did this with building trust, helping out one another and staying friendly outside of work.
Therefore, the best way to build trust with a distributed team is to find ways to get everyone to know each other as people. A cool and fun way to do this is to add Donut to Slack, which will randomly introduce employees to one another, once a week, and allow them to set up virtual coffee dates.
With a distributed team, how many hours does everyone need to overlap?
There is no correct answer to this question, as organizations vary greatly in size, the geographic area covered by employees and the line of business as well.
When I worked with distributed teams across the Atlantic Ocean, we overlapped only three hours a day.
This may sound like nothing, but it was enough to catch up on important information and to “hand off” projects that I could take care of during my office hours.
For some companies, having all employees working during the same hours may work best, depending on where clients, vendors or other frequently-worked-with parties are located.
If a company chooses to have New York City or East Coast EST (US) hours, then employees working in California may start the workday at 6 am PST, whereas employees in London may begin at 1 pm GMT.
What software and collaboration tools are good for working with distributed teams?
There are lots of types of software and collaboration tools that will benefit distributed teams.
Most of these tools come in the forms of tools that foster communication in real time, and real-time project management tools.
Above all, platforms for communicating, like Slack and Microsoft Teams, come out on top for chat messaging, video calls, audio calls and group calls.
When it comes to managing projects, sharing information and data, collaborative platforms like Monday.com, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides and AirTable also come to mind, especially in tech.
Lastly, employees may need to look into VPNs, especially for those who travel.
What are the main challenges with distributed teams?
The main challenges with distributed teams stem from employees working remotely or working from home, which is understandable.
Challenges may come in the form of slumps in moral, miscommunications, technical difficulties and more.
Working with people you’ve never met, or rarely see, can be difficult for some employees who thrive on interpersonal interaction, in-person meetings and social outings.
What are the key benefits of working in a distributed team?
The key benefits of working in a distributed team are employee trust, employee productivity and employee autonomy.
Within distributed teams, employees will quickly learn that trust in one another is a key factor of good teamwork. Rather than documenting how many hours employees spend being active online, managers and supervisors can measure success through actual output and results.
One last benefit is employee autonomy and independence. Some people just don’t work well when they know their boss is going to walk by their desk and crack a comment.
Many professionals work better independently, owning responsibility for their duties, responsibilities and achievements. By working in distributed teams, there can be a lot of autonomy and mutual understanding of that.
What style of management is best for distributed teams?
A style of management that involves trust and avoids micro-management is ideal for distributed teams.
Additionally, managers who communicate clearly, transparently, responsibly and eloquently will be the ideal type of management for distributed teams.
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