Running a distributed or virtual team is much easier than you think! Perhaps you are thinking about employing a team of freelancers to manage your software development or maybe you need virtual receptionists and administrators to handle the day to day running of your business. When managed well, a distributed team can increase productivity and help you to reduce overheads, but it really does need to be managed exceptionally well. There are many pitfalls!
Based on Daniel Abrahams experience of building a team in London & Tel Aviv, Here are some tips that will help you to build trust between you and your team, establish goals and working ethics and ensure you get the best performance and returns with this relatively new method of working.
The main message: Treat every day as a work in progress, you can always do better, and don't beat yourself up if there are days where communication becomes tough.
1. Always Set Deadlines And Don’t Be Scared To Micromanage
Deadlines are more important than ever when you are managing a distributed team. Don’t be afraid to project manage and micromanage to ensure tasks are completed on time.
Generally, if you were to give somebody 10 days to complete a task they would usually take 10 days to complete it. If you give them 2 days, they will usually take 2 days, and so on. But what about the tasks with no deadline set at all? Well, unless you stress how urgent they are, these tasks are likely to be left to the last minute and this could spell disaster if you suddenly have lots of these tasks building up. Even if you don’t think a task needs to have a deadline, you should think about assigning one anyway.
2. One person managing the project strategy
Have you ever heard of the ‘bystander effect’? This effect commonly occurs in distributed teams and is essentially the diffusement of responsibility within a group. So if you assign a task to a group of people, there is a good chance that nobody will pick it up - everybody will wait for somebody else to pick it up and assume it is not their responsibility. That’s not to say you shouldn't assign tasks on a team level - just make sure you make one person responsible overall for managing the task within the team.
3. There Is No Such Thing As Too Much Communication
When you work in an office side by side with your colleagues, you can shout instructions across to them, chat with them on a coffee break and arrange impromptu meetings to discuss work items. In a distributed team on the other hand, this quickfire communication is not so easy.
Avoid isolation amongst your team. Arrange a daily ‘huddle’ where you all interact together for few minutes online or over the phone or a weekly Skype call that keeps everybody in the loop. There are so many communication tools to choose from, there really is no reason why communication should fall down.
4. Don’t Keep Things Too Formal
Whilst it’s important for you to trust your team and get the best performance from them, it doesn’t mean you have to be too ‘corporate’. In fact, one of the most effective ways to get to know your team is to know them on a more personal level. Find out more about their interests, schedule one to one calls with them and if possible arrange a company retreat - this is a great opportunity for everybody to meet in person.
5. Avoid Ambiguity and Assumptions
Unless you have good access to constant video streaming between you and your virtual team - a luxury most of us cannot afford - you cannot pick up on the body language, facial expressions and other social cues present between colleagues in the same location. This can often result in confusion during collaborative tasks or when projects are being defined. That means you need to be 100% clear when managing expectations. If things get tense over e-mail, pick up the phone. Context is key.
Managing distributed teams doesn’t need to be a complicated chore and there are many more golden rules and useful tips that will ensure your teams work in perfect harmony and for the good of your business.
Or Hillel is working with MyCurrencyTransfer.com. The tips above are from the experience of Daniel Abrahams – Co-Founder of OPP Award winning comparison website MyCurrencyTransfer.com, with international offices in London and Tel Aviv.