If you’re managing distributed teams and it’s been quite stressful, then it’s always ideal to find ways to better guide your employees. Here are helpful tips to keep in mind!
As we continue to approach a post-pandemic world, we need to ask ourselves what the workplace of the near future will look like. Office workers are demanding the ability to work from home (or wherever they please, for that matter) more than ever, especially now as we’ve had a long time to acclimate to completely remote conditions. While that setup isn’t ideal for everyone, there are those that simply can’t overlook its benefits, from slashing commute to making it easier to get more things done in a day.
On the flip side, we have people who are eager to return to a normal workplace, away from the drastic meld of work and life at home, who want to create a boundary between their family and their professional lives, and can’t afford, neither mentally nor fiscally, to enjoy the benefits of a fully-fledged home office.
Reconciling these two camps and successfully managing workers with different needs while enabling cooperation between them is a tall but necessary task for any manager or leader of the near future. This is where it becomes important to learn how to guide distributed teams.
What Are Distributed Teams?
Distributed teams are any collective of professionals working together on a project or company, with different resources, from different locations, but under the same general management. You know you are managing a distributed team when you’ve got two developers in the Philippines, a UI expert in Croatia, a visual artist in Oregon, and are working with a few local talents from a small coworking space in California, for example.
For distributed teams, the main challenge is learning to coalesce the individual strengths and weaknesses of each team member, while overcoming the communicative and cooperative obstacles of time and distance. Thankfully, now more than ever, those obstacles are entirely surmountable.
COVID has taught us that we can function mostly remote – and with a little work, we can even integrate patchwork teams working both independently and cooperatively into one big team.
Make the Most of It
When working with a distributed team, you learn that the precious few hours during which everyone can be online together are worth gold, and it’s in these hours that most of the collaborative and managerial work must get done.
It’s here where you need to wrangle team members to explain what they’ve been working on, get feedback on how specific tasks are going, reorient your team to tackle specific priorities, and organize both your short-term and long-term goals for the project in its current stage.
This means having a set protocol so everyone knows what time they need to be on the group call, and placing a premium on heavy communication, so no one is left wondering what’s going on when someone in the team can’t make it because of a personal matter.
Even when remote, we crave the ability to act and work together – and if you’ve ever had friends on the Internet, you’ll know that modern communications technologies have come a long way towards eliminating the difficulties of distance when fostering meaningful and strong relationships, even between professionals.
Aside from prioritizing collaborative and managerial work in the hours when everyone can be present, you’ll also want to give your workers the means to communicate independently with one another through other channels, such as off-topic chatrooms.
The same goes for distributed teams that operate on a rotating system of office hours, where workers spend some days in the office, and some days at home.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Onboarding
There’s no real hope of physically onboarding someone in a country you haven’t hired from before. But when hiring local talent, or when recruiting someone in a region you already have other team members in, it helps to organize a physical onboarding process to get the new team member comfortable with their role and position in the team, as well as get them to meet as many people face-to-face as possible, regardless of whether they plan to continue working in offices or largely from home (or elsewhere). This is where coworking spaces come in handy.
Coworking spaces allow you to lease a professional workspace for just a few weeks, so you can effectively onboard new talent and guide them through their workday, as well as give them the opportunity to get a better feel for how they like the company culture and the people they will be working with locally.
Video, Video, Video
When face-to-face collaboration (through a coworking space, or your office headquarters) isn’t possible, emphasize the use of video. It might seem like a relatively minute difference to turn a one-on-one phone call into a video call, but video conversations can help get the point across much more quickly, and much more efficiently, than just a voice chat or an email.
We still pick up a lot of context clues and conversational cues via a webcam than just a person’s voice, and it can help speed things along – not to mention help foster a more relaxed and comfortable working environment between colleagues, regardless of the distance involved. It’s hard to feel like you’re a part of a company when most of your team members remain relatively faceless to you, and when you’re constantly reminded of the distance between you due to the lack of physical collaboration. Frequent video calls can greatly alleviate that feeling.
Productivity And Collaboration in Distributed Teams
When tackling matters of productivity and comfortable collaboration, you must recognize that your role as a leader is not just to know what everyone needs to be doing, but to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.
Just showing some interest in how your team members are doing can go a very long way towards helping them feel appreciated and helping them develop a much stronger bond with your team and company. Make use of the strength of emotional intelligence to figure out whether your team members are satisfied with their role in the team – and why they aren’t.
Offer learning opportunities and affirmations. Take the time to note how a team member’s individual effort reflected on the project. Distribute praise and constructive criticism. Take team members aside for one-on-one calls to discuss how they’re doing, and what their plans are. Don’t just try to be positive for the sake of positivity – be real.
A lot of managing a distributed team means recognizing that each team member is a person, not just a faraway resource. Bringing them together involves making the most of each person’s strengths and weaknesses, and overcoming the challenges of distance – mostly through technology, but also through collaborative opportunities like coworking spaces, and occasional company events and get-togethers.