Distributed Team: A Guide to Running the Business of the Future

Artur Shepel
on June 8, 2022
9 min read
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Distributed Team must be one of the most popular collaboration models out there. Unlike telecommuting, it requires a different distribution of roles and management using the most advanced methods.

Experienced in staff management and development firsthand, Deventor specialists decided to share with you their expert opinion on how to create and effectively manage distributed team of professionals today. 

What is a Distributed Team? 

A distributed team is a group of employees who work on the same project from different geographic locations. As a rule, it includes staff who work together both in the office and remotely.

The role of distributed teams in modern business 

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As Gen Z began to enter the labor market, the number of businesses adopting such models began to grow. An Upwork poll showed that over 60% of companies plan to work remotely. It is predicted that by 2025, 36.2 million, or 22% of Americans, will work this way. In particular, Mark Zuckerberg said that half of Facebook’s employees will be working remotely by 2030. According to Google, the number of such companies will increase to 78% over the next 7 years.

Why is the distributed team model beneficial? For one thing, because you can:

  • Expand the geography of talent;
  • Hire developers with the same high salaries as the market leaders;
  • Attract qualified professionals who can handle large and complex projects;
  • Increase employee retention;
  • Improve workflows and provide 24/7 service;
  • Expanding your talent pool and having more opportunities for good recruitment, minimize the costs associated with rash selection of personnel.

This approach allows you not to lose efficiency and optimize costs. Another advantage is the workflow flexibility distributed employees get. They handle their areas of responsibility more autonomously and show better results. In a recent study by Fuze Workforce Futures, 79% of respondents claimed that they wanted to be able to work remotely. According to statistics, 70% of young professionals believe that going to the office must be optional.

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Challenges businesses face when managing distributed teams 

While the model is attractive to both employers and employees, geographically dispersed and largely virtualized specialists face many challenges.

Communication

Sharing information and knowledge. It is often difficult to assess a person’s reaction to what you say. Remote workers may also have flexible hours. The lack of personal communication and direct interaction makes it difficult to build trust and achieve a cohesive team. Use video because having an open conversation saves you time wasted on email discussions.

Productivity

It is very difficult to ensure that employees do their jobs according to company standards. Lack of measurable goals and accountability issues can hinder productivity. A set of optimized processes is needed. In addition to using project management software, daily or weekly synchronization matters for managing a distributed team.

Tech infrastructure

Due to bandwidth constraints between production sites, distributed teams often require complete replication of the project infrastructure. As a result, the costs of licenses and hardware and software maintenance are skyrocketing.

Another challenge is choosing the right software package and its compatibility with the development, monitoring, and project management processes. As a result, project configuration management, sequential code building, or version provisioning becomes a challenge.

Security

A vast variety of devices, network infrastructure, and workplaces require good security that must be managed appropriately. Even with secure remote access, employees can inadvertently capture data and transfer it over insecure channels if the speed of remote access technology is not up to the mark.

Maintaining a data safety culture is much easier when employees are in constant contact with colleagues. You need to provide consistent messaging that focuses on their responsibilities and actions to keep data and devices secure.

Limit remote protocols. Rely on VPN connections and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). It’s important to choose collaboration and file-sharing tools that offer the latest encryption technologies and have a proven track record in protecting data privacy.

Team spirit and morale

A team can include employees with completely different cultures, communication styles, and values. It can be difficult for distributed team members to understand each other. Implement an intercultural learning program. Videoconference when hiring employees and invite team members to share their national traditions, favorite foods, and personal stories.

How to Manage a Distributed Team 

You can’t use normal office management techniques with a distributed team, so look for 24/7 communications and handle the following management aspects.

Clarify roles and responsibilities

Pay attention to clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each employee. Be sure to take notes and post them in Google Docs or wherever you and the employee can see it. A scorecard format can be used.

Document communication norms

We recommend the following items:

  • Meetings – which are required, in what format, what are the expectations?
  • Communication ─ what are the default tools to use outside office hours? What’s the protocol?

