It’s a global world out there, and for many companies, a single office location just doesn’t cut it anymore. But success takes more than setting up desks in a new city. Whether your coworkers are across the world or across the country, there’s a right way and wrong way to approach distributed teams. I’ve rounded up four avoidable mistakes that’ll cost you serious productivity, plus four solutions that helped us performance hack our way to improvement.
Mistake #1: Putting up barriers to constant communication
With offices in two European and two U.S. time zones, we’re dealing with a mere four hours of actual overlapping work. It’s crucial we make the most of this limited time, and email just doesn’t cut it. An overflowing inbox of equally urgent items is the sign of an unhealthy organization and it often leads to misunderstanding.
Solution: Video conferencing services like Skype are lifesavers here. Section out two hours of that overlap time and schedule as many conversations as you need. Try to avoid pure phone calls whenever possible. And before you hit send on another email, stop yourself and ask how quickly the task needs to get done. If it can wait a week, go ahead. Otherwise, let’s chat about it in real time.
Mistake #2: Holding on major decisions until every office is awake
You need to stay agile, but what happens when Austria is well into the work day and Boston’s just rolling out of bed? It’s a major roadblock to communication, and one that’ll trip up your progress if you aren’t careful.
Solution: If a decision is urgent, make it. Don’t wait around for every single person to wake up and approve a change. For those in a later time zone, it’s important to adapt to these scenarios and trust their far-away teammates to make the right choice. The best way to do this? Take advantage of that overlap time each day to bring everybody on board with progress.
Mistake #3: Being antisocial and anti-travel
Traveling costs are high and everyone has a busy schedule, so you decide it’s best to limit in-person communication to one all-company visit per year. Before you know it, members of the same team are feeling like they barely know each other on a professional level, let alone a personal one.
Solution: Make the investment. Encourage frequent visits of at least a week. For development teams, consider two weeks, or long enough to complete an entire sprint. Being together is about more than getting work done in the same room. Build social activities into the mix as well, and alternate locations so everyone gets a sense of each office’s local culture.
Mistake #4: Not having the right organizational structure
Working remotely takes self-discipline, and if you don’t have that, you’re going to struggle on a distributed team. You need a structure that keeps everyone in check and encourages continuous conversations.
Solution: On a higher level, make sure there’s a manager at every location. Having a contact on-site is worlds better than having one on the other side of a Skype screen. We also live and die by shared calendars. If you have to play ping pong to find a time, it’s much harder to get anything done. Beyond that, be extra-diligent about keeping tabs on everything, whether you’re using a bug-tracker like Jira or an organizational tool like Trello.
What are your biggest questions about working on a distributed team? Let us know, and we may answer them in a future post.