A mixture of globalization, improvements in technology, and cost advantages of telecommuting has created the perfect conditions for building and directing distributed teams. Such teams can perform tasks from anywhere around the globe, providing companies with a reduction in overall costs since they no longer need to invest in traditional infrastructure like offices, desks, electricity, and other overheads. Furthermore, these teams can be culturally diverse, allowing for teams which can see problems from different points of view and solve complex issues in a quick and more efficient manner.
The advantages of these teams are well known, but they do require a different style of management that empowers individuals while directing them toward a common goal. Here are a few ways that you can do this.
Set clear expectations.
With normal in-house teams, setting expectations is important for the management of a project. In these environments, milestones and meetings form the basis for project and team management, and information is transferred through quick office encounters. But with distributed teams, these conditions are electronic, which means setting expectations and following up is even more important.
It is easy for anyone to misunderstand a written communication. Therefore, expectations should be clear and measurable, and everyone should have clarity on deadlines. Use a combination of spontaneous communications via phone calls, video conferences, and instant messaging to follow up on tasks. If the company has failed to implement a previously defined structure, the task of setting expectations is more complex. However, failing to do this is a guaranteed way of creating a chaotic environment that is not conducive to efficiency and productivity.
Build a culture backed by technology.
Since the members of the organization are spread throughout different locations, technology forms the backbone of the team. For this to function properly, technology must be part of the work culture. Meaning, technology must be embraced and adopted by the company and its employees in a way that is intuitive. These tools should be ingrained in the way the business operates.
Great organizational cultures include a strong vision and clear values, and their people share these core values. In organizations built on distributed teams, the organizational culture must be backed up by the technology that the business implements. This implies that the vision and values of the company are felt whether on Skype for business video conferencing or in email exchanges. Organizational culture is more about the unwritten rules that are depicted through individual behavior. Therefore, companies that manage distributed teams need to work a lot harder to develop and maintain their shared belief system with employees.
Ensure strong communication.
A distributed team needs to be in constant communication to stay updated over long distances, and there are several ways you can encourage this. Communicate frequently with team members and be available to help the group achieve its goals. Help break down complex tasks into smaller and more manageable pieces, and be in touch to manage how fellow members are keeping up with their activities. Ensure that all individuals have access to the same information and set times where they can reach out and ask questions. Build rapport beyond the tasks of an assignment and get to know everyone in the unit.
Keep in mind that distributed teams do not have the ability to small talk around the coffee maker or water fountain. As subtle and insignificant as these types of communications may seem, they help build trust. Since distributed teams replace face-to-face contact with technology, the effort to create these exchanges is that much harder. Leaders and managers who take an interest and invest time to learn about their employees can create strong environments that share core values supported by a technological infrastructure.