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Digital Workplace

What Are Distributed Teams? A Complete Guide To Distributed Teams


Managing distributed teams with employees located in different physical locations can often differ a lot from traditional team management where employees are usually working from the same office space. Managing a distributed team requires managers to double down on the very fundamentals of team management like communicating clearly, running time-efficient meetings, and leveraging the collective and individual strength of team members.

Successfully managing a distributed team can be very challenging even for the most experienced team managers, and it can take quite some patience, time, and practice to get things right. But with the right processes, strategies, and tools, it is possible to establish an engaged and productive distributed team.

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about managing a cohesive and effective distributed team.

What are distributed teams?

Distributed teams are basically teams where all the employees work remotely from different physical locations. The employees can work from their home, any coworking space, or even a public cafe. Since they are not required to be present at the company offices every day, it gives employees the freedom to choose their own working environment.

Managing distributed teams

1. Clarify roles and responsibilities

Whether you are inheriting an existing team or establishing a new distributed team, you need to spend some time clarifying the roles and responsibilities of every team member. You can create a shared team document where all of these details are explicitly specified and this document can then serve as a reference for the future.

2. Create communication norms

Since there is no way for your distributed teams to have face-to-face interactions, it is important to also create communication norms so that the team members do not get bogged down by impromptu meetings and messages all day which can invariably lead to a loss of efficiency and productivity.

Your communication norms guideline should include details about:

  • Discussions that require meetings and that don’t require meetings at all
  • Main communication channels for the team
  • Response times expected from every employee

3. Organize regular meetings

Working remotely, it’s easy for employees to feel isolated and unappreciated. Organizing regular team meetings ensures everyone knows what the others have been up to and how they are contributing towards the overall team goals. Similarly, one-on-one meetings can give distributed team members some much-needed space to air their grievances and troubles that they may not feel comfortable bringing up in team meetings.

4. Focus on the results

It is crucial to remember that sharing an office and spending a fixed number of hours there every day does not always guarantee productivity. Over 65 percent[1] of employees believe they are more productive when they work from outside the office. On average, remote employees work for 1.4 more days than their in-office counterparts.

That is why organizations should focus on the results delivered by employees instead of fixating on the number of hours they spend in front of their laptops every day.

Distributed teams best practices

How to promote company culture across distributed teams

Company culture directly affects how your employees, as well as your customers, perceive you, which in turn also determines how successful your business will end up being. In most cases, employees get a good understanding of the company culture by observing and interacting with their colleagues in the office. But building a culture for distributed teams becomes a big challenge since there is no way for employees to have regular face-to-face interactions.

Therefore, there is a need to strategically build a digital company culture that can live up to the company’s core values and make distributed teams feel connected and valued. In fact, over 94 percent of senior executives believe that culture is incredibly important for driving innovation and 88 percent of employees say a distinct corporate culture is crucial for a company’s success.

But while understanding that company culture is important is the easy step, the biggest challenge that most organizations face is promoting a uniform company culture across all of their distributed teams.

When different distributed teams in your organization use different tools to manage and streamline their work, it can create big siloes in your organization. Employees on one team may not have any idea about what the employees on other teams have been up to. It can make cross-team collaboration almost impossible and also lead to a lack of camaraderie within the company.

To avoid creating silos and build a unified company culture, organizations can introduce a centralized digital workplace platform for all of the distributed teams across the different verticals.

Here are some of the many ways a digital workplace can help promote and build company culture:

  • Simplify cross-functional team collaboration by providing teams shared spaces to connect.
  • Create an online directory of all the employees to make it easier for people in different teams and departments to find and connect with each other.
  • Encourage peer to peer recognition to acknowledge great work.

How to increase productivity for distributed teams

1. Give your team greater autonomy

In an office environment, it’s easy and natural for managers to walk up to an employee’s desk in order to check up on their work or ask them any questions. Similarly, if there are any issues within the team, you can huddle the team into a meeting room and discuss things in order to clear the air.

But this does not work with a distributed team. Even when employees are out of sight, managers cannot constantly check up on them through messages or phone calls because it can easily make employees feel overwhelmed and untrusted. It can also hinge on the remote employees’ freedom and flexibility to create their own schedules.

Therefore, there is a need to establish greater autonomy in the team to remind employees that you trust them enough to handle their work successfully even when you cannot see them actually working.

2. Offer direct and concise feedback

Improper or a total lack of feedback can instantly lead to disengaged employees and even affect their performance. Here are some quick tips for giving effective feedback to your team remotely:

  • Be as specific about your feedback as possible, especially if you providing it in a written form
  • Be prompt with the feedback and share it as soon as possible with the team members so that they have enough time to work on it. Avoid sending feedback at the last minute and expecting employees to work on it right away
  • Choose your channel for feedback very wisely. It’s good to share positive feedback for a team member with the entire team. It encourages employees to perform their best and reminds them that their work is always appreciated. But giving constructive or negative feedback should never be done in front of the entire team as it can quickly bring the morale down. Instead, initiate 1:1 meetings with team members to discuss where things went wrong and provide them with help to fix those mistakes.

3. Celebrate the wins

Every employee wants to be a part of a team where their contributions are always acknowledged and valued. By constantly showing appreciation and giving credit where it is due, you can make employees feel more confident about their work and more productive as well. Of course, simply complimenting employees is not always enough. In case your budget allows it, you should celebrate big wins by giving gifts or vouchers to your employees.

Distributed teams are the future of work

While the move to fully and partially distributed teams was triggered by the pandemic, it is now driven by the growing competition to retain and attract the best talent. The need to find new ways to improve the work-life balance of employees, improve team performances, and increase cost savings are just some of the many reasons for the widespread adoption of the distributed work model.

Even though establishing and managing a distributed team can seem challenging at first, using the right tools can make the transition all the more easier. Kissflow digital workplace can help streamline communication, collaboration, projects, and processes within a distributed team, making it easier for employees to always stay connected with the team even when they are working from different physical locations.