It’s not unusual to hear that your friend is working on a project for a company abroad, or that your cousin has to leave a family dinner early to attend a meeting with someone in Asia. These are examples of how the “workplace” has changed, especially in the software development industry. We’ve gone from having all teammates by our sides to having an HR person in the neighborhood, a boss in a different city, a few developers on another continent, and clients’ offices all around the globe.
The rise of distributed teams means that you and the vast majority of people you interact with are not near each other. But why does that matter? How can learning to build and manage this kind of team positively impact your business?
If your goal is to create the best product, deliver the most incredible experience, or go above and beyond your customers’ expectations, you need to attract the most talented people—no matter where they are. Remember that your customers and clients might be in any location too.
No matter what your primary business is, working with distributed teams can create a crucial advantage if you want to reach a more extensive wallet. You’ll be able to count on people with expertise working on different projects in different markets who understand multicultural environments. These individuals not only contribute as core team members, but they are teaching other team members how to interact with clients outside of their own geography.
Let’s land it in the real world: I’ve been working with and managing distributed teams for more than fifteen years of my professional life. When I was a remote worker myself, I witnessed my company grow from a local enterprise to a company with a presence in three different countries. The main impetus for the expansion was finding more cost-efficient talent abroad. Five years later, the distributed teams they hired were generating business in their locations by leveraging the company’s expertise and expanding its brand — leading to increased revenue.
Today, I manage a team of Headspringer employees who are based in Monterrey, Mexico. The challenges of managing distributed teams go beyond enabling people to work their best on assigned projects: Our team members (like all Headspring consultants) have no problem learning a new technology or adapting the client’s processes to our own.
The big challenge of managing distributed teams is creating integration, equal growth opportunities, and a shared culture among offices. Cultivating a “one team” mentality is critical to building a distributed workforce that communicates efficiently, works together seamlessly, and stays engaged.
Benefits of distributed teams
- Work coverage in different locations
- Flexible work schedules
- Stronger skillsets and expertise
- Multicultural / diverse perspectives
- Company brand expansion
- Lower overhead
- Lower salary rates = higher revenue
Challenges of distributed teams
- Team integration
- Remote people management
- Equity and growth
- Time zone differences
- Clients’ lack of confidence
- Navigating internal biases
In my experience with distributed teams, I’ve seen lots go wrong and lots go right. If you’re looking to expand your team across borders and geographies, first be aware of the benefits and challenges. Following a few best practices will help you cultivate a sense of engagement across the organization, which is critical to building happy and productive distributed teams.
Best practices for building distributed teams
An easy way to start creating success stories with your distributed teams is to be proactive about making everyone feel part of the company—not just talking about culture, but creating it. There can be a big gap between words and actions, so make sure you’re actually doing what it takes:
#1 Create close relationships
Having formal one-on-one meetings is a great way to build closer relationships with your team members. This is a time that you can use to share ideas, celebrate accomplishments, offer and receive feedback, and follow up on development goals. I highly recommend using a remote-meetings scheduler and a camera to create a more transparent and trustworthy experience. It’s better to see a friendly face than only hear a voice!
#2 Build equity in all aspects.
Value your people. Treating your employees as equals, no matter where they are, is fundamental to strong team management. It’s crucial to use the same metrics to evaluate remote and local employees, depending on their level and performance. Offer equal growth opportunities and chances to participate in projects based on skills, not location. These considerations prevent demotivation and enhance the sense of being part of one team.
#3 Leave your door open
Honest and open communication is the basis of any successful organization. Having your processes, charters, and policies clearly defined and readily available to all employees creates a trusting environment. It’s an excellent practice to have a company-wide repository with this documentation, so all employees are empowered.
As leaders, being 100% approachable to any team member is important. Making sure your team is comfortable coming to you with any question, feedback, idea, or comment will foster long term, win-win relationships.
#4 Invest wisely in team building
There are times when all of your team members need to get together: It might be to visit a client, to hold a planning session, or to simply work side-by-side. These opportunities create team bonding and foster integration on a higher level; you should be open to supporting these opportunities! Frequent training is something you also need to consider investing in. Internal or external, fostering team growth means including all team members in that process by learning or teaching.
The future of work is now
Having a team that’s distributed across many geographic locations is not a vision for the future, it’s a reality today. Today’s companies need to change the way they operate in order to keep up in an increasingly global market. If we want to be at the next level, we need to start moving in that direction. The quality of the work does not depend on where a person is living, the space he or she works from, or the distance from their teammates and clients. It’s all about how your company invests in finding the best talent and fostering a diverse, engaged team that can deliver the most value, now and in the future.