By George Fironov
If you’ve never worked with a remote freelancer before, you’re doing something wrong. Virtual employees are the new standard.
The “remote work” part of the management playbook is more important than ever. Skilled managers can streamline their business, while significantly cutting overhead costs, by engaging in remote work.
Companies like Zapier or GitHub rely are essentially built on distributed teams. Their fiercely growing businesses prove that it’s possible to build market-leading enterprises without relying on traditional models of 9-to-5 work with the whole team in a single location.
Due to its unique nature, the tech market is the perfect ground for building remote teams. In this industry, remote work is not a nuisance, but an actual necessity because of the continuous shortage of professional software developers. And not just developers, but any type of creative worker whose work location doesn’t matter as long as they have an internet connection.
Since managers can’t find the people they need on-location, we need to look elsewhere. But after we find suitable candidates for our remote team, how can we ensure that they have a fulfilling work experience?
That’s the question I’ll try to answer in this article, based on my personal experience working with freelancers and remote employees, and helping to build distributed teams for our clients at Talmatic.
But first — what is a distributed team?
The main thing that sets apart distributed teams is that they are not location-based. Members of a distributed team can live in any place in the world, and still work on the same project.
In their 2019 survey regarding remote work, Buffer asked 2471 professionals about their experiences. It turns out that there were no companies that didn’t allow any remote work, and only 9% had strict rules limiting time spent working from home. 40% companies were a mix of full-time remote employees and office-based employees.
Most importantly, an astonishing 31% of companies in the survey were fully remote.
And there’s no wonder, because while there are some drawbacks, distributed teams are much more efficient than office-based teams.
|Office-based team||Distributed team|
|Office space requires significant, and continuous spending||No need to spend on an office space, the budget can be allocated elsewhere|
|Working in the same building, everyone can communicate quickly in case of emergencies||Without proper communication procedures in place, time-zone differences can cause trouble in high-priority situations|
|Documentation isn’t as necessary when all team members are in the same place||Documenting everything becomes a fundamental part of getting anything done|
|Creative workers get distracted from solving issues and can’t get into a state of “flow”||It’s easier for creatives to get into their own “flow” and be more productive thanks to less interruptions|
|The project is more secure, which is often necessary with banks or FinTech companies||Maintaining security of the project might be more difficult, and require a complex strategy|
|Employees waste time for daily commute, and have standard work hours||Flexible work hours, no need to commute, which contributes to employee wellbeing|
Creating a productive environment and enabling employees to have a satisfying work experience is a tough challenge under any conditions. It’s not necessarily harder to build an efficient distributed team than an on-location team, but there’s a different set of obstacles that need to be overcome.
Common mistakes and obstacles to efficiency in distributed teams
There are certain pitfalls that are easy to walk into when transitioning to distributed team management.
#1: Virtual meetings have a different purpose
In a typical office environment, plans are made, issues discussed, and tasks distributed during meetings.
Running a distributed team with the same approach is difficult, and inefficient. Time-zone differences and flexible work hours make it difficult to get every person involved in the project on a single videoconference.
#2: Not documenting everything
Distributed employees need to be masters at communicating through writing. Chat messages, live comments in documents, ticket descriptions — they are the medium that drives communication in distributed teams.
#3: Forcing standard work hours
For employees, one of the biggest benefits of remote work is the ability to work when they please. Flexible work hours make it easier for them to make time for their families, friends, hobbies and passions. This contributes to their happiness, and happy employees are generally more productive.
More than anywhere, remote teams need to be evaluated based on results, not on how much time they spend working on something, or whether they put in the mandatory 8 hours per day.
#4: Lack of transparency
There’s no room for miscommunication, and the easiest way to communicate clearly is to avoid secrets on the team. If something regards the project, then every team member should be able to see it, and comment on it.
Avoid secrecy, as it will injure your team’s ability to communicate, making it hard to do anything efficiently.
Overcoming the obstacles of distributed teams
Managing remote workers requires an open-minded attitude. There are cultural differences, and personal work preferences to take into consideration. Understanding the differences between team members is crucial to finding their unique strengths, and enabling them to work together in a seamless manner.
Communicating in writing and documentation. We’ve mentioned that meetings have a different purpose for distributed teams. Whether you’re getting the whole team together in person, or on a video-call, these meetings shouldn’t be focused around high-priority issues. They become a tool for team building, and communicating things that aren’t mission-critical. The most important things should be communicated in a way that’s easily digestible, archived and searchable — documents, ticket managers, task management boards, and so on.
Replace watercooler conversations. Just as the office is a natural environment for team members to intermingle and discuss non-work related things, a distributed team should have a replacement. It can start with something as simple as dedicating a Slack channel for non-work discussions only.
Result-driven management. Encourage remote employees to be more efficient by evaluating their work based on results, and not time spent creating those results.
To sum up
In order to enable swift communication in your distributed team, you need to rely less on meetings, and more on documentation. Transparency, and result-driven management should be your guiding principles along the way.
Once you succeed, your company will be another example of how remote work can streamline business operations.