A Distributed Team Guide | Everything You Need to Know About Distributed Teams

A Distributed Team Guide | Everything You Need to Know About Distributed Teams
These days, you may not need to commute, wait in line for a coffee and answer questions from colleagues in the office. Those are some of the reasons why employees enjoy remote work. In a distributed team, all team members work remotely from various locations with no central office. So why have distributed teams increased in popularity?

This workforce shift is not new because the number of fully remote companies has been growing even before the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide lockdown. For example, according to a Forbes article published in summer 2019, “70% of employees say going into the office is not necessary.” The author also noted that 23% of remote workers represented geographically distributed teams.

We’ll explore the nature of a distributed team and how it is different from remote teams. As we use such terms in business more frequently, we want to answer some critical questions: What are the advantages and disadvantages of a distributed team? Why should companies have distributed teams? And what are the approaches to managing distributed teams?

What is a Distributed Team?

A distributed team consists of two or more employees working in different locations. There is no need for team members to share the same physical workspace or be present in a particular geographical area. These workers can perform their tasks in various cities or countries. Also, distributed teams can include several team members who work in an office and some who work from home.

With an appropriate infrastructure that allows for communicating, collaborating and coordinating, a distributed office can function even better than a traditional one. For example, applying a cloud-based phone system, along with other digital tools, helps companies manage critical aspects of teamwork, including communication, project management, HR and security. Online one-on-one or group chats and video calls enable team members to stay connected and keep business flowing smoothly.

Is There Any Difference between Distributed and Remote Teams

Although these terms may sound similar, they are quite different. Here, we will analyze the differences between a distributed team and a remote team.

The similarities between remote employees and distributed workers are easy to define. For both categories, employees work alone remotely away from the company’s office, and their work is independent of other colleagues and team members. But the differences start when considering the integration of teams, the approaches used to connect them and office locations.

Distributed teams

In a distributed team, the company distributes each team member away from others. It means that an employee can work at home from different parts of the world or work in an office where his colleagues are not necessarily present. With distributed team management, employees rarely or sometimes never see each other. Although we often associate these teams with flexible work, not all team members can obtain specific work flexibility perks. Ultimately, organizations can also assign distributed teams to relevant office buildings rather than home-based offices.

Remote teams

As in the case of distributed teams, remote employees also work away from each other. However, it does not require employees to work remotely or the company to distribute the team members worldwide. Instead of connecting colleagues in different time zones, a remote team employee can only work with some people, while other team members are located in a central office. Managing remote teams is also easier because they can be location-based. Thus, even if each team member works from home, they can occasionally meet in the office as the team works locally.

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What are the Pros and Cons of a Distributed Team?

The main advantages for organizations to build distributed teams are:

1. Employees consider remote work as a benefit

Such an advantage can be a selling point when hiring people who might want a higher salary, moving expenses, or reimbursement of commuting costs. Companies have already discovered that there is no need to supervise many job positions directly. They provide employees with more flexibility by allowing them to work from home. That makes them more motivated, productive and happier. Finally, working from home brings many health benefits.

2. Distributed teams reduce costs for office needs

A traditional team requires large office space. All employees need a cubicle, hardware and tools, as well as restrooms and facilities. Also, such a location must provide adequate parking, climate control and a high-quality IT infrastructure. Thanks to a distributed team, you can eliminate all of this. For example, many modern organizations with hundreds of workers can use the space equivalent of a two-bedroom apartment as their headquarters.

3. A distributed team encourages the use of cloud computing

Thanks to different cloud services and software, you can lower IT costs. You can forget about maintaining on-premises infrastructure for traditional development teams because cloud solutions provide everything from storing capabilities to accessing development environments. After all, it is much cheaper to operate distributed teams than on-premises ones.

On the other hand, challenges to managing geographically distributed teams are:

1. Lots of distributed teams still require maintaining a central office

Not each company can transform fully into a distributed organization. In many situations, you cannot perform different tasks in shipment, fulfillment, or manufacturing sectors remotely. Thus, if you have to maintain a headquarters or another facility, you will continue having relevant expenses.

2. Distributed employees can feel left out of the workplace

Team members who must commute can often be jealous regarding distributed teams. At the same time, distributed employees can feel left out of different corporate parties and other events they cannot attend. Also, the significant inconvenience falls on remote teams as companies ignore their schedules. Such issues provoke differences and disagreements between traditional and distributed teams that can result in a disgruntled workforce.

