Building Distributed Teams: How You Can & Why You Should

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In a world where freelance workers are becoming more common, we take a look at the different aspects that an employer has to face in order to coordinate a working group made up of people from different regions.

Picture the average workday. You probably imagine getting up early, eating breakfast (if you have time), getting dressed for work, and embarking on your daily commute for the next 26.9 minutes. Then you work at your desk for 8 hours, endure the reverse commute, and have a few hours for dinner and hobbies before starting over the next day.

For years, this has been the norm. But work is changing. More and more workers are skipping the commute. They’re working from their home offices, couches, or while traveling the world. Increasingly, employees are embracing remote work opportunities. And once they start remote jobs, 90% are reluctant to go back.

Of course, this means more companies are leaning on distributed teams, where employees work around the world, often outside of the normal 9-5 hours. And they’re noticing huge advantages: remote employees are happier, more productive, and feel more valued at work.

Despite the growing shift to remote work, some leaders remain skeptical. There are a number of different challenges to address when setting up distributed teams, but getting a handle on things early means you can benefit from healthy, productive workers.

Communication and Culture

One of the biggest concerns with a distributed team is that communication will dissolve and company culture will collapse. But with new technology, these fears are largely unfounded. Teams have a variety of communication tools at their disposal now, with options like Slack for text-based instant chat, Skype and Zoom for video chat, and a plethora of productivity tools that allow for collaboration like Google Docs and GitHub.

These tools now allow leaders to build company culture and skip the commute. Here are some tips for using technology to build relationships between employees:

  • Use Slack for “watercooler chat” — create non-work related channels and encourage friendly chit-chat. Ask about weekend plans, share vacation pictures, or have weekly Q&As where employees can get to know each other better.
  • Have daily video standups! This encourages transparency around what people are working on and gives everyone face-to-face time. This also means that there is a window of time where everyone is online — so you can bring the team together across time zones.
  • Start monthly rituals to get everyone online and bonding. These could be monthly sprint retrospectives or a remote lunch party where work talk is discouraged. It’s up to what’s best for you and your team, so don’t be afraid to be creative!
  • Have one-on-ones to periodically check in with individual team members. You can schedule them for as often as you both need, but getting some idea for how they feel things are going can help you decide if the current communication methods are working and what can be improved. It will also let employees know you’re hearing them, which is important when they don’t see you in person every day.

These are just a few ways to cultivate culture and foster open communication between employees. You can also encourage friendly collaboration and discussion in code reviews, email, and any other tools you may use to organize work.

Monitoring Progress and Productivity

Many employers worry that if workers can’t be seen working in the office, they’re slacking off at home. But this couldn’t be further from the truth — one study showed that remote workers achieved a productivity boost equivalent to a full day of work!

But of course, it’s still important to monitor progress on milestones and projects. Since remote workers can’t be seen working, it means you have to focus on results instead of time spent at a desk. Because of this, good data and metrics are a necessity. Celerative has dashboards to help track progress and offers project insights and optimizations — so you can monitor project health and ensure your team is reaching their goals.

It’s also helpful to nail down and track long term goals outside of a single project. Is the team releasing reliable software with limited bugs? Is their velocity improving or staying the same? Can release cycles be sped up at all? What bottlenecks exist in the current process? It’s important to take these into account with an on-site team, but with remote work, it’s easy to focus too much on day-to-day issues and not long-term progress and changes.

Enforcing Company Standards and Best Practices

Every team, especially in software development, needs to solidify their standards for quality and utilize best practices. With no physical product, this is simple to do online. Tools such as GitHub for code and Google Docs for written work encourage review and collaboration. So once you’ve set up your team’s style guides and documentation, team members can hold each other accountable for maintaining high-quality work through careful reviews of submitted work.

It’s also a good idea to empower the team to make changes to these standards and practices. If part of the system is changed over time, the documentation may need to be updated as well. Developers can do this as part of code review so that the rest of the team can have a say in these changes. Additionally, detailed documentation of meetings, online discussions, policies, and ideas will also make sure information is available to everyone who needs it so that miscommunications can be avoided.

Time Zone Differences

Many managers worry that hiring people from different time zones comes with too many challenges. But as we’ve seen, so many communication tools exist today to help mitigate these downsides. Having teams work across time zones can actually be a huge benefit — for example, if servers go down at 2am where you are, a team member across the world can be online to address it. It can also bring more varied perspectives to your team, helping you better grow your company for a global market.

Hiring the Right People

Despite the benefits of remote work, some people are better suited to it than others. Finding the right team members is critical for creating a happy, productive distributed team. Here are some tips for finding the top remote workers for your team:

  • Find self-starters. Remote work takes discipline and independence. You need to find employees that can plug away on their own and find answers for themselves (but aren’t afraid to ask for help when they need to). Often, employees how have worked for startups in the past or have a background in freelance have the right skills to thrive independently. And with Celerative, you can get matched up with freelancers and easily offer them full-time positions, making it easy to find the right people.
  • Emphasize communication skills. Are they used to connecting to co-workers online? Do they respond in a reasonable time to emails? Do they communicate effectively through text? These are all important things to consider, and the process of interviewing candidates can help you figure out their skills in this area quickly.
  • Look at all of your options. Building a distributed team opens up your hiring pool significantly, so don’t be afraid to take the time to find the best match. There are a number of people available for remote work who otherwise wouldn’t take an on-site job or live across the world from you, so you have a number of skilled, talented workers to choose from.
  • Tell them what to expect. With an all-remote team, you want to talk to potential hires about PTO politics, times they need to be available and online, any travel that may be expected of them, and any other requirements you have for the position.

Conclusion

With many companies embracing distributed teams, it’s clear that the nature of work is changing. Getting your organization ready for remote work is imperative in order to keep up with new ways of hiring and working. But with new technology enabling world-wide communication, people have been thinking of new ways for teams to work together. And distributed teams can not only succeed, but can smash expectations. By hiring the right people, setting up a strong culture, and enforcing quality standards, your organization can take advantage of the many benefits distributed teams have to offer.

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