Getting the Most Out of Distributed Teams

A while ago, working from home was generally a perk of being a senior C-suite exec. More recently, as we’ve entered the age of mobile working, working remotely has shifted from being a perk of the few to a necessity of the many.

Getting the most efficient productivity and collaborative creativity out of globally distributed teams is a key challenge for today’s businesses. That’s why we want to share the following insights, top tips and recommendations on how distributed working teams can function better. 

Get a (virtual) room!

It’s great to have a shared physical office space, particularly for fast-moving technology or software companies, to brainstorm together, scribble ideas on whiteboards, play around with concepts by sticking post-it notes all over the wall and so on. 

Yet the reality is this is no longer a practical option for today’s globally distributed businesses. For creative projects in particular, where you have one or more team members dialling in, being efficient about how you work in a distributed way is vital.

From ticketing to innovation

Tech companies have led the way in the remote working revolution, using well-designed ticket-based systems and agile methodology to get the most from distributed teams. It might not be ‘glamorous’, but it gets the job done.

Where things get a little more interesting (and challenging) is when you get to the more ‘softer’ areas of working. By which, we mean the kind of virtual-meets-physical innovation spaces that are rapidly becoming the norm, using distributed methods.

High-bandwidth communication

While many still bemoan the demise of more traditional office-based 9-to-5 styles of working, the truth of the matter is that people working together on collaborative products just want really, really high bandwidth communication. That’s the game changer. 

And what has enabled this, more than anything else, has been video. Hence, it’s vital that you encourage all of your teams to communicate using the best video tools available to them.

Find your video comfort zone

Many are naturally cautious, shy or nervous about using video for the first time, particularly with a new team and unfamiliar new faces. Help all your team members find their video comfort zone and you will reap the dividends. You get that all-important sense of a close human connection, with the ability to gauge people’s understanding when you’re explaining complicated ideas to each other. 

Insist that all your team familiarise themselves with using video-based collaboration technologies, no matter how hard the push back. Make sure that they are professional about it, that they turn up to meetings on time and that they are always somewhere where they can turn their camera on. (Preferably fully clothed!)

Future challenges 

Steve Jobs infamously designed Apple’s office spaces to engineer those wonderful bits of serendipitous water-cooler moments that make physically being around co-workers such a joy. And it is a huge challenge for the future to recreate these kinds of moments in virtual spaces.

A great example we often cite in this context is Cocoa, which is a really superb, fun product.
Kind of like Second Life for business. It uses an office metaphor, where there is a physical floor plan of an office, and you can go and plunk yourself in a room to go and work and people who are in that room can see your camera and you can chat.

Some companies are extending this idea to virtual collaborative social events – DJs in the virtual office on a Friday afternoon, and so on. Which sounds a lot of fun, for sure! 

That said, the three most important things to remember when you are setting the rules of engagement for your distributed teams are really quite simple:

  • Reliability – you cannot stress this enough. Turn up ON TIME.
  • Fast connectivity – if you don’t have solid broadband, don’t bother.
  • Video – super important. Use it.