There are a lot of tools now available for distributed teams as well as remote teams. For example, there are distributed file system replication options available.
How do you know, if you’re comparing these tools, whether they’re right for your team?
It’s important to understand the distinction between a distributed team and other types of teams, such as remote workers.
The following is an overview of what a distributed team is and is not, as well as details of how they work.
The Basics of a Distributed Team
A distributed team means that you have employees working remotely, perhaps from around the world, instead of working in a centralized location. You might have some people based in New York, others in Nashville, and then some in Europe, for example.
Distributed teams are especially common in the tech industry. That’s often because companies need to be able to tap into top talent, and they don’t want geographic restrictions in doing so.
With a distributed team, there may be no physical office at all. This is compared to a remote team, where there is usually a main physical office, but not everyone works there, or they don’t work there all the time.
That physical office presence does tend to be the distinction between a distributed and remote team.
A distributed team usually means every single team member and employee is distributed away from one another. It would be uncommon for members of a distributed team to ever see one another.
On the other hand, some people do define a distributed workforce as one where there are many offices around the world, but that’s less common. Still, it can technically fall into the larger category of a distributed workforce if there’s not one centralized office that’s considered the primary hub.
The Pros and Cons of Distributed Teams
For both distributed and remote teams, the pros and cons are similar to one another.
With a distributed team, benefits include a bigger pool for hiring talent, as well as greater flexibility. Key challenges include communication, access to data and documents, and the development of a cohesive corporate culture.
For most companies, large and small, a key challenge right now is attracting and then retaining top talent, thus the appeal of the distributed team.
It’s not uncommon to find a great potential employee, and they want to take the job but they don’t want to relocate.
It’s also good from the perspective of the employee because they can remain, for example, in a city with a low cost-of-living, while many big companies and especially tech companies are in very expensive locations.
Overcoming the Challenges of a Distributed Team
Some of the challenges of a distributed workforce are touched on above, but the following are some more details about the specific downsides and how you can overcome them.
- Lack of in-person interaction: Undoubtedly, the top challenge of a distributed workforce is the fact that there’s usually no in-person interaction. It becomes critical for team leaders to facilitate better communication in the virtual “face-to-face” sense by making sure there are the proper tools for these interactions. With video chat and similar features, it’s easier to pick up on body language cues and it can build a greater sense of trust among members of a distributed team.
- Mistrust: It’s hard to trust other people who are technically working on a team with you if you can’t see them. To overcome this, it’s a good idea to have detailed policies for communication in place, as well as policies on what it will look like for members of the team to work with one another. For example, detail things like how quickly a response is required to communication-based on priority levels. Then, trust can be built because everyone will know what to expect from one another.
- Productivity problems: Distributed and remote teams can be incredibly productive in many cases, but not always. There’s not that daily oversight that you get in a physical workplace and it can be challenging to ensure accountability. On the part of company leaders, to overcome this challenge there should be clear communication and defined goals. Project and task management software is helpful to overcome possible productivity problems. Managers should also have regular one-on-one conversations with team members to keep them accountable.
Distributed teams are increasingly becoming the norm. We’re moving more and more from a hybrid remote work environment to one where there’s little to no in-person interaction, meaning it’s important to prepare to address the challenges.