7 Best Practices to Manage Globally Distributed Teams

Karthik Sridharan
Karthik Sridharan
Co-founder, Flexiple. A tech enthusiast who believes in the importance of execution over strategy

In a competitive talent acquisition market, a globally distributed team offers companies the benefits of working with the best individuals across the world. With the talent market also demanding flexibility, it is but a matter of time when a globally distributed team becomes a necessity and not just an option.

However, you would have heard of companies complaining that a distributed team is fraught with failures. These statements are not reflective about the concept, instead being indicative of the lack of proper processes and inadequate preparation for the same. Hence, let’s call it out upfront that while the benefits of a distributed team are aplenty, firms need to be sufficiently prepared to leverage them.

To aid with the preparation process, below is a list of best practices that you should undertake if you are considering setting up a remote team:

Table of Contents

  • Formalize the transition
  • Enforce communication guidelines
  • Maintain detailed documentation
  • Build high engagement
  • Garner regular feedback
  • Use the right tools
  • Organize off-sites

1. Formalize it

To begin the transition process, you need to announce the transformation of the company to a “Distributed team company”. It is important that in the eyes of all stakeholders (internal and external), this change is apparent and that it comes from the top management.

Often this change is associated with a lot of confusion. Therefore, the communication needs to be formalized and should cover the basics of how the company plans to execute the transition. 

Few questions to immediately address are: 

  • Are there going to be specific office locations across the world?
  • Are all roles available for remote working?
  • Would there be fixed work timings?
  • How is the team going to maintain an inclusive culture?
  • What are the communication channels to be used?

2. Enforce communication guidelines

An aspect that immediately gets impacted in a remote situation is internal communication. Since interactions would be digital and not in-person, placing the right structures becomes paramount.

Firstly, the tools for the various channels of communication - chats, mails and video calls - should be chosen and shared. Further, guidelines need to be placed around the correct mode of communication for each situation. 

For e.g. Chats or calls for time-sensitive actions, mails for long pieces of communication involving multiple parties, and so on. If possible an even more detailed procedure list would ensure conversations are perfectly organized.

Additionally, other best practices include:

  • Having frequent standups to ascertain progress and identifying challenges
  • Holding regular video calls within teams, including team-building sessions, helping everyone to put a face to the people they interact with on a daily basis
  • Organizing town halls to reinforce company values, recognize individual achievements and define the company’s future goals

3. Maintain detailed documentation

The more, the better - meeting notes, spec docs, project briefs, ideation, policies, etc. should all be documented extensively. Keeping detailed notes removes any scope of misalignment and allows you to immediately address miscommunication.

Further, while working, you may have doubts around the points that were discussed and agreed upon. On such occasions, you can simply refer to your notes. Otherwise, as employees generally work across different time zones in a distributed team, it wouldn’t be possible to contact someone suddenly at crunch times.

4. Build high engagement 

Working from remote locations can be liberating in being able to design your own work style. However, it is also natural to feel alone and disconnected from the rest of the team. Hence, it is critical for companies to ensure high levels of motivation and create a sense of belonging to the organization amongst employees.

Having adequate channels of communication does address this in a major way, but it is also important to have non-work gatherings as a stress buster. Even work meetings, shouldn’t be limited only to the immediate tasks at hand, but need to also include training sessions.

Further, engagement can be achieved only when employees are healthy - mentally and emotionally. While working remotely, it is very likely that individuals’ face-to-face interaction with other people might become extremely sporadic. 

Here it becomes critical for companies to step in to ensure that this doesn’t negatively affect employees. You could start by encouraging them to attend networking events in their city, by sponsoring their entry tickets and travel. Further, motivate them to work out of co-working spaces a few times a week, so that they might meet new people.

5. Garner regular feedback

Feedback is a critical part to measure the success of any initiative. With respect to building a remote team, it is no different. The strategies implemented by a company need regular inputs from its employees, to keep a check on whether they are on course to achieving it.

It is easy to do so when all individuals share the same office space. In a distributed team, however, a concerted effort needs to be taken for individuals to feel that they have a voice and that they will be heard. For this, a structured feedback process needs to be set up. Various tools can help you in building a streamlined pipeline to receive such responses including Trakstar, Glint, and 6q.

This could involve regular questionnaires and anonymous surveys to receive opinions on existing processes, challenges faced, and areas of improvements. Furthermore, hold occasional one-on-one feedback sessions to gauge the pulse of the employees’ morale.

6. Use the right tools

The infusion of the best tools that suit your specific case, lays the foundation for a seamless remote working process. There are various aspects of a remote team that are enhanced by tools: communication, scheduling, ideation, employee engagement, among others.

Building tools internally for each aspect is neither possible nor smart. The best course of action is to choose the most appropriate product for your requirement from the market. Numerous remote-first products have been built to address problems unique to remote working. To quickly analyze the tools that best fit your company, you can refer remote.tools.

In this regard, it is critical to not think of products individually but as a collection - a “tool stack”. As a remote working organization, your needs will not be met by a single tool. Therefore, while choosing different tools, you need to evaluate how they all fit together. This includes integrations with one another with each solidly solving a particular use-case and cumulatively providing a comprehensive solution.

7. Organize off-sites

The biggest advantage of working in a single office is the ability to get to know different individuals across functions - not only from a work perspective but also understanding various personalities. This is one of the main disadvantages of remote working, as often you could spend even a couple of years at an organization and be unsure of your colleagues’ temperament and character.

Therefore, if a company can afford it, an annual gathering should be organized where co-workers can meet each other in person. Such an environment gives everyone the opportunity to socialize and acquaint themselves with the individuals they work with every day. This fosters better work relationships, resulting in easier interactions and more productivity overall!

Prepare your company now

With the concept of distributed teams growing steadily and the gig economy becoming an integral method of achieving a company’s goals, building the capability of managing such a workforce has become very critical. The above steps can be used as a checklist to guide you through the process of taking your company remote. You can also check out some examples of how top companies did it here.

The key, overall, is to be patient while being prepared to tackle the various challenges that you are likely to face in the transition. Work on it in the present, so that you can make the most of the future of work - distributed teams!