The remote team (also called the “distributed team”) is a trend in the modern workplace. Many small businesses are entirely remote. Some larger companies are also experimenting with the idea.
It’s vital to the modern manager’s career to understand what a distributed team is, the benefits of remote workers, and the differences in remote team management.
What Is a Distributed Team?
A distributed team is a group of employees who work together – but remotely. They could be working from their homes in the same town, region, or scattered around the globe.
This model is the opposite of a co-located team, which is a more traditional work environment. Co-located teams meet in the same physical space, like an office.
Why Do You Need to Understand the Distributed Team?
The remote team is becoming more common, as statistics on remote work show.
Working remotely used to be challenging for many reasons, especially collaboration and communication. However, many tools to solve these challenges have appeared – thanks to the rapid advance of technology and increased Internet speeds in the last two decades.
With these new tools solving old remote work problems, the distributed team is now more common. This rise in remote work means that you’ll likely need to manage a remote team one day.
The Distributed Team Is Here to Stay, Thanks to Competitive Advantages
The distributed team is becoming more common – to the point where it’s a required arrangement for many employees. In fact, 67% of millennials prefer work flexibility over a higher salary.
Top Talent Prefers Remote Work
Also, top talent tends to prefer to work remotely. A company that offers remote working options has the advantage when hiring this talent. If an organization doesn’t embrace a distributed team model, they’re putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
Increased Global and Timezone Coverage
In a distributed team, agile is also an advantage along with an increased talent pool. Having employees around the world provides a foot in the door to different markets – but it also offers round-the-clock coverage (without anyone working the night shift).
Better Employee Freedom (and Retention)
Along with working from home, remote employees have more freedom to set their schedules, or even travel during the workweek. This increased freedom leads to higher employee satisfaction – which creates better retention.
Remote Employees Are Surprisingly Productive
The exact statistics vary, but all have one thing in common: remote employees tend to accomplish more (and cut costs for businesses). A willingness to work longer hours, fewer office distractions, better sleep, and reduced stress could all be reasons for this surge in productivity.
What Are Four Principles for Distributed Team Management at Work?
With the distributed team here to stay, managers must become competent at remote management.
Remote work does come with challenges, and the same approaches used to manage a co-located is unlikely to yield the same benefits when applied to a remote team.
Here are some tips for managing your remote workforce:
Trust Is Key – but Frequent Organized Check-ins Are Still a Critical Practice
Most employees are significantly happier when they’re not micromanaged – and more satisfied employees tend to produce better results.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s best practice to let them run wild. Excess communication is disruptive, but it’s vital to ensure all members are on the same page.
It’s easier to keep tabs on everyone when they’re in the same physical office, but this becomes more challenging in a remote team spread out across multiple locations or timezones.
Encourage your team members to communicate with each other, and have your employees keep you updated on their progress as often as you think is necessary.
It’s also essential to bring the entire team together daily or weekly on a structured conference call. These meetings keep everyone updated on progress and encourages innovation. Frequent retrospectives help everyone chime in on what’s working or could be improved.
Communicating Globally Is an Art – It Takes More than Firing off an Email
The email has its place in asynchronous communication, but is often overused and underperforms. We’ve all seen massive email threads littered with attachments and cryptic messages – but information quickly becomes lost.
Use remote communication software tools effectively. Know when a video call, email, or chat message is the most appropriate. Understanding how to craft these messages with all required information to reduce back-and-forth, and time them to be the least intrusive is an art – but it’s essential.
Along with matching the right medium to the message, global time zone awareness is critical. Don’t expect a quick response from John when you message him first thing in your morning (but at 2 AM for him). Group calls can be more challenging to schedule when members span multiple time zones.
Proper Remote Software Solves Problems from Not Having Co-located Teams
Sticking to one communication tool is easy – but it’s ineffective. Remote managers need to be comfortable with a variety of collaboration tools.
Bideo software like Zoom fills the gap in face-to-face communication. Chat software like Slack solves the problem of not being able to walk to someone’s office and ask a quick question.
Software like Krisp helps increase call quality by cutting out distracting noises, making communication more effective.
Cloud storage like Google Drive makes it easy to organize and find documents – a much more elegant solution than sifting through dozens of email attachments. The right project management software helps team members and managers seamlessly communicate requirements, progress, and related information.
Not Everyone Should Work Remotely, so Find the Right People, and Train Them Effectively
As mentioned, trusting your team is essential.
This trust makes it crucial to thoroughly vet employee candidates during the hiring process for a remote team. Some people have more self-discipline than others, and this discipline is vital for a remote team. Previous successful remote experience, self-employment, or freelance experience is a good sign.
Even when you pick the perfect candidate, they’ll only be as effective as their onboarding. It can be harder for a new employee to get up to speed when they can’t lean over the cubicle to ask a quick question, or socialize over a lunch break.
Pay attention to your onboarding process and check-in with new employees to see if they need anything extra.
Get Started Managing Your Distributed Team with These Tips
There are thousands of books and articles written on managing a remote team. What works for one company culture or size may not work for another – so there’s no single best way that fits every team.
These differences mean that there may be some trial and error involved. Nonetheless, use these four broad principles to generate tactics for managing your distributed team.
Read next: Best Tools & Apps for Distributed Teams