Distributed Teams: Identifying and Overcoming Challenges
A growing number of companies are embracing the idea of distributed teams. And with good reason! This model allows businesses to access a much wider talent pool and potentially lower their overhead. After all, if workers are remote, less office space is required. Certainly, prospective employees are drawn to companies with distributed teams as well. They often appreciate the flexibility and autonomy these positions provide. Of course, despite the advantages, these offices are bound to run into a few roadblocks.
Here are some challenges posed distributed teams and their subsequent solutions:
Lack of Effective Communication
Effective communication is definitely a challenge when it comes to remote workers and distributed teams. Emails get misinterpreted and directives get misunderstood. People don’t always respond in a timely manner, even when there’s a sense of urgency. A funny joke to one person may be seen as a slight to another – especially if the two people don’t interact on a regular basis. In short, you can’t read a room or swing by a coworker’s desk to get your questions answered.
Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to overcome these issues. To begin with, it’s critical you hire employees who are able to write in a clear and concise manner. This will obviously help curb any potential confusion. Moreover, remote teams should be encouraged to communicate frequently. Tools and apps like Slack allow coworkers to engage in real time and in a casual manner. Additionally, it’s a good idea to hold regular video chats as well. While these will never quite measure up to in-person meetings, video conferences can foster more friendly exchanges and help ensure comments are interpreted correctly.
Transfer of Knowledge Across Teams
Many distributed teams face numerous hiccups when it comes to knowledge transfer and product delivery. This is often because various facets of a project end up being completed in a piecemeal fashion, with each team working on different parts at different times. It’s easy for directives to get lost in translation and for people to lose sight of the larger context. These workers may also fall victim to the black box effect wherein one person or group sends out requirements to another and just expects output. They don’t really think about who is completing the work or the institutional knowledge they may or may not have.
To avoid these missteps, it’s important to be hyper aware of all pertinent information. Operate from the position that it’s always better to overshare or repeat something than hold back. Similarly, do your best to expose all team members to any client with whom you’re working. This helps to put everyone on an equal playing field and may close up any gaps in knowledge.
The “Us vs. Them” Trap
When teams are distributed geographically, it’s all too easy to fall into the mentality of us vs them. You form friendships with colleagues you interact with every day while coworkers three states away become abstract. And as you bond with your cube-mate, you are more likely to sideline the guy you don’t see. This often hinders collaboration and sometimes results in blaming the other team when problems arise.
There are several ways to combat this outlook. For starters, it’s imperative that companies foster a common vision. This helps create a united front and encourages everyone to work towards the same goal. Just as critical, corporations should have employees rotate through their various office locations – if only on a short-term basis. They might also think about hosting annual (or even quarterly) retreats. This allows employees to really put a face to the name behind all those email exchanges. And it’s guaranteed the strengthen relationships across the company.
Varying Time Zones
If your teams are distributed globally (or simply across the country), you are likely going to bump up against time zone issues. It can be challenging to find meeting times that work equally well for everyone involved. People might be forced to get up incredibly early or work well into the evening. Their moods and attitude may be affected by that. After all, some individuals are energized and alert in the mornings while others are sluggish and aloof.
To promote a sense of equity and limit pushback, ask your employees about their personal preferences. You may be delighted to discover that your New York team loves a good lunch time call while the folks in Lisbon enjoy dialing in at sunset. If you’re not that fortunate, it makes sense to rotate timing. That way, the same people won’t continually feel put upon.Curious to learn more about how firms handle their distributed teams? Well, we moderated a webinar with a few companies that are leading the way with this new model. Watch our panel here or enjoy a quick recap here.
Hone’s programs are explicitly designed for distributed teams. We can help you maximize your remote network today!