The Covid pandemic has ushered in a new way of conducting business, with several companies having ditched the traditional office in favor of remote work and distributed teams.
Wondering what distributed teams are and how you can get them off the ground?
You’re in the right place.
In this article, we’ll discuss what distributed teams are and how they’re different from remote teams. We’ll also take you through the process of setting up and managing distributed teams.
This article contains:
(Click the link to jump to the section)
- What are Distributed Teams?
- Distributed vs. Remote Teams: What’s the Difference?
- 6 Key Benefits of Distributed Teams
- 4 Major Limitations of Distributed Teams
- How to Set-Up and Manage Distributed Teams
- 4 Types of Tools to Help Distributed Teams
Let’s get started.
What are distributed teams?
Distributed teams consist of employees who work in a variety of different locations.
Usually, they include employees sprawled across several cities or countries. A successful distributed team also has employees who work from a physical office space or home.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, distributed teams have become part of the ‘new normal’ — with companies across the globe jumping on the bandwagon.
Does that mean a distributed team is the same as remote work?
While the terms are used interchangeably, there are some differences between remote and distributed teams.
Distributed vs. remote teams: What’s the difference?
If you’re confused, looking at a team’s operations, requirements, and location can help you differentiate between distributed and remote teams.
With a distributed team, team members are located away from each other. While some members may be in a common location, others are located in different countries. A distinct feature of a distributed team is that they usually have a ‘headquarters’ and other office spaces.
Remote teams, on the other hand, operate entirely from a home office space. These teams don’t have a centralized headquarters. They can hire remote talent from across the world and exercise flexible working.
Here’s an example to further differentiate between distributed and remote teams:
A software development firm is a remote team if its remote team members work from home offices or co-working spaces.
The same software development firm is a distributed team if its staff has physical office spaces and remote team members working from different locations.
6 key benefits of distributed teams
With the help of technology, distributed teams are revolutionizing the world of work.
Let’s look at how distributed teams benefit both employers and employees.
A. Employer benefits
Here are some perks an employer in a distributed team enjoys:
1. Saving on operational costs
Office space, utilities, and leases. Say goodbye to these pesky bills!
Distributed teams will save you a ton of money because your entire team will be operating virtually.
2. Access a global talent pool
You can hire talented and skilled employees from a global remote talent pool with a distributed team.
A global virtual team ensures distributed companies have remote employees who can innovate, problem-solve, and provide you with unparalleled insights and teamwork.
This is a smart way to operate your distributed company and attract millennials to your workforce.
3. Unparalleled coverage and diversity
You’ll have the benefit of collaborating with different cultures and time zones from across the globe. This is beneficial for distributed companies seeking a local presence in a specific territory.
Additionally, having remote employees in different time zones means you can practically provide a 24-hour service.
B. Employee benefits
Here are some perks an employee in a successful distributed team enjoys:
1. Work-life balance and flexibility
Remote working as an employee in a distributed workforce means that you can work when it’s most convenient for you.
Spending more time with your friends and family after a workday allows a remote employee to establish a work-life balance, increasing motivation and productivity.
2. Increased productivity
Since you can work when you’re the most productive, you can get more work done with fewer interruptions and distractions.
Studies reveal that distributed team employees:
- Experienced an increase in concentration levels.
- Took significantly fewer leaves.
- Completed an extra full day of work in any given week.
- Decreased company attrition rates.
3. Cost savings
Work with distributed team members, and you can save a significant amount of money on gas, transport, and insurance.
Moreover, you’ll save money on take-out food as you can cook at home.
Distributed work can also mean you’ll be remote working. A remote team member can also save money on office attire, laundry, and dry-cleaning bills.
Now that we’ve looked at the benefits of distributed teams, let’s look at some of the major drawbacks.
4 major limitations of distributed teams
While distributed teams can benefit employers and employees, it also has significant drawbacks, especially when compared to working remotely. They include:
1. Maintenance of multiple offices
Most distributed teams maintain a centralized headquarters and other regional offices as they can’t move to a fully remote work model. For example, businesses may not implement remote working for tasks related to logistics or manufacturing.
