Working on a Distributed Team: The Challenges and Benefits

Working on a Distributed Team: The Challenges and Benefits

This guest post was written for by cove. We partnered to bring you the TRaD* Works Forum (*telecommute, remote, and distributed teams) earlier in June. Learn more about TRaD Works here!

Technology is enabling the modern worker to become more mobile as part of a distributed team. Our offices are often no bigger than what we carry in our bag or even our pocket. With the quick tap of a finger, we have the ability to connect with our colleagues and clients and share reports and proposals. We can send emails, host conference calls, and collaborate on a presentation without ever leaving home.

It’s exciting to find organizations of all sizes enabling their employees to live a mobile life and do their jobs online.

Some companies allow certain individuals or teams to work remotely, while others have sidestepped a central office altogether and have a completely distributed team.

Whether or not it’s a partially or fully distributed team, there are benefits and challenges to this model.

Challenges of Working on a Distributed Team

1. Isolation

Working remotely can be lonely. The idea of working from home may seem pretty glorious at first, but it can quickly become isolating, unmotivating, and quite frankly, a little depressing.

Going into an office five times a week where you’re surrounded by your colleagues makes it easier to build one-on-one and team relationships. Working remotely doesn’t provide that social environment.

Solution: You may choose to try working out of coffee shops or finding a shared workspace to be around others. Even if you don’t need or don’t want to talk to others, it’s inspiring to simply be surrounded by other people pursuing interesting work.

2. Company Culture

Company culture is a buzzword we’re all throwing around these days, but let’s face it—it’s important. We spend 40 hours per week (sometimes more) working, so we should enjoy what we’re doing, feel valued, and feel like we’re making a difference.

However, culture is a hard thing to build when done virtually. When everyone goes to the same place every day, it’s easy to grab a drink after work, take a lunch break together, or simply check in with your team. The company can show appreciation by bringing everyone together.

In a distributed team, this is much harder. How can each teammate feel like a part of the team when they’re not physically with the team? How does an organization make you feel valued when you could be hundreds of miles away from your nearest colleague?

Solution: Communicate regularly, and do so face-to-face. There are a growing number of easy-to-use and reliable video conferencing tools that provide opportunities to collaborate while looking at the other person. It’s easier to build relationships when you can see the other person’s expressions and body language than when that person is a mystical voice over the phone or in an online chat.

Offer perks that anyone, anywhere can use. Instead of providing lunch every Friday, send gift cards. Host contests that can be participated in digitally instead of in person. Host company retreats to bring everyone together once a year. Culture takes work—but it’s worth it.

3. Communication

A remote worker doesn’t have the luxury of popping into a colleague’s office to ask a quick question or submit a proposal. You can’t check your manager’s desk to see if she’s there or not to explain a lack of response for an urgent deadline.

It’s easy to feel out of the loop on a distributed team, and things can get even more complicated if the team is spread across various time zones.

Solution: The right channels of communication need to be set up so everyone is getting the right information at the right time. It’s important to set up guidelines around how to use each channel, and it’s important that everyone understands the appropriate circumstances of when to use them.

Email is obvious, but chat and videoconferencing are just as important. Slack has taken instant communication by force, and it’s a great tool to keep information flowing. Project management tools, such as Basecamp and Asana, are also great tools to manage teams and projects, giving everyone access to information, updates, and changes.

Benefits of Working on a Distributed Team

1. Increased Flexibility

This is the biggest benefit of a distributed team. Employees have the flexibility to work when, where, and how they choose. You don’t have to show up at a certain time and stay for eight hours straight.

No one knows from where you’re working, so if you want to head to the beach a day early for a long weekend, you can work from the beach house, take a swim in the middle of the day, then finish up on the porch swing while watching the kids play in the sand.

If one morning you’re simply too tired to actually be productive, sleep in a couple extra hours and work later in the day and into the evening instead. You don’t have to worry about taking time off for appointments or picking up a sick child from school—simply do what you need to do! Work is integrated into life not the other way around.

2. Talent

The best talent doesn’t necessarily live in your company’s city—or even the company’s home country. Supporting a distributed team allows you to hire the best people no matter where they live. This means a global pool of professionals to explore to find that perfect fit with experience, skills, and culture.

3. Fewer Distractions

Offices are distracting. Phones are ringing, conversations are happening around you at all hours of the day, and pop-up meetings occur regularly.

On a distributed team, these things don’t happen. No one is going to show up at your house or at your desk at a shared workspace. The sales team isn’t going to be talking in your ear all day. You have the ability to find your favorite environment to work in for various types of work and really buckle down to get things done.

4. Autonomy

No one likes a micromanager. Having someone literally looking over your shoulder is enough to make any employee go crazy.

Fortunately, distributed teams don’t often have this problem. Working remotely provides you with more autonomy over your schedule, your work, and ultimately, how you best accomplish your tasks at hand.

5. Less Overhead

This may not directly impact every individual in an organization, but it does indirectly at the very least. A distributed team, whether partially or fully distributed, needs less real estate, and a smaller real estate footprint equals more money spent on the things that are going to move the needle.

This may mean more money for your marketing budget, an end-of-year bonus, or the ability to go to that conference you’ve been eyeing.

There are many solutions to overcome the challenges of distributed teams. However, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

If your company is interested in testing out this model, try it with a few employees first before expanding the model to an entire department or the entire team. It’s an exciting time to be able to work when, where, and how we choose. Let’s own it!

erinAs the marketing director for cove, Erin Gifford develops and oversees corporate marketing strategies, public relations strategies, content marketing, and corporate communications. She was hired as cove’s second full-time employee in January 2014, just before the launch of the company’s second location. Erin built cove’s marketing and community strategies from the ground up and has been an integral player in growing cove’s team and launching in Boston, its second market. Erin holds a BA from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism. Prior to cove, she worked in marketing and public relations for various DC-area theatres

By Erin Gifford | Categories: Work Remotely

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