Introduction to remote teams

It is safe to say that we are entering an era of dispersed organizations due to global markets, corporate mergers and a decrease in the willingness of employees to relocate, paving a way to the rise of a new organizational structure: distributed teams.

A remote team is a group of people brought together for a unified purpose or project. While the terms “remote” and “virtual” are often used interchangeably in this context, there is a slight difference between the two. Members of a remote team answer to the same organization and have the same boss but are located in different offices, cities, or even countries. Whereas a virtual team is a group of people brought together for a project or purpose but answer to different organizations.

Benefits and limitations

Distributed teams have gained increasing popularity over the last ten years. A recent survey suggests that approximately 66% of multinational organizations utilize distributed teams and 80% of companies surveyed believe this number will continue to grow. [1][2]

Many employers view the practice as beneficial, saying that remote workers are more productive. According to this infographic based on data from SurePayroll, a web-based payroll provider for small businesses, 86% of those surveyed said they preferred to work alone to “hit maximum productivity.” Moreover, two-thirds of managers say employees who work remotely increase their overall productivity. Allowing remote work options has also been proven to reduce employee turnover. Job attrition rates fell by over 50%, according to a study published by Stanford University. [3]

But still, working with distributed teams has its drawbacks.

Difficulties in communication is the most predominant one. When your colleagues are in the office, you can ask a quick question and get an immediate answer but this is not possible when working with remote teams. However, there are tons of ways to solve this problem; email, instant messaging apps, video call software and project management tools are just some of the few. But so many channels, information is bound to slip through the cracks sooner or later.

Creating a company culture with remote teams

What is a company culture exactly?

According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss at Harvard Business Review: “Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is, of course, most of the time.”

Remote teams are on the rise but as a consequence, businesses are finding it harder to create a positive company culture. Companies with a strong culture tend to have lower turnover, better productivity, and be more profitable.

Here are some tips in creating a company culture with distributed teams:

  • Be welcoming

In collocated teams, it’s normal to introduce the new hire to everyone they’ll be working with. This practice should also be the same when it comes to remote teams. 6Q, a company that offers tools for collecting employee feedback, welcomes their newly hired employees by sending out an introductory email to every member of the team.

  • Take time to know everyone

If you are working with someone in the same location every day, getting to know them isn’t that hard. However, when it comes to remote teams, knowing your teammates is a lot more difficult. Make a point to learn about each of your colleagues through informal discussions every once in a while.

  • Schedule regular meet-ups

One of the biggest challenges in making a good company culture is the lack of face-to-face interaction. Sure, you can talk to your team members through video conferences but it’s not the same with talking to them in person. If it’s possible, meeting up with your team members once or twice a year is advised.

  • Communicate openly

The success or failure of your remote team culture will depend on communication. Make sure to remind your team members that if they experience any issues, they can always ask you or their colleagues for help. It also helps if you establish an “always on” policy regarding your team’s chat software when at work.

Tools and technology enabling remote work

As stated above, communication plays a large role in the success of a company working in distributed teams and the only way to achieve effective collaboration when working remotely is to make use of tools. New collaborative tools are being released every day. Rather than list all available, we have chosen the ones that are representative of their functionality.

  • Communication: Slack
  • Video Conferencing: Zoom
  • File Management: Google Drive
  • Time Converter: World Time Buddy
  • Time Management: Hubstaff
  • Project Management: Trello
  • Security: Dashlane

Examples of companies using distributed teams successfully

 Remote teams have a lot of benefits to an organization but managing one is a challenge. However, having a successful team even with the challenges is still possible. Here are examples of companies that uses distributed teams effectively:

  • Automattic – Automattic is one of the most popular brands in the market nowadays. It’s the company responsible for bringing us Gravatar, Simplenote, Longreads, and The company has over 500 employees that can work from anywhere they want.
  • Buffer – Buffer is a social media management tool that is used by thousands of business owners. The company has close to 80 employees working in different countries.
  • Invision – Invision is a digital product design platform that is used by large companies such as Airbnb and Adobe. Presently, they have around 220 employees working in 14 countries.
  • Zapier – Zapier is an automation tool that presently has around 80 employees working from 13+ countries.
  • Trello – Trello is a project management platform that has used my millions even large corporations like Google and National Geographic. Two-third of Trello’s workforce work remotely.

 

[1] Society for Human Resource Management. 2012. Virtual teams. http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/articles/pages/virtualteams.aspx

[2] Perry, B. 2008. Virtual teams now a reality: Two out of three companies say they will rely more on virtual teams in the future. http://www.pr.com/press-release/103409

[3] Bloom, N. et. al. 2015. Does working from home work? Evidence from Chinese Experiment. https://people.stanford.edu/nbloom/sites/default/files/wfh.pdf