Do you have teams spread across different cities, states, and even countries? Distributed work is the norm for large companies with satellite offices and facilities spread across the globe. Since distributed teams don’t work in the same office, they rely on high-quality technology and collaboration tools to connect, collaborate, and bond.
However, even with the right tools, working with teammates in a different location or time zone takes intentional effort. Trying to schedule a meeting with someone five hours ahead and another teammate two hours behind can give you flashbacks to math class. Plus, when collaboration is almost entirely digital, things often get lost in translation.
Fear not! In this blog post, we’ll walk you through seven best practices to uphold so that teams can effectively collaborate and work together from miles apart. But first, what is a distributed team?
What is a distributed team?
A distributed team refers to a team where all members are located away from each other and working within different time zones. This could mean team members are working from home, coffee shops, or co-working spaces. You might have a manager based in SF, a coworker based in NY, and another teammate based in India.
1. Foster good communication
Remote communication can be difficult, so it’s important to prioritize clear and consistent practices through tools, expectations, and mutual agreements. Tools like video conferencing, Slack, email, and project management programs can help get teams on the same page. They can also help teams engage in more spontaneous chats and discussions.
Many innovative ideas end up coming from watercooler conversation in an office. While distributed teams can’t be in the same room together, they can still engage in quick check-ins, problem-solve over Slack, or set up impromptu Zoom calls to bounce ideas off each other.
2. Encourage collaboration
Distributed teams often struggle with a sense of isolation, so it’s important to create opportunities for team members to collaborate and connect. That can look like a monthly brainstorming session to generate ideas for upcoming projects. Or it could be regular retrospective meetings to get the team in a virtual room to talk about what obstacles they faced.
Along with these meetings, it’s important to actively promote and encourage collaboration by rewarding group efforts and emphasizing shared goals.
3. Get the right tools to collaborate
To collaborate, teammates don’t need to be in the same room. There are great virtual collaboration tools that can help your teams connect their brain power from miles apart. LucidChart, WebWhiteboard, or Zoom have built-in collaboration features that are perfect for brainstorming.
Plus, document storage tools like Google Drive or Microsoft Teams have real-time editing capabilities. So multiple stakeholders can add, edit, and adjust documents.
4. Build a strong team culture
Even if it’s through a Zoom call, team culture shouldn’t be neglected. A great team culture is one where all team members are engaged, supported, and appreciated for their contributions and individual personalities.
Encourage open and honest communication, celebrate team success, and be sensitive to specific needs and concerns of team members. You’ll also want to incorporate regular team bonding activities like virtual game nights, Zoom happy hours, or simple get-to-know-you questions ahead of team syncs. Be inclusive of which activities you plan. You’ll want both in-person and remote colleagues to participate.
5. Plan offsites to get folks together in-person
While virtual game nights serve their purpose in bringing distributed teams together, face-to-face interactions are essential to foster a strong team culture. If budget allows, plan regular offsites where team members can get together in one place. Schedule time for team bonding in casual settings as well as creative brainstorming and workshopping sessions. Plan ahead and reserve a meeting room for a full day, plus smaller meeting rooms for break out sessions.
Bonus tip: Have the team book desks near each other so they can fully experience onsite collaboration with their coworkers.
6. Lead with flexibility
Most recent data shows that 74% of companies have embraced a hybrid work model, which is a type of flexible work. When you’re part of a distributed team, it’s important to set up flexible work policies. With people working in different locations and time zones, their working hours won’t perfectly overlap. The typical 9-5 may not work for every team. Be open to different working styles and schedules, and be willing to accommodate the needs of your team members.
7. Invest in your team
Investing in your people is essential for building a successful distributed team. Leaders should put time and attention into each member’s individual learning as well as the team development as a whole. That can look like offering training, mentoring, education stipends, or just opening your doors to hear feedback from your team.
Since proximity bias is a real problem in offices, it’s more important than ever for leaders to invest in the career and growth of their distributed teammates. You don’t want any members of the team to feel they’re at a disadvantage because they’re not in the same space as their coworkers.
Leading a distributed team isn’t easy, but it’s a reality for many large companies that operate nationally or even globally. Luckily, with advanced technology, a more flexible approach to work, and intentional team building, distributed teams can work together effectively. Be sure to invest not just in the right tools, but in your people as well to ensure they feel supported and empowered to contribute. By communicating regularly, establishing clear goals and expectations, and using the right tools you can create a positive and productive distributed work environment.
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