When adding new information, be sure to synchronize it in time.

Organize regular meetings

Regular short meetups with each member of the team will allow you to understand what is going on in their professional lives, and find ways to increase productivity and happiness. We recommend using video for meetings as you can pick up a lot of unspoken signals (such as body language).

Establish clear goals and consistent reporting

Set clear goals, areas of responsibility, and consistent reporting on progress towards key results. Goals should not be hidden in a spreadsheet – they need to be regularly referenced and easy to remember.

Create a weekly feedback loop

Conduct weekly reviews in addition to stand-ups. There are things that people will not tell you personally during a one-on-one meeting, but they will tell you behind the screen. Ask them the following questions:

  1. What was the best part of the week?
  2. What was the hardest part of the week?
  3. Where were you stuck?

The answers will help to uncover what drives each employee and understand what obstacles there exist.

Distributed Team Management Tools 

Use platforms that facilitate virtual collaboration between distributed teams:

JIRA

The platform helps you plan, track, and manage multiple agile projects at once. Each project goes through a custom task workflow that controls its status, as well as the rules for transitioning to other statuses.

Zepel

You may track the development process at every stage and it is easier to create client-oriented software products. Closing the gap between development teams. Boards, sprints, and agile reports make collaborative development a lot easier.

Confluence

With a flexible work environment that offers a variety of tools, from actionable meeting minutes to inspirational plans, you can kickstart your teams’ participation in the most challenging collaboration project.

Trello

One of the most flexible projects management tools. Makes it easy to keep track of daily tasks as well as long-term goals. You can add your team members to custom boards and each team member can report their progress to you.

Kanbanize

A flexible solution that allows you to gain transparency on all projects, combine planning with execution, increase productivity by 20% and fulfill orders 40% faster. With it, you visualize the project plan and distribute work across teams. Progress and potential risks are displayed automatically.

Orangescrum

Everything is presented and organized in one place. You can track the progress of tasks and manage processes with powerful collaboration tools.

ActiveCollab

The application gives you full control over your workflow. Everyone will know exactly what to do at what time. And you will have more time to focus on what matters most.

Backlog

A simple yet powerful interface lets you organize, discuss, and track your collaboration in one place. Git and Subversion repositories allow commands to communicate with each other.

Progress is easy to measure with visuals such as whiteboards, Gantt charts, workout, and Git charts. Thanks to wiki pages, a team can be notified of changes to a project and store information about previous versions.

How to Increase Productivity for Distributed Teams

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Distractions, communication issues, poor time management, and accountability problems can hinder employee productivity, so use the right tools and strategies. Here are some pro tips.

Give your team greater autonomy

Surely you need to intervene if projects go off course, but a little creative freedom is beneficial for the team. Employees feel less constrained, make decisions faster, and do better at work. This increases a sense of responsibility for completing tasks on time and attention to detail.

Offer direct and concise feedback

In addition to monitoring the progress of projects, it is also important to have strong feedback. Constructive feedback helps employees learn from their mistakes. Show them opportunities for improvement. Encourage open, two-way dialogue with questions and suggestions on topics of concern.

Celebrate the wins

Employees want to be part of a team that values them. A few reassuring words like “keep it up” or “job well done” can motivate them to do better. If your budget allows, celebrate your big achievement with gifts, parties, or weekends.

How to Assess the Quality of the Distributed Team’s Work  

  1. Rate team members the same way based on results. Don’t use elements that are not shared, such as the number of hours worked in the office or attending events without remote access.
  2. Make your success public. Don’t deprive remote employees of rewards. They may lose interest and become less productive.
  3. Be aware of the social aspects. Loneliness and feeling disconnected are big challenges for remote workers, so bring your team together using social media, apps like Zoom or Slack, where they can share personal details and photos.

Conclusion

Our own experience proves that distributed teams can be just as innovative and successful as sharing a physical workspace. Hopefully, now you know more about how to manage remote teams to help you improve the performance of your business.

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