Maintaining office spaces is time-consuming and can significantly increase operational expenses in a distributed team model. That’s why businesses need to evaluate how they can implement remote working for different tasks, eliminating the need for office spaces.
2. Employees may feel left out
Work culture plays a key role in motivating employees and making them feel like they belong. Some employees may be working remotely with distributed teams, while others work from offices. This may create a divide between team members in a workspace.
You should ideally take steps to treat all team members equally. This includes organizing virtual team building activities for remote employees who miss out on face-to-face interactions with team members.
3. Difficult and infrequent team communication
Distributed teams face a unique challenge as they usually work across different time zones. This may create team communication challenges as it’s difficult to organize all-team meetings in a distributed model.
And while using video conferencing apps can help you quickly host a team meeting, it’s another challenge to ensure all team members attend and know what’s on the agenda. One way to tackle this is to create a team meeting agenda in advance and send it to all team members.
Also, using communication channels like instant messaging apps and video conferencing tools can help a remote team member communicate better within a distributed model.
4. Uncertainty over employee productivity
Measuring employee productivity can help you gain actionable insights into boosting work efficiency.
But supervising a distributed team model is challenging. It’s tough to track when a remote employee signs in, how long they work, and what projects they work on. As a result, there’s uncertainty over your employees’ actual productivity during work hours.
To counter this challenge, you’ll need to evaluate accurate productivity and time tracking reports. You can access this data and more by using an employee productivity tool like Time Doctor. Time Doctor can help you track your employees’ work hours and aid project management.
Read more about how Time Doctor can help you boost remote employee productivity.
With the benefits and limitations out of the way, let’s discuss how you can set up an efficient distributed team.
How to set up and manage a distributed team
You may be thinking, ‘where do I start’?
Don’t stress because we’ve got you covered. Managers can follow best practices and methodologies to help their distributed team members perform efficiently.
This step-by-step plan covers everything you’ll need to know about a distributed team model.
Step 1: Recruit the right talent
Whether you’re a Scrum master looking to implement an Agile methodology with a scrum team for better sprint planning or an editor wanting to hire co located teams of international writers — you must employ the right person for the job.
A distributed or remote workforce must consist of trustworthy individuals motivated to work independently.
In managing distributed teams, you won’t have the time to continually check in with distributed employees. Moreover, not everyone can excel at virtual collaboration with a distributed workforce.
Hiring an employee with the right caliber will positively impact team productivity in the long run.
Step 2: Perfect your onboarding process
Your onboarding process can make or break your distributed model.
It’s important to ensure your new employees feel part of the team from inception. This is key to creating a positive company culture.
You’ll want new hires to adapt to their virtual teams quickly. Encouraging face-to-face virtual meetings using video conferencing can promote collaboration and teamwork.
You can also use your onboarding process as an opportunity to introduce company culture and interact with your entire team with fun virtual team happy hours.
Additionally, consider assigning a mentor to your newbies to help smooth the transition into their roles. Mentors can help set the right tone for company culture and take loads of stress off your shoulders.
Step 3: Define clear expectations
Having defined expectations and metrics are crucial to the success of distributed teams.
A distributed or virtual environment eliminates the personal nuances of work.
Employees can’t pick up on social cues like body language and miss out on water cooler conversations. This can lead to misunderstandings. That’s why clear and realistic expectations are important.
Ensure you communicate and clarify:
- Communications tools employees must use.
- Methods of communication.
- Working hours and deadlines.
This encourages employee engagement and eliminates any ambiguity.
Step 4: Use the right software
After you have clearly defined your expectations, you’ll need to find the right tool to help your team meet expectations efficiently. You can leverage tools to help with communication, project management, recruitment, payroll, and employee productivity.
To avoid confusion, be sure to utilize only the necessary and useful tools in your distributed teams.