3. Regular in-person meetings are impossible

One of the key benefits of a traditional in-office team is the ability to call an immediate meeting when a problem occurs. This approach is more convenient than setting up video conferences and inviting numerous participants in Zoom. Also, do not underestimate the value of small talks during coffee breaks that serve as a source of powerful social connections among team members.

Distributed Company Examples: Why Do Organizations Have Distributed Teams?

Before the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations such as Basecamp or Trello started acting as partially remote working companies. For instance, Trello provides its employees with an opportunity to work remotely or stay at their office in New York.

Several successful companies also decided to implement flexible working hours and operate with fully distributed teams. Buffer, Zapier and InVision were among the progressive companies to pave the way toward distributed work.

Being an API integration tool, Zapier has operated as a fully distributed office almost since the foundation, and they have decided to continue that way. When the company had only five employees located in three different cities with no central office, they realized that:

  • Features continued to roll out
  • Clients continued to sign up
  • Customers continued to pay
  • Team members were happy

In the case of InVision, a platform for design collaboration and prototyping, the company acts as a distributed organization with more than 220 employees in 14 countries. This international strategy is the result of their CEO’s plans. The reason to maintain this strategy is that as a distributed office, InVision gains a chance to hire the best professionals in different parts of the world and retain them if they decide to relocate.

During the past decade, we have seen significant shifts in employee needs, wants and expectations. People demand more flexibility in the workplace; it can relate to saving money, opportunities to travel and work from different countries, or spending more time with their families.

Millennials consider flexibility a higher priority than salary, and many agree to reduce their pay to obtain more flexibility. Thus, companies have built geographically distributed teams to be more employee-focused and flexible as talented employees are hard to attract and retain. There is no surprise regarding the growth of distributed teams.

How to manage a distributed team

1. Structure meetings

Keeping connected is essential for all teams, no matter whether they work in the office or serve as distributed teams. Considering your team requirements, you can hold meetings every day or every week. But do not forget about the one best practice - to make sure that you set agendas for all team meetings.

If not, there is a good chance non-related things will come up if you have not communicated with your team members for a while - and that may take you off the focus of the meeting. If your team is chatty, you need to ensure you have a structured agenda and provide some time for others to talk at the end of the meeting. Otherwise, your video calls will turn into productivity killers.

2. Apply the right software

The appropriate tech stack is critical for a distributed company to succeed. For instance, software like Zoom matters because it provides video conferencing and screen sharing. Also, software tools such as TalentDesk allow you to manage your team effectively and maintain collaboration among team members. Another important thing is the ability of both internal and external employees to monitor their tasks and projects and access securely stored files at any time from any location. After all, if the software is mobile enough and easy to use, it showcases its high performance and significantly influences the productivity of a distributed organization.

3. Set clear expectations

Of course, it is simpler to ask quick questions to your colleagues when you are next to them, but you can fix that with minimal effort. Every time you communicate with your team members, you must be extra clear regarding setting objectives, key performance indicators (KPIs) and determining deadlines. That allows employees to know what they need to do and by when.

4. Renew your onboarding process

Onboarding is critical for both dedicated and traditional teams. But for members of remote teams, the onboarding process is a vital step to engage fast and start showing their efficiency. You must make sure that you provide new team members with access to all the necessary tools and information from their first day and make them feel welcome. Thus, there is a need to create a well-structured onboarding plan for new employees or even provide a mentor to them. The role of such a mentor is to help newbies settle in smoothly and be a person who can answer questions asked in the office.

5. Promote a team environment

A distributed company needs to help team members feel valuable even when working remotely. For instance, you can create non-work-related channels in your communication tools like Slack. That can provide some fun within virtual teams and increase employee motivation. People can discuss their hobbies and interests freely, share news or memes. Also, if you have enough budget, you can organize corporate parties, retreats, or other events to help team members bond.

Conclusion

Although distributed work gained popularity before the pandemic, COVID-19 has led to “the largest work-from-home experiment” in the world, according to workplace leaders. This experiment is ongoing, but current results prove positive sentiment regarding a distributed organization, both from development teams and employers.

Today, companies can understand the value of a distributed workforce properly and appreciate it highly. If you search for the distributed team members, Cprime Studios can lend you a hand. Tell us your needs and requirements - and we’ll provide you with the dedicated staff that can join the team you already have or be hired as the whole new team for your product.