Even before the pandemic suddenly moved our collective office spaces to the dining room table, the concept of a remote workforce was knocking on the door. The early months of 2020 rapidly accelerated the move to distanced education and virtual employment. While ‘remote’ has become a catch-all term for employees working from home, there are actually a few nuanced differences in how you describe your company.
- Remote Teams – Typically based around a physical, central office space. Often these teams are within the same time zone and can have the option of working some days in the aforementioned office space.
- Hybrid Teams – Very similar to remote teams but will often have a regular cadence of in-office workdays. Still geographically similar, with minor exceptions.
- Distributed Teams – Every team member is working remotely, with no regard to physical office space. This can include several time zones and countries.
What makes a distributed team beneficial for your company?
There are several tangible advantages to a distributed workforce, ranging from efficiency to overhead costs. With office space skyrocketing in cost, one of the most impactful benefits is that physical office space is not required for distributed teams. You are also not regionally limited in your search for talent, as physical proximity is no longer relevant. This also means that covering evening and night shifts can be accomplished with workers in different time zones. A distributed team also incentivizes the move to cloud computing, lessening the cost of infrastructure even further. Another benefit to your company is the ability to have a widely diverse workforce, with insight and skills from several different cultures. The benefits are not limited to your company, as many employees can enjoy the distributed team model. The cost of commuting is now a non-factor, and the expense of workwear disappears. Employees have also seen increased progress on projects, as workers in other time zones are able to continue the work around the clock. One of the most talked about benefits of working remotely, however, is the freedom for the employee to choose where their office is. Some employees may choose to establish a traditional home office, decorated and adorned as they see fit, while other employees may prefer coworking spaces or coffee shops.
What makes a distributed team difficult to enact, and how can my company accommodate our distributed workforce?
While there are a multitude of benefits to distributed teams, they are not without their pitfalls. Employees in a distributed team have felt that their roles and responsibilities are unclear without regular in-person interaction. There also needs to be a concerted effort to build trust and connection, both between employees and management. Humans are social creatures, and fostering an engaging, enjoyable workplace goes a long way toward quality work. Establishing a clear and consistent onboarding process will alleviate a majority of the concerns. Welcoming new employees with your company culture and team introductions will help foster a people-focused experience. Another common pinch point of distributed teams comes in the form of recognition. Ensuring that your employees are supported in their efforts and that the wins are celebrated is imperative. Another way to support your team is to ensure a few hours of schedule overlap. This may be difficult if your company has gone international, but it doesn’t need to be every single day. Regular interaction with other team members helps employees stay focused on the goal and feel connected to their peers. One of the most important considerations to make when working with a distributed team is to ensure goals and feedback are consistent. Feedback, both up and down the leadership chain, is an integral part of working in a virtual environment. Establishing clear, reasonable goals for your team members with regular check-ins also supports your employees.
What types of tools and resources are available?
Calling an emergency meeting was a simple task when everyone was working in the same building, but as we have discussed, that is likely no longer the case for many companies. Ensuring that your company invests in the right tools can make or break a distributed workforce. Providing several avenues of communication and collaboration is important for success, but providing too many can lead to confusion and missed memos. Collaboration tools, such as Slack, Asana, and Trello provide your team with highly efficient messaging and tasking. There are also tools built specifically for employee engagement, such as Polly, that provide meeting management, polls, and surveys. Another important consideration, depending on your industry, would be establishing a Voice over Internet Protocol system to handle your business communications.