How to manage a distributed team effectively

The large office building, tight cubicles, “ergonomic” chairs concept of the workplace is eroding fast across industries. The centralized workplace is giving way for a distributed, remote workforce collaborating online. Several factors can be cited for this, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. However, companies had started to shift even earlier as they looked to compete globally. This is particularly true for companies providing service to users across multiple timezones. Distributed remote teams allow such companies to provide 24-hour service support to their users. Companies are also realizing that this new concept of a workplace affords them greater diversity in their workforce. Talent can now be recruited worldwide without worry about their country of residence. Thus, when examining the eroding concept of a traditional workplace, perspective can be the difference! 

I cannot delve into all the reasons why distributed teams are increasingly being adopted worldwide. However, the question that plagues corporations is: How do you properly manage a distributed team? If not managed well, a distributed team can be unproductive and unfulfilling for the company and the workers respectively. While it may sound convincing that distributed teams can be managed via virtual communication only, it can be subsequently frustrating. 

This frustration can affect employee commitment, overall productivity, and morale within the company. Onteres’ clients are all over the world and we have full-time team members in Canada, Nigeria, United States, United Kingdom, Ireland and Russia. Many other part-timers are also scattered around the world. We have had our own fair share of challenges, but we have learnt from them. I am sharing the lessons we have learnt that companies can adopt to effectively manage their distributed teams. 

Hire the right people

Working remotely may not be for everyone, some people are more productive in a physical workplace and others, at home.

People know that remote work comes with a lot more distractions than there will be at the workplace. The challenge then is for remote workers to maintain the self-discipline necessary to remain productive. 

Hence, as hiring managers, the priority is to hire people who enjoy remote work and have demonstrated the self-discipline to stay productive in the past. An obvious tip would be that you hire people who have a few years of experience working as freelancers. However, be sure not to miss out on the others who may lack freelance experience but have the self-discipline!

Acquiring the right talent is the most important key to growth. Hiring was – and still is – the most important thing we do.– Mark Bennioff Co-CEO of SalesForce

Have proper communication methods in place

Staying connected is very essential for distributed teams. They require more communication in order to deliver at the same level as a physically accessible team. In fact, with quality information flow, distributed teams can deliver as well as and even better than a project team working in the same room.

As a Software Delivery Company, ensure you have various non-traditional communication methods set up for your team. Do not rely solely on emails. Its formality hinders productivity and timely communication. Instead, incorporate other communication tools like Slack, Skype, Hangouts, Discord, Sharepoint etc. Encourage team members to have video or audio chat rather than asynchronous conversations like Email. Use all the technologies you have at your disposal to get an isolated team to communicate and interact together. At Onteres, we use three major communication tools: Slack, ClickUp and Zoom

You should also ensure that you compensate for in-person interactions by hosting various activities like retreat sessions or village meetings. Team games, online multiplayer games, or quiz shows also help remote teams bond and we have found them useful.

Establish clear roles and expectations

“What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed” is an even more important rule when working with a distributed team.

Assuming your employees know what you expect from them is a recipe for disaster. As a manager, you need to understand that it is easy for people to misunderstand instructions especially when they can not physically communicate with you and read your body language. This makes it very essential to assign very clear realistic tasks and deadlines. 

Make your expectations as concise as possible by setting clear KPIs and proper deadlines. Also, establish a proper meeting schedule and have one-on-ones with your employees from time-to-time. At Onteres we have adopted the Agile Scrum framework for all of our projects to ensure we have an iterative process that emphasizes teamwork and accountability. We hold daily scrums to keep us on track and ensure everyone is getting the support they need. It is also important that daily scrums have a scheduled time so that people are not distracted and can focus on their deliverables.

Have a Proper Document and Project Management System

It is essential to ensure everything is documented. Team members cannot simply walk to their colleagues and share ideas.

Thus in an isolated working environment, make sure the remote teams are in the cloud and collaborative. We suggest Project Management Systems like Asana, Jira, and Basecamp for software development, and tools like Sharepoint, Salesforce, and ClickUp for document management. When using any of these systems,  you need to use them religiously, and everything needs to go to that system.

Most of these tools have a free version that you can try out before committing to a full version. If you need help setting up any of these systems for your organization you can reach out to us at Onteres. We have certified professionals you can consult to ensure that you are choosing the right tool.

Be result oriented

Be flexible, and respect time zones and boundaries. Regardless of time zones, team members will not all work at the same time. Teams are a mix of morning birds and night owls. The company’s mandate is to empower workers to work wherever and whenever. The project manager should thus allow for flexible work hours in exchange for consistent delivery of work. 

Pay virtual team members very well

There is no greater incentive to do a great job than money for most workers. Employing distributed teams saves you from costs such as a physical office. Pass on such gains to your team. Loosen your purse strings a little! Have rewards in place for high performers in all aspects. it boosts morale and productivity. 

When you hire from developing countries, you tap into an amazing talent pool that is more affordable. Pay higher than the market rate if you can and you will gain the advantage of their loyalty and absolute commitment to your organization. This way, you are guaranteed not just cost savings but also quality work. 

Lastly, don’t forget to establish norms that team members agree to and commit to heart. It not only helps to avoid confusion but introduces familiarity as your team adjusts to virtual collaboration.

Cheers. 

AboutUsman Arogundade
Usman is a Partner and Lead developer here at Onteres. With years of experience working as a Fullstack developer for various companies, he is a complex problem-solver with an analytical and driven mindset. Dedicated to achieving demanding development objectives according to tight schedules while producing impeccable code.

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