Did you know that farms are now renting out barn animals for distributed teams video calls? Yes, the COVID sitch has mankind locked in with cabin fever. But as office mugs turn into wine glasses and pants get replaced by boxers, how has general work productivity been affected?
I say without a doubt though, that everything is just better in PJs. That is the one a silver lining. On the other side of the coin, businesses scramble to resume operations while working around the social distancing qualm. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Since the start of the pandemic, 88% of organizations globally have encouraged or made compulsory work-from-home policies. Unchartered waters are risky but creative and unconventional solutions have been tested every day since. Consequently, distributed teams are mobilizing from all over the digital world to resume “business-as-usual”.
But has this trial run been a temporary band-aid or a sustainable work model for your company? We rummage through the chaos to uncover the perks of remote-desking and discuss ways organizations can improve this new uptrend structure.
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What Are Distributed Teams?
Essentially, it’s a team of people working together remotely or virtually from anywhere. That means no nine to five commutes to physical offices or headquarters. In replacement of physical interactions, such business models often utilize tools such as Zoom or Slack, where files can be shared and discussions can take place. Distributed teams shift offices to a digital space where everything flows through the invisible web.
Consensus has shown that employees show optimal engagement when working remotely 60% to 80% of the time. Huge conglomerates such as Intuit, Johnson and Johnson, Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon are ahead and operating via distributed teams even prior to Covid-19. The pandemic only acts as a catalyst that further reinforced their faith in the remote working culture.
Why Employers Prefer Distributed Teams?
The first thing that pops in mind is work flexibility. That is working anytime, anyplace as long as you have a connection and a laptop. But burrowing under the surface, there are more perks than meets the eye.
Think of all the coffee machines, pantry snacks, stationery, electric, and copier machine costs you will save. We don’t mean to make you sound like a scrooge, but businesses are all about costs. 77% say that permitting employees to work in distributed teams may lead to decreased operating costs. And if it balances the work-life-balance of your employees and cuts down on your environmental footprint, why not?
Expand Your Talent Pool
What would you do if you had the key to unlocks the limits to your business capabilities? The world could be your oyster, and realistically! Think in terms of large scale talent acquisition. You would have access to limitless talent and skillsets across the globe, and possibly at affordable rates. The beauty of distributed teams is that they allow for inclusivity and flexibility. All so you can perhaps even hire an undiscovered genius in a remote or inaccessible part of the world. Every business could use a fresh set of eyes. And you will be able to run the entire operation on just a single screen, thanks to the advancement of today’s technology.
Having a diverse team that comes from different backgrounds and regions can do wonders for a business. First of all, a workspace involving diverse cultures can often breed creativity and innovation. Secondly, a diverse team allows capacity for broader business insights. That applies especially well for brand localization and product adaptation in different target regions. It’s all about building your own business culture from a pool of diverse cultures. And if you get it right, other things will naturally fall in place.
Cut the Prattle
He said, she said. Office gossip is the one festering contagion that can embroil workplace politics. Additionally, it can diminish trust, morale, and prompt the best employees to leave. Now that we live in the age of social distancing, the building of distributed teams discourages coffee break tattles and dish-the-dirt time. That means less stepping on eggshells and more focus on productivity. And remember, what goes around comes around. Happy employees result in increased productivity and happy managers and employers!
Complications with the Switch
Yes, nothing is perfect. Pros are always met with defensive cons. But there’s a way around every problem as long as your heart’s in the right place. We’ve been there! We know the troubles that are running amok your mind at this point:
The Insecurity of Giving Slack
Every country has a different work culture and etiquette. A nine to six schedule is common for Asian companies especially in business hubs like Singapore. But it’s natural to fear change and you’re not alone. Frequently the foremost dread would often be whether your employees will be productive or take advantage of flexible policies. In such cases, successful entrepreneur Jason Fried reminds executives that they are managers, not babysitters. He adds that if you fear productivity will plummet with a lack of supervision, then you’ll probably have other problems coming. Bear in mind that employees shouldn’t come with remote controls! The apprehension about people slacking off when working remotely stems solely from a lack of trust. And as Bill Gates said, “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Not vice versa!
Different Time Zones
Working with different parts of the world is almost like observing the stock market. When the New York exchange closes, Australia opens with a brand new day. Having distributed team members in different regions can sometimes make it difficult to schedule online meetings. And we’re not going to lie, it does take a little adjusting and getting used to. But the upside is that with technology today, you no longer have to fumble with the world clock. Applications like Slack let employees set their local working hours and allow for other parties to see the time in their region.
Have you ever bickered with someone over a misinterpreted text message? Studies have shown that body language can account for 93% of communication. 48% of that hinges on one’s tone of voice including his or her pitch and volume. Well, not in words exactly but more like underlying emotions and motives. With the use of distributed teams, video conferencing is not always an option. Facial expressions are thus eliminated from the equation and people now have to anchor relationships solely on words. For example, when someone is in a hurry, conversations tend to become curt and thus, misread or taken personally. Just like working face to face, it all boils down on your ability to build an effective and friendly communication culture digitally.
