Globally distributed teams


Managing Globally Distributed Teams: The 5 Primary Practices

The constantly expanding and evolving tech landscape of today has resulted in several new and improved organizational structures. One of the most notable of these is globally distributed teams, a term referring to when a company’s employees work and collaborate remotely from various locations around the globe across multiple time zones. 

Globally distributed teams have proven to be a cornerstone of success for many startups and established corporations alike. This phenomenon is due to the numerous benefits dispersed teams offer development companies among others of all shapes and sizes; not the least of which are increased flexibility, affordability, and quality. However, if not correctly approached, they can instead become the root cause of a company’s downfall. 

By and large, mismanagement is the only means by which this model can pose such a threat. And that is why this article aims to provide you with detailed insight oninto how best to manage globally distributed teams. 

In order to better grasp how and why certain practices should be applied when managing globally distributed teams, it is critical that one first identifies the obstacles they may face without them. The most common challenges faced by dispersed remote teams include a lack of communication and motivation. Fortunately, these and others are easily avoidable with attentive and organized management.

Thus, without further ado, let us jump into the components of which that comprises.


5 Practices for Managing Globally Distributed Teams


1. Cover All Bases


Before starting or transitioning to a distributed teams company, it is paramount that all the basic components needed to manage globally distributed teams are formally in place as well as conveyed to relevant internal and external stakeholders.

These should include but are not limited to:

  • Registering any and all office locations worldwide and specifying the time zones they cater to.
  • Filling and/or listing all available remote positions, and stipulating each of their responsibilities.
  • Deciding whether working hours will be fixed or flexible, and setting them if the former.
  • Implementing effective communication and engagement channels as discussed below. 


2. Digital Management Tools


Digital tools are a – if not *the* — key component to managing remote teams. While some of these tools will depend on the nature of your company and the industry to which it belongs, there are a few fundamental software tools that must be employed to guarantee productivity, consistency, and smooth collaboration among globally distributed teams.


  • Communication Tools should be the first on your list as naturally, remote teams cannot be accommodated without modes through which they can liaise with clients, superiors, and one another. Predetermining dedicated platforms through which different types of communication should occur will allow managers to keep track of team members and their correspondence, promoting an organized and efficient flow of communication. Globally distributed teams will require a messaging app such as Slack or Microsoft Teams as well as a video conferencing tool; while Zoom is the most popular choice for this, there are cheaper options to choose from. These are just the bare necessities for remote team communication; you may wish to explore additional options based on your company’s needs. 


  • Storage Tools are the next most vital component for managing globally distributed teams as they provide a secure digital database on which all company archives, policies, files, and notes can be preserved. Easy access to these will allow any miscommunication or misalignment to be spotted and rectified promptly. Additionally, cloud storage tools can prove useful for team members to refer to information they may have missed or need brushing up on at any given time, avoiding issues that time zones differences can otherwise present in the way of timeliness and coordination.


  • Project Management Tools are helpful softwares that makes managing globally distributed teams more… well, manageable. They present a solution for setting and keeping track of a team’s overall deadlines and tasks as well as those of individual members. When choosing from the many available options, such as Asana and Trello, prioritize usability and price in relation to your company and project needs.


  • Payroll Tools are often overlooked in the management of globally distributed teams. Yet, reputable remote payroll softwares will not only make it easier to manage the hiring and paying of team members, but also oversee aspects relating to compliance, taxes and labor laws in accordance with the policies of each employee’s respective regions. This ensures that all team members are compensated equally and fairly. Such a practice can help minimize turnover as well as maintain an ethical reputation for your company. 


  • Collaboration Tools refer to platforms that accommodate and promote seamless and harmonized teamwork. Naturally, they are an integral component required for globally distributed teams to work together in an organized and timely manner. It is up to you to determine which of the endless array of online collaboration tools available are the best for your teams; taking into account their function as well as that of the tools themselves. Given that each software comes with its own unique specialties, it is advisable to consider employing a different one for each separate team based on their size and function, i.e. a design team would require a collaboration software with high quality zoom functions for instance, while a sales team would benefit more from one with an integrated calling function.


3. Communication is Key


Establishing strong internal communication strategies from the get-go is a must when managing globally distributed teams. Doing so will ensure that all team members remain productive as well as in sync with one another, and what is expected of them. Additionally, well established and monitored communication is one of the primary pillars for navigating time zone differences among dispersed employees, a distinguishing feature of globally distributed teams that should not be ignored.


  • Documenting & Enforcing Communication Guidelines is the next step to setting up your digital communication tools when laying the foundation for a streamlined interface. This process means specifying which platform is to be used for each form of communication. It should involve general guidelines such as assigning group meetings to your chosen video conferencing platform and time sensitive alerts to an instant messaging platform, as well as more detailed ones like delegating channels or groups for different discussion topics. The more detailed the procedure, the more organized and efficient communication will be. 