Jump ahead to see which tools to use for easy communication and virtual collaboration with a distributed or remote team.
Step 5: Focus on results
When managing a distributed team, your main focus is to ensure your entire team delivers timely and accurate results.
Managers of a successful distributed team prioritize project management and check productivity trackers to gauge the success of a workflow.
Keep micro-management to a bare minimum because it can derail an active and ready-to-work employee.
Also, maintain a certain level of trust and conduct regular team check-ins. Trust in a remote or distributed work environment is essential as it fosters employee engagement and team collaboration within distributed companies.
4 types of tools to help distributed teams
The tools you use for Managing distributed teams will be a critical factor in determining your success.
We’ve listed the most reliable and popular tools to help launch your distributed workforce.
1. Communication tools
Communication and virtual collaboration with an employee thousands of miles away should be as easy as possible.
Fortunately, these two communication tools help you collaborate with your distributed team members with ease:
A. Instant messaging
With many communication channels and social media platforms to choose from, consider using the popular instant messaging tool — Slack.
Slack is an intuitive and user-friendly communication and collaboration tool. If your employee can send a text, they can use a communication tool like Slack without any training.
Real-time messaging and other forms of written communication ensure that your team can carry out asynchronous communication (communication that doesn’t take place in real-time) across different time zones.
For example, in scenarios where you can’t meet your entire team, you can practice asynchronous communication to share written communication like team meeting notes through tools like Google Drive to update your team.
B. Video conferencing tools
Without tangible meeting spaces, distributed teams rely on video conferencing tools to add that face-to-face element to the global office.
Although distributed team members depend mostly on collaboration platforms, there are times where face-to-face interactions and virtual meetings are necessary.
A robust and user-friendly video conferencing tool like Zoom helps bridge the gap between your distributed team members. Also, even the most technically challenged can use this communication tool for video calls. You can even hold virtual meetings in real-time, record them, and play them later.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Zoom, you can try other video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams and Skype.
2. Recruitment tools
Whether you want to parse resumes, source and track applicants, or conduct interviews, BreezyHR is a popular choice for managing recruitment activities.
This tool lets you access a global remote talent pool without breaking a sweat. It includes everything expected from a recruitment platform and more.
3. Payroll tools
A dependable payroll platform can save you tons of time and pay your distributed workers timeously.
Ensuring your team members get paid is important to maintain trust, and getting it wrong could negatively impact your distributed team’s productivity and retention strategy.
Platforms like Payoneer are popular because they can facilitate payments worldwide.Payoneer’s international payments platform allows you to send and receive payments in more than 150 currencies.
4. Productivity management tools
A productivity management tool allows you to monitor your team’s productivity.
They are important in the remote or distributed work sphere because they help managers:
- Track progress on tasks.
- Allow for accurate reporting.
- Facilitate accurate billing.
Tools like Time Doctor encourage work efficiency by giving you in-depth insights into employee productivity.
Time Doctor is a popular time tracking and productivity monitoring software used by large companies and smaller teams to measure team productivity.
With Time Doctor, you can:
- Help employees track work hours using Time Doctor’s simple time tracking feature.
- Access productivity reports based on tracked employee activity.
- Set strict productivity ratings to accurately measure team productivity.
- Use Time Doctor’s smart payroll management to calculate billable hours and pay your employees accurately.
- Set up screencasts to determine your team’s productivity while they’re working.
- Use distraction management features like the idle time pop-up that asks your team if they’re still working after some time of inactivity.
Explore all the Time Doctor features that can help you boost employee productivity.
Distributed teams and remote workers are the future of work.
Companies will need to think outside of the box and move away from the traditional way of work if they want to survive in these uncertain times.
To build a flexible team for your business, you’ll ideally have to consider implementing a distributed workforce and hiring a remote worker.
Whether you’re a startup, product owner, or Scrum master, use the tips and tools we’ve provided to easily set up and manage a successful distributed team.
Andy is a technology & marketing leader who has delivered award-winning and world-first experiences.