The one gigantic pattern for #workfromhome is distraction. Moms become supermoms as they juggle screaming kids with their online meetings. To add on, irresistible pets snuggle up on keyboards, making them just impossible to turn away. Additionally, one other con is that if you work from home, you virtually live at work, which tends to put people off. It’s noteworthy that as distributed teams start off with the pandemic, many employees enjoy the novelty of the switch. However, as the time of the Coronavirus passes, kids go back to school, working from home might eventually normalize. We’ll discuss below on ways that can help distributed teams to function better.
Tips for Improving Productivity
Bringing your entire operations online is a big jump. So much so that the pandemic has caught many companies off guard and scrambling to set up. 54% of human resource leaders have said that poor technology infrastructure has been a huge hurdle in the shift towards distributed teams. But if you are one of those companies who have overcome that and have witnessed the advantages of remote working here are some tips to grease the gears.
Set Clear KPIs
Like everything in life, working remotely requires some structure. Such include instructions on how to use the resources and setting key performance indicators (KPIs) for each team member. While doing so, it’s important to be as specific as you can by delegating each deliverable with a timeline. Furthermore, do include intelligible standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are documented and accessible so that everyone is constantly aligned.
Allow Flexible Schedules
If your team members are working in different time zones, aligning everyone’s work hours can be challenging. Unless essential, allowing flexible work hours can be a real morale booster to your team. It’s conventional for most management to think that early birds are diligent employees while night owls are lazy slackers. If you concur, it’s time for a change of mindset. Rather than focusing on how long your employees glue themselves to the chair, set goals on productivity. With your team managing their own time, they can get to work when their mind’s the freshest. This is one of the main reasons why businesses benefit from such setups.
Be an Open Door
Remember the open door policy you had at your office? Most managers tend to forget that communication is key when they switch to a remote structure. Many may end up occupied with only delegating. Quite forget the importance of nurturing good human relationships and teamwork is forgotten. Reminding employees that you are still approachable from time to time allows for flow in creative ideas and optimizing of SOPs.
On the flip side, disgruntled team members can result in productivity tardiness. Such will lead to indignation and ultimately a loss of capable talent. When this happens, remember to always provide fair mediation and listen to both sides of the story!
Most of us spend at least eight hours at work. Physical or digital, everyone should feel comfortable in their workspace space. Moreover, the entire point of having distributed teams is to encourage flexibility and more work-life balance. Which is why managers should stop whipping the lash or micromanaging. Quit checking in on your employees every two minutes to check if they’re done with a task. The golden rule is to assume that everyone is a responsible adult, and will complete their assigned tasks in time, Therefore, only give them a nudge when the deadline is coming up. Trust is a two-way street. In time, you’ll begin to see how your team will appreciate and return that trust even more!
Use Technical Tools
There are tons of IT solutions that are readily accessible today. Hubstaff, Trello, Google Drive, and Slack are a few common ones, to begin with. Engaging these technical tools can help you to share files, communicate, or document what has been discussed. It’s pretty much like working in an office but just going paperless. You just need to get used to maneuvering through work digitally. Using group rooms like in Slack allows everyone to be updated on the same information without the need for individual conversations. Furthermore, tools like Google and Trello allows everyone to be aligned with each other’s progress.
On the same note, you might find less enthusiastic tech-probes to be resistant to engaging digital tools. But providing straightforward SOP manuals can help to alleviate such learning curve stresses. Patience is key at the beginning and everyone will get on board eventually.
Businesses might sometimes require a particular skill set, but only for just a couple of projects. Understandably, hiring a full-time employee, even remotely, makes little sense. In such cases, outsourcing makes a good solution. It is no doubt that the worldwide web offers a multitude of freelancers. The problem, however, is that outsourcing is always a game of chance. No matter how impressive a portfolio is, you can never foretell if the results will match. Thus, it’s a good idea to work with verified platforms that have successful track records of their talents. This one, for example, can minimize your gamble on quality, and still be affordable.
A Viable Case Study
Why do huge conglomerates decide to fly remotely? Take it from veteran companies who primarily function through distributed teams. Like this one in particular who has been running operations 100% digitally since it’s inception. The outsourcing platform connects employers to professional and vetted writers, voice actors, video producers, and graphic designers globally. Distributed teams’ jobs are systematically disseminated to the most appropriate talent for the project. Each project and transaction happens entirely online without having to meet with one another. Additionally, the diverse organization has a talent pool of about 28,000 professionals covering more than 50 languages!
By and Large
We think that distributed teams are here to stay, so you can kiss those dreary shoebox partitions goodbye! Twitter has already announced a permanent work-from-home for some employees even after the lockdown blows over. In fact, 74% of companies intend to permanently make a shift towards remote working. Gone will be the days when colleagues peer inquisitively over your shoulder. Either way, it’s always a great plan B to have if, and when cataclysm strikes again!