5 Ways to Effectively Manage Distributed Teams

Mar 31, 2020 | Best Practices

A remote team of software testers communicating

The world has drastically evolved in the way teams work together. Employees used to have to go to a physical office where they had desktop computers set up for them. All the work was performed from the company location.

Then, teams were provided laptops, which was a welcome change — but they were still mandated to come into the office to perform work. In the last few years, the times have changed, and more teams work from remote locations and are still able to figure out ways to collaborate with one another.

We are living in the era of remote, self-organized teams, with individuals who can complete tasks at their own pace and still schedule a time to work collaboratively to deliver high-quality products. Yet even though these teams are self-organizing, they still require management, and managing remote teams requires different skills from managing collocated teams. Here are five ways to effectively manage distributed teams.

1. Schedule meetings to check-in

Organizations with distributed teams often have people in different locations and even different time zones. It becomes important to periodically communicate with all of them to ensure they are progressing as expected. There are two effective ways to accomplish this.

One is by having regular weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings with team members to ensure they are getting the needed attention and their ideas and views are heard. This also has been known to increase employee retention and job satisfaction.

Another way is to let teams meet periodically to discuss each other’s work and get clarity on the goals, tasks, and objectives for the upcoming period. This could be done through daily standup meetings, retrospective meetings, planning meetings, or any other meeting where all the individuals in the team are given an opportunity to share their opinions and status on different tasks.

2. Invest in collaboration tools

Collaboration is the key to success for any agile team, but this is especially true when it involves remote employees. To foster collaboration, invest in collaboration tools that include chat and video-conferencing functionalities. Research suggests 93% of our daily communication is nonverbal, and it significantly affects behavior in the workplace. Being able to see people’s body language and facial expressions through video can help to proactively prevent gaps in communication.

3. Respect time zones, schedules and holidays

When working with teams in different regions, we need to be mindful of the way we communicate and set expectations. For example, if a company has teams in the United States and China, we need to realize that China is about eight hours ahead of the US. So, when scheduling meetings or expecting replies, ensure it is at a mutually agreeable time.

If a compromise in time is not possible and some meetings have to be scheduled early or late in the day for one of the teams, alternate the meeting times so that the same team isn’t always having to meet outside regular work hours.

When working within strict deadlines, make sure to mention the time zone along with the time you expect something to be delivered. For example, if a status report is expected from a remote team working on the West Coast of the US at 11:00 a.m. and you are located on the East Coast, make sure to mention that it’s the Pacific time zone to prevent ambiguity in expectations. This sounds simple, but it is often a major cause of confusion.

Finally, pay attention to domestic and national holidays for teams working in different regions, as it may affect timelines in planning and completing tasks.

4. Encourage social events

Although there are cutting-edge collaboration tools available for teams, nothing can replace face-to-face communication. Encourage having on-site social events where every team member is expected to attend. This gives an opportunity for people to get to know each other on a personal level and foster more connections between teams.

5. Appreciate good work

People often value words of encouragement and appreciation more than monetary benefits. To build better relationships with employees and coworkers, make your appreciation known via emails or thank-you notes, and let their peers know when someone does a great job. This appreciation has a positive impact on the whole team as well as the individual.

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