One benefit of living in a connected society is the flexibility it offers both employers and employees. Rather than employment being bound to geographical areas, employers can cross time zone boundaries and find the best talent for their job - even if the skill is on the other side of the world.
Some companies are taking this one step further and eliminating office space. Rather than only some employees working remotely, the entire team is distributed across the country or even the globe.
What is a Distributed Team?
A distributed team is one where employees work from just about anywhere - except in the same space as other employees. They might work from their living room, a coffee shop, or a coworking space. They could work in different cities, across time zone boundaries, or even on different continents.
This might sound like remote working, but there's one big difference between remote work and distributed teams. Distributed teams don't have a physical location at all. Rather than all, or even some, team members making an appearance in an office, the entire team is distributed throughout the country or the world.
The Emerging Trend of Working Across Time Zones
Working remotely isn't exactly new. Since the advent of the internet, people have brought their work laptops home on sick days or for prolonged absences. And as communications infrastructure gained the ability to share information seamlessly across cities, working from home became a viable, even desirable, option for many.
As that infrastructure grew, the boundaries between where employees could live and work grew wider. Remote work used to be about saving employees' time by skipping the commute to the office or companies saving money by needing less space in their office. But now, with distributed teams, it's become even more advantageous for everyone involved.
Being able to work remotely in different time zones is suitable for employees. Working remotely in different time zones gives employees a more comprehensive selection of employers to work for. Instead of looking for jobs within driving distance from their homes, they can match their skills with employers' needs worldwide.
Employers, too, have the benefit of selecting from a larger pool of talent. A distributed company doesn't matter where employees are located as long as they can do the work. And besides the chance to hire qualified workers based on their skills instead of where they live, they have the bonus of cost savings associated with owning or leasing a physical office space.
Most Employees Prefer Remote Work
According to a recent Gallup poll, the survey results are in, and an overwhelming number of respondents would prefer to work remotely full time. Most said they would like not to be in an office full time, and three out of ten employees working remotely said they would quit rather than return to the physical office.
When working for a distributed team, an employee never has to wonder if they'll be forced to return to an office or relocate for the sake of their job. No physical location means that employees have the freedom to work across time zones. But this freedom can come with challenges for employers who need to manage a distributed team.
Tips on How To Manage a Distributed Team
While there are plenty of benefits to having a distributed team, managing employees working in this model does require different skills.
Distributed team management differs from an in-person team or even a group of remote workers. When you're never in the same place or working across time zone boundaries, some issues are bound to arise. You can avoid these issues by planning ways to manage your distributed workforce ahead of time.
Employees build relationships in a physical office by chatting over coffee, saying "Hi" in the hallways, or even grabbing lunch together. And while some employers might view that time as "wasted," surveys show that workplace relationships reduce employee turnover and improve mental health. But you can still build effective teams in the workplace with a distributed team. You might need to strategize by providing more opportunities to connect.
For instance, instead of having dinner as a team, make opportunities such as a dedicated informal chatting channel in the software you use to communicate or take a few extra minutes at the start of a meeting to check in with each other casually. These types of relationship-building opportunities encourage an improved distributed work environment.
With employees working across time zones, communication may become more challenging. For instance, you need a coworker to answer a question, but he's not "in the office" until you're already in bed for the night. How will your company address these challenges? Handling these sorts of communication hiccups is critical in managing your distributed team. Using software to manage projects so everyone knows who's working on what can keep work moving along, and keeping realistic timelines can help your team stay on track.
At the same time, maintaining work/life balance is key to keeping your employees happy whether they're working in the office or on a distributed team. You can't expect your workers to answer emails in the middle of the night. But each employee can set work hours, and you can ensure everyone knows when everyone else is working. Try to overlap those times by at least an hour, so there's time for communication and collaboration.
Even if everyone on the team speaks the same language, differences such as slang and colloquialisms can muddle up communication. Avoid these types of phrases when possible.
Top Tools That Your Distributed Team Needs to Use
Working with distributed teams poses challenges for both employers and employees, but these challenges can be overcome with the right tools. Here are a handful of tools you’ll need in your arsenal to manage your distributed team well.
Project Management Software
Working across time zones can mean it's hard to know who is doing what (and when they're doing it), but project management software can help. With this software, everyone can easily see the project, who is working on it, and what are the remaining steps.
Time Tracking Software
Time tracking software isn't just about ensuring your employees are clocking enough work hours in. It helps you manage budgets, see which projects are taking the longest, and keep your clients informed about their project's hours.
Web Conferencing Software
This software allows your team to meet online when they need to discuss a project "in person." It might be the closest you'll get to being in the same place simultaneously, and web conferencing software lets distributed teams meet even when they're working across time zones.
Time Zone Converter
Part of managing distributed teams is knowing when everyone is working. But unless you're a time juggling math guru with a fantastic memory, it's difficult to remember just how far ahead or behind your employees' time zone. Scheduling meetings in different time zones just got a lot easier! Tools like Every Time Zone or Timezone.io help keep track of your distributed team's time zones.
Distributed teams' best practices look slightly different from the management of in-person or remote groups. But the same technology that makes team distribution possible can help you manage your distributed team effectively. Using time tracking software combined with project management tools can help keep your team connected and on track, no matter where they're working.