Successfully running a distributed team

Remote working is increasing in popularity, and more organisations than ever before are offering some sort of flexible working policy. But managing a distributed team isn’t without its challenges.

For a lot of companies, the journey towards remote working is more reactive than proactive, with quick decisions having to be made out of necessity and employee demands.

This can lead to several issues, which your organisation could end up associating with the fact teams are distributed across multiple locations as opposed to the lack of structure that’s really behind it.

The solution isn’t to shy away from remote working altogether.

All of the signs are pointing towards remote working becoming more common. Upwork’s Future Workforce Report 2019 suggests that, by 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers.

So what can you do to successfully implement and nurture a remote working team in your company?

Introducing remote working

Whether you currently have remote workers in your company, offer employees occasional remote working or are yet to offer any form of remote working, it’s important to make your policies formal.

Consider what you currently offer, what works and what doesn’t, and what stage you would like to get to with regards to distributed teams.

Here are some of the key areas you need to consider.

Employee contracts

If you aren’t openly promoting remote working within your organisation there may be nothing about it in your contracts, but that can leave both you and your employees vulnerable.

More and more employees are looking for remote working options and including guidelines in your contract can help you make your position clear, as well as attracting talent and encouraging employee retention.

Some things you may want to include could be:

  • What you deem to be an acceptable work environment
  • The devices you expect employees to use
  • Frequency of communication and via what channel
  • Working hours or hours of availability
  • Security precautions

These guidelines will go a long way to addressing some of the more common issues you may have, such as an impact on teamwork or security threats.

The right tools

One of the reasons that more people are embracing remote working is that technology gives us more options than ever before to communicate, collaborate and connect to our team members all over the world.

Software options are endless and, depending on your budget and solutions you already have in house, you may be able to adapt tools you currently have to support distributed working.

Here are some of the bases you’ll need to cover when it comes to building your remote toolkit:

  • Good quality video conferencing – There are plenty of great options here (Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts), and this is one area where it’s definitely worth investing. Anyone who’s ever remoted into a meeting with blurry video and sound that cuts out every two minutes will know there is nothing more frustrating or detrimental to productivity.
  • Sharing platform – When it comes to sharing documents, email doesn’t always make the cut. Platforms like Dropbox and Google Docs let you create, share and simultaneously edit work with other members of your team easily.
  • Productivity tools – When you can’t just turn around in your seat to see what the rest of your team are working on, ticketing boards or other organisation platforms can be incredibly useful. You may already use a tool like Jira or Monday in your company that can be adapted, or you could take a look at Trello, which is free and includes some great features like creating tickets via email.

There are many more tools that you can look into, but covering off these basics is a great place to start.

Communicating with your team

Every good manager knows that it’s important to maintain a certain degree of transparency with their team. Communicating your remote working policy to the whole company will help to get everyone on the same page.

It will remove some of the stigma people may have around remote working and will help employees understand their own options.

Even if there are positions in your company where certain employees have to be in the office (customer facing, etc.), try and include them in the conversation and find solutions to their needs for flexibility that work for both parties.

Nurturing a distributed team

Once you have got your remote working policies in place, you’ll have to adapt to the challenges of managing a distributed team.

Remote working offers many benefits for employees, and the majority of professionals will appreciate the opportunity and their loyalty towards your company will increase.

But there can be some new issues that you’ll have to face when it comes to making sure your team are efficient, engaged and happy with their work.

Results-focused culture

For many employees, moving into remote work can create a desire to overcompensate to prove they are still working as hard as their office based colleagues.

While there’s nothing wrong with working hard, this can easily turn into burn-out or a feeling of dissatisfaction with their work-life balance.

Try and keep the focus in your team on results and celebrate landmarks and achievements publicly to help employees feel valued.

Define boundaries

Being open and clear about what you expect from your team is important, but also specify what they can expect from each other.

If you don’t have regulated working hours, or you manage employees in different time zones, be clear about when a meeting can be scheduled or how long you can expect to wait for someone to reply to an email.

This will take the pressure off your employees but will also help to alleviate any tensions building within your team.

Encourage social interaction

A key aspect of office culture that remote workers may miss out on is the social interaction. Not only can strong social connections make employees happier with their life in general, but they also help the team to bond, collaborate and communicate more openly.

You could consider scheduling social video calls during lunch times, creating a space on your intranet or a chat room to encourage employees to share aspect of their personal lives, or planning days or times when the whole team comes together to talk in person.

If you do find that members of your team are struggling with a lack of social interaction, it could be worth considering using a coworking space, which offers many of the benefits of office culture, while still giving members the option to work from a convenient location.

Review the way you recruit and onboard

Adding new members into a remote team can be a challenge. When recruiting, as well as checking their experience in their field of expertise, you must try and determine how well they will work remotely.

Ask for examples where the candidate has worked independently before, and how they found it. Are they the sort of person who has enough discipline to get work done and initiative to problem solve?

It’s also important to adjust your onboarding principles accordingly. Some companies may choose to carry out onboarding in the office for the first few weeks. If that isn’t an option, be sure to establish clear communication channels where your new employee can get the support they need and make the time to introduce them to every member of the team.

Take the time to listen

Make sure you regularly take the time to connect with your team, all together and individually, to address any problems they are facing.

These may be work-related issues that you can all help to solve, struggles with remote working that you can offer solutions to, or just personal issues that are important to be aware of.

In an office environment people are more likely to discuss what’s going on in their day, so it can be easy to miss out on important updates that could affect your employees’ work or mental well-being.

What have you found to be effective when managing a distributed team? We’d love to hear your thought below!

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