  • Hosting Regular Team Meetings once a week or so in the form of video conferences is the best way to ensure all members of a globally distributed team are kept informed of general announcements and on the same page about their projects. A further benefit of these is that they help team members put a face to one another’s names, promoting fellowship and team spirit; which are otherwise difficult to achieve among globally distributed teams. 


  • Regulating Communication can often be just as useful as encouraging it. For instance, when working together in a physical space, a co-worker can spot when another is focused on a task and thus not in the position to be disturbed. When it comes to globally distributed teams however, alternative methods must be employed for avoiding such interruptions. For instance, you might advise team members to block off their calendars when engaged in important tasks. In order for such methods to be beneficial rather than disrupting workflow however, communication guidelines as discussed above must be in place first; so that time sensitive alerts, for instance, are not missed. 


4. Elevate Engagement


One of the most prominent issues faced by globally distributed teams is a lack of engagement. This can negatively impact teamwork, prompting a drastic effect on the overall productivity of a company, and cannot be rectified by steady internal communication alone. Maximizing engagement among globally distributed teams is not as straightforward as doing so in a standard on-site work environment; as they consist of scattered employees from a variety of cultures and time zones. As such, practices for managing their engagement levels should revolve around creating a unified company culture; one that all globally distributed team members can adapt and relate to.


  • Fraternizing Off-the-Clock is a simple but effective engagement activity for globally distributed teams that can be the first step towards boosting and maintaining morale. Providing virtual recreational spaces, and encouraging team members to align time periods during which they can discuss shared interests and learn more about one another’s lives and personalities outside of work can act as a viable substitute for what would otherwise be midday luncheons or after-work drinks. This will help team members form connections and form bonds; both of which are valuable components for better teamwork and engagement.


  • Frequent Team Activities are similarly beneficial and can have a tremendous impact on morale. While organizing in-person team retreats is a good practice to maintain, these cannot be held more than a couple of times a year at most when managing globally distributed teams, and oftentimes will involve the absence of a team member or two. A practical alternative however, and one that can and should be conducted more often, are virtual team building games. These are guaranteed to support camaraderie and improve teamwork. 


  • Virtual Recognition is an especially crucial form of motivation for globally dispersed teams. In addition to making team members feel appreciated, implementing ideas for virtual recognition, such as sending them company mugs and other merchandise, will further enhance their sense of community and belonging. Such a practice may appear frivolous, but as the saying goes, it’s the little things that count. As such, these will prove most integral when it comes to building lasting team spirit and company loyalty.


  • Offering Remote Team Training is an advisable management practice that ensures all members of a globally distributed team remain on course and productive. This can come in the form of downloadable worksheets and pre-recorded webinars, or more hands-on techniques such as virtual group training sessions and coworker mentorships. An ideal approach would be to utilize a combination of methods, whilst ensuring that at least one of them can be stored on your digital database, and remain accessible to all team members for later reference. While providing remote training can seem time consuming and inessential, ensuring each team member is adequately trained and proficient in their duties as well as company policies will undoubtedly save time and hassle in the long run. 


  • Facilitate Feedback   Last but not least, this additional management practice further encourages healthy communication and improves engagement among globally distributed teams. There are three feedback practices you should adopt that will guarantee all team members feel heard, valued, and supported.


  • One-on-one Feedback Sessions every month or so is a good approach for staying in tune with the needs of each of your globally distributed team members. These should not be conducted as performance reviews, but instead encourage open discussions through which you can familiarize yourself with the progress and concerns of your team members so as to make note of areas in which they may require individual assistance or additional support. 


  • Structured Feedback Portals such as 6q, Glint, Trackstar and other anonymous feedback platforms offer streamlined solutions for receiving actionable feedback that can be used to monitor and measure the overall morale of globally distributed teams. Ranging from surveys and polls to analytics and insights, these portals offer services that will help gauge employee satisfaction levels and highlight areas for improvement without taking up too much of a team member’s time; typically, no more than a few minutes per week. The anonymity component will act as a safety blanket for employees, encouraging accurate and elaborate responses.


  • Team Decision Making creates a culture of inclusivity wherein all members of a globally distributed team feel appreciated and thus, remain in line with company values. Garnering feedback in the form of polls or votes before making decisions such as where to hold a company retreat, or relevant bigger-picture ones in the form of structural changes and so on, is a way to demonstrate to your employees that their input matters, ensuring that they truly feel like part of the team. 


Globally Distributed Teams: Managed


As we have uncovered, managing globally distributed teams requires a more nuanced approach to that of standard management practices. It is imperative that these are well explored and understood by those seeking to reap their benefits. While careful preparation is a must, for which the above can be used as a checklist, it is equally important to ensure that these measures remain observed and operational in order to guarantee long-lasting results. 

Having said that, the value of these 5 primary practices is that once firmly and correctly in place, implementing them should not prove at all laboursome or complicated. And with them, you can harness the full potential of a globally distributed teams model, propelling your company towards sustainable, growing success. 

For further insight on how to successfully lead globally distributed teams, consider reading up on more essential tools for empowering a remote team.

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