This post is based on the lessons learned by DataArt, a global software engineering firm with 20 offices in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Our developers are used to working in project teams distributed across different countries and even continents.
Pros and Cons of Distributed Teams
According to FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, over the last 10 years, the number of remote employees grew by 91%. Despite this, some managers are still scared of the perceived low productivity of distributed teams.
This fear is groundless. 78% of employees believe that a flexible work arrangement makes them more efficient.
Tetyana Golubyeva, Delivery Manager and Process Consultant at DataArt comments:
“My experience with distributed employees, for many years, shows that this fear is completely irrelevant and more addresses the manager’s personal issues with control and trust in the team,”
So what are the major advantages and concerns of distributed teams?
Pandemic resistance. The geographic distribution of teams mitigates the risks connected with local emergencies and pandemics.
Cost-efficiency. Pay fewer taxes, eliminate rental payments and find people with the same qualifications in locations with more affordable workforces — this is all about distribution.
Portfolio of qualifications. With the option to search for specialists worldwide, it’s possible to find experts with any specialization and maturity level, including in very niche domains.
Speed of staffing. Distributed teams mean looking for candidates worldwide, which gives employers more options to fill the vacancy and, therefore, considerably speeds up the recruitment process.
Flexibility. If a team works in different time zones, it decreases the response time for various requests. Distributed teams mean having more working hours during the day, which can be crucial for some products.
Employee friendliness. People get rid of their commutes and save up to two hours a day. Moreover, they feel less stressed.
Managers should understand and admit that communication between distributed teams takes 20-25% of people’s working time. For a localized team, this number is somewhere near 10%.
Integration skills become more critical – it’s naïve to think that people self-organize remotely. You need to spend more time checking whether everything is up-to-date, that all communication channels work properly, and that everyone has the same information.
People’s desire to communicate regularly reduces when it comes to remote work – it’s just a natural thing. So sometimes you need to push this communication, especially when you need everyone to be up to speed.
Principles of Managing Distributed Teams
The benefits of distributed teams contribute to their popularity. If you decided to distribute your team, learn the best practices on how to organize and manage it efficiently, based on DataArt first-hand experience.
Establish Close Cooperation Between Team Members (and with Clients)
Remote teams do not self-organize and require some integration efforts. This means they need an infrastructure that enables team members to be on the same page.
“For teams who work remotely for a long time (months and years), it’s good practice at least once per half a year or year to bring people together to work in one location for a week or two. It increases team spirit significantly and is completely worth the travel costs.”
Set Up Project Management and Tracking Tools
It is highly important to track the working progress. One or multiple tools, like Jira, Microsoft Teams, Asana, Trello, could be used for task management.
Choose the best tool for you based on its pricing, functionality, usability, and integration characteristics.
Encourage Ongoing Communication
Remember that distributed team members talk less, and you need to address this issue by any means available. Otherwise, people may feel lonely, confused about their work, and poorly motivated.
Peter Vaihansky, Senior Vice President at DataArt, recommends:
“Use group chats in ubiquitous products like Skype or Google Hangouts. All team members agree to pay attention to the group chat window throughout their day and respond accordingly – it becomes another team public space, and this approach works well enough for most teams. Sometimes a couple of team members will create a smaller group chat to discuss a particular issue – those are less permanent and will form and dissolve on demand. When voice and chat are not enough, screen sharing comes in handy. Both Skype and Google have that functionality, but there are many other excellent free tools, like join.me or Zoom.”
Deal with Different Languages and Cultures
While managing people from different geographies, mind their cultural peculiarities. It is not just about courtesy. Supporting and understanding your team members’ needs will contribute to your managerial skills and make your team more loyal.
“While most multinational development teams will probably use English as their working language, accents may differ across the team, which could make understanding each other slightly more challenging. Therefore, it’s important to encourage your team members to ask their colleagues to repeat themselves if someone is not coming through clearly on a Scrum call, which some people may be uncomfortable doing for fear of appearing impolite. These and other cultural subtleties can have a direct impact on how well the team works together, and so they deserve separate consideration in an international setting,” – adds Mr.Vaihansky.
Address Cybersecurity Concerns
Human negligence endangers security. Multiple offices, collaboration with contractors, and sometimes poor control result in an increased risk of being hacked.
Develop security policies and extend them to both employees and contractors. Control how these rules are being complied with. Limit the number of employees who have access to critical datasets.
“One misconception is that data breaches are inevitably the result of flaws in IT systems. Another is that external hacking is mostly to blame. In fact, most data breaches are perpetrated by people associated with the company: permanent employees, temporary workers, contractors, or vendors.”
The Bottom Line
While public institutions agree to quarantine, let your teams work remotely. It can save your business from enormous losses, and allow working within the standard regime.
You will possibly enjoy all the advantages of distributed teams and decide to prolong the experiment forever! Bear in mind that 77% of companies practicing remote working lowered their operational costs, while employees noticed a 90% increase in morale.
Would you like to learn more about the efficient management of distributed teams? Drop us a line to learn more!