4 tips to get more out of your distributed team

Constant evolution of the modern day workforce has resulted in the practice and management of remote teams, for the better. We’ve seen standard offices and cubicles morph into company campuses and open-plan offices, and furthermore into completely remote working arrangements, which just may be the most productive of all.

It’s by recognizing that great work is often best done on the creative’s own time and in their own space that we’ve arrived here.  Stable internet connections, increased bandwidth, and reasonable people have allowed this working arrangement to become possible and productive. Today, so often are you working and collaborating with people based in different locations and time zones that it’s almost an assumed fact.

The lifestyle on which the formerly traditional work life was created; nuclear family, generally with one breadwinner working a local 9-5 job, is a thing of the past. Life has changed and so has the manner in which we work.

Remote employee working arrangements have been mutually beneficial for individuals and organizations, alike. The worker who has home commitments and life constraints is still able to provide an income and make a valuable professional contribution, while the company is able to retain talent which may have otherwise been lost due to geographical or time conflicts.

On paper and in theory, thanks to lots of email threads, video conferencing, Google Drive, and other tools with collaboration at their very core, we’ve been able to get it all done. To work effectively without, oftentimes, ever even meeting our co-workers in person.

In an INC article, Geoffrey James writes, “In many cases.. Software is developed by dispersed teams working together remotely. In many cases the developers have never met personally, much less been crammed into a bullpen-style office.”

This is not to say the dispersed team working arrangement is without faults, and if you’re not careful something can be lost. Somewhere between the witty-end-of-meeting-banter and collapsing the chat window, the end of meeting vibe dissipates. The camaraderie shared as you file out of the conference room and trade notes around the water cooler is replaced by your reflection peering back at you through your macbook screen, and can be hard to emulate.

The key here is to use the right tools with the right people and the proper procedures. What’s missing is context. Remote and distributed workers are about as motivated as they come, but setting alarms, following editorial calendars, and having meetings can’t always quite recreate the context in which the meeting took place, where ideas were exchanged.

So, how do we? In a world of self driving cars and the Amazon echo, create and implement this replacement “context.”

We think there are a few ways..

1) Work Well Where?

Having a place you go to work is key. The brain is a muscle and responds well to training. Sitting down in the same place or places, around the same time each day triggers the cogs of creativity to get turning. Home offices are great if you have the space, but a local Starbucks or cafe with reliable wifi are home-run choices as well.

2) Get Techy With It

This is a must. We are, after all, only able to work this way thanks to technology’s transformation of the workplace. Videoconferencing solutions like GoToMeeting and Join.Me allow you to virtually meet with your team and share ideas. Google Drive enables you to truly work together on a projects with the real-time collaborative capabilities it provides. Slack helps with real time conversations that are better shared outside of an email thread.

3) See Your Peeps

You have to, I repeat, have to, regularly interact and collaborate with your team if you’re hoping for a cohesive final product, program, or piece. Remember the aforementioned water cooler scenario? Replacing the spontaneous collaboration possible in a brick and mortar establishment is the greatest challenge of the remote workforce and best done with face to face, screen to screen interaction on a good ole fashion video conference.

4) Expect The Best

Crystal clear expectations are of the utmost importance for this whole shebang to work. The idea here is to focus on outcomes from every role – team leader or members. In order to ensure every person fully understands what they need to do and how to get it done, task management approaches that incorporate scrum and agile techniques are your friends.

While managing or working with a distributed team, you have a lot of things to stay on top of. Attempting to recreate lost context shouldn’t be have to be a challenging one. Instead, by setting yourself up for success with these simple, practical tools and practices, you can do just that.