What are distributed teams and how do I work with them?
A distributed team is simply a group of people working together from several different locations. Contrary to popular belief, there is no requirement saying that they must be in different countries or only communicate via online means. Distributed teams can also be separated into different rooms or floors within the same building.
Nowadays, however, the term is increasingly taken to mean teams working remotely. As such, certain skill set is needed to properly manage and work with them. In this post, we will give you a total of six things to keep in mind when working with distributed teams.
This post’s purpose is to:
- show you how we at Remote Bob work with distributed teams
- help you work with your own distributed teams
- make it easier to you to work with us in the event you wish to employ one or more of our services.
Without further ado, let’s start!
#1 – Communication
This is probably the single most important thing to keep in mind when working with remote teams. If you take away anything from this post, then let it be this: good communication doesn’t just happen. Or, at the very least, it happens extremely rarely, especially when we’re talking about online communication.
First of all, tone can be an issue. A neutral tone can often be perceived as negative without the context of real-life body language, and so it’s generally better to be as positive as possible when communicating via text.
Second of all, you should be aware of the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication. The former happens in real-time (such as video calls) while the latter denotes a delay in when messages are sent, seen, and replied to (chat and email). Synchronous communication is good when you are looking for a real-time exchange of ideas. That said, these sessions should be scheduled in with purpose. Asynchronous communication makes for a good default. It allows team members to get back to messages in their own time and gives them time to get some deep work done.
Make sure to be clear with your instructions. Don’t automatically blame someone for misunderstanding you or not getting back to you immediately. Assume responsibility and remember that it’s very difficult to know the complete context of a situation.
#2 – Engagement
Working remotely, it can sometimes be difficult to feel engaged. That’s why distributed teams need extra care when it comes to fostering their engagement.
In a previous post, we discussed how to keep your remote employees engaged, so here’s a quick recap:
- Regular meetings and check-ins are useful in that they keep everyone responsible and reinforce the feeling of being part of a larger team
- Having separate work and social communication channels makes it easier for employees to differentiate between their social and work lives
- Regular progress checks through services such as 15Five allow you to keep your teams accountable to yourself and each other
- Schedules help keep everyone on track and make sure that nobody spends their entire day half-working
#3 – Software
Using the correct software when working with distributed teams can mean the difference between quality work delivered on time and half-baked results delivered late or, worse, never.
In the previous section, I already mentioned the importance of separating your teams’ work communication channels from their social communication channels. Think about it: you wouldn’t want to brief your employees on their next tasks through Facebook, right?
Services geared for professionals are much better. Slack, for example, is a great tool for work communication. It provides a basic chat service and its channels feature allows you to keep separate teams within your organization.
Asana is another great tool for monitoring tasks. If you’re working with freelancers and need further monitoring of their hours, a simple google sheet with a standardized hours chart also works great.
#4 – Onboarding
When hiring a new team member, make sure to onboard them properly. Unless they know the ins and outs of your process, requirements, and philosophy, they won’t be able to effectively contribute.
You can do this in several ways. Having a senior mentor is always useful. They can pass on the tools of the trade, so to speak, to the newcomer and help them adjust to the team. Another important thing is cultivating a supportive culture where team members welcome any new arrivals with open arms, willing to offer help where necessary.
In case you were wondering that one of the biggest advantages to hiring a virtual assistant through a company like Remote Bob rather than finding a random freelancer. We handle the onboarding process for you.
#5 – Time boundaries and time zones
When working with remote teams, you will often have people from different time zones. You should do your best to create a schedule flexible enough so that everyone can comfortably attend to their work. Depending on your time zone spread, this may require varying the work hours across time zones (if you have fixed hours at all) or having one team hand over their work to another after their “shift” is over.
It also means setting up meetings that everyone can attend, or setting up multiple meetings if necessary. Likewise, time boundaries become very important. Encourage your team to clearly state at what times of the day they will be working and available. This avoids both slacking off and burnout.
#6 – Culture
Finally, it’s important to think about your team culture. When people aren’t hanging around in an office space all day, spending time together, it can be easy for your organization to devolve into a cacophonous mess of independent freelancers.
Remote work in and of itself carries a certain kind of culture (working in PJs, anyone?). However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t cultivate the values that are important to your organization. You do this by clearly and explicitly reminding your team(s) about them.
And there you have it. These are five of the most important concepts to keep in mind when working with distributed teams.
Before you leave, I just want to stress that working with any team, let along a remote one, will never be perfect. There will always be hiccups and difficulties. However, by keeping in mind the things you’ve read here, you can minimize them.
If you’re now more excited than ever to work with remote teams and if you feel impressed by our knowledge and expertise, then make sure to contact us for some great deals on VA services!