Tips for Managing Distributed Teams

11th July 2016

In an increasingly small and connected world, highly talented and skilled workers can work from anywhere, while giving excellent results and enjoying a better work-life balance.

In fact, many people estimate that approximately 80% of software development is being done in some form of distributed environment, and it’s accepted that the best talent is more distributed than ever- with hundreds of millions of qualified developers willing to be part of a distributed team.

Organisations that choose to use distributed teams can disconnect from geographic limitations and therefore cast a wider net- allowing them to attract and retain the best talent at equal or lower costs.

The way that these distributed teams are managed will contribute strongly to their chances of success. While there are many benefits to sourcing talented individuals from around the world, managing a distributed team also has its own set of challenges- team members many struggle with time zone and communication problems, feel disconnected from their teammates and have cultural difference.

Here are some of our best tips for effectively managing distributed teams:

Be Results Focused
Having a work culture that is results-only is one of the key ways to ensure that team members feel valued and that you’re not wasting time constantly trying to make sure everyone is working within certain hours. This can be done by refusing to track employee work hours (although project hours may still be tracked for billing purposes), ditching the rules of a 40 hour work week and instead having an attitude of “as long as the work is done and done well you can set your own hours.”

Communicate Frequently
While your team may work remotely, there’s no reason why you can’t have weekly meetings and catch-ups, either one-on-one, together, or both.There are many ways you can ensure this happens, and tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, and GotoMeeting are a few different options.

Keep Updated
At your weekly meetings, it can be a good idea to encourage everyone to list the three things they’re focused on that week. That means that if someone has a problem or needs help with a task they can take this opportunity to reach out, each person can give a brief report of their last week, and projects can be managed more effectively.

Use the Right Tools
Along with communication tools like Skype, there are many other tools that make it easier to manage your distributed team:

  • UberConference is a great conference calling software that records calls so you can refer back to them
  • Wunderlist is an easy-to-use basic to-do list tool
  • Jing is a good way to take screenshots
  • Google Docs is excellent for collaboration as team members will always have the most updated copy of each file and can see previous edits by other team members
  • The Salesforce CRM is a customer relationship management tool that can be accessed remotely and updated by all members of your team
  • Dropbox is a file sharing and storage option that allows you to easily store and share resources like photos, documents, presentations and other files
  • Basecamp and Asana are both collaboration tools that allow you to assign tasks, set deadlines and easily communicate with team members
  • WorldTimeBuddy is the best way to figure out time zone differences to ensure that everyone can communicate during working hours

Be Culturally Mindful
Remember that team members in different parts of the world are likely to have different communication styles and these cultures will often need to be navigated with care. Some cultures prefer to have small talk or informal conversation before getting to the point, while others prefer to address the main issue right away.

In some parts of the world, employees will be reluctant to give bad news to a superior. An example is some parts of Asia, where asking if a project on track is likely to give you an answer of “yes”. Instead, ask open-ended questions about deliverables and specific dates.

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