7 quick tips for managing a distributed team


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Office work isn’t restricted to traditional office spaces anymore. Organizations are progressively embracing remote work and distributed teams, where several members—or all members—of a team could be scattered across the world. In fact, companies like Toptal, Zapier, and Articulate are even 100% remote. How do they collaborate and deliver results?

Managers from traditional office environments are used to the usual eight-to-five, five-days-a-week work schedule. Research consistently shows, however, that the traditional workweek is not only counterproductive but also outdated. The workforce of today and tomorrow strives for flexibility, and they’ll go to great lengths to find companies that offer it. To succeed in today’s workplace, managers need to adapt and implement new management techniques that support distributed teams.

To help managers and leaders give their teams everything they need to succeed, we’ve gathered seven quick tips for managing distributed teams: 

1. Focus on goals and results 

Employees prefer organizations with flexible work options because they don’t like to be micromanaged on a day-to-day basis. That’s why it’s important for managers to evaluate employees based on results and not on hours spent working. If assignments are being completed and goals are being met, giving employees—both in-office and remote—the freedom of flexibility will be a huge boon to the team.

2. Set clear expectations by using digital tools

With the majority of today’s employees filled to the brim with tasks, it’s common for assignments to get pushed back. It’s also hard to keep track of assignments in distributed teams when employees are everywhere working at different paces. If you’re expecting something to get done by a certain time, it’s imperative that you make it clear. If you haven’t already, consider implementing task management tools like Asana or Airtable to set deadlines and help employees visualize their workload.

3. Conduct weekly video meetings to keep employees connected and projects aligned

Staying connected is essential not just for keeping teammates updated on projects but also to maintain the strong relationships needed for effective teamwork especially when teams are distributed. Video meetings should be conducted once a week where employees can see and hear each other, with time carved out for both socializing and work-related talk. 

4. Check-in with employees regularly

When teammates are far apart, sometimes collaboration falls through the cracks. That presentation for which one teammate needed input from another might have been missed because they were too busy to look.

Set aside time every morning to send messages to your team. Ask them what hurdles they’re facing and how you can help. This will help clean out the “clogs” in your pipeline and push projects forward.

5. Create an online space for non-work socializing

In office settings, employees can socialize and develop bonds in the break room, during lunch, and at happy hour. Distributed teams, however, don’t have those luxuries, and remote employees have a higher chance of feeling isolated from their teams.

Managers should create spaces where employees can chat about anything and everything. Consider using your team messaging platform to create channels like #thebestHRteam or #marketingrules where employees can share weekend plans or tonight’s dinner. Also, consider using video conferencing for virtual happy hours.

6. Set boundaries for when employees can reach out

Distributed teams often aren’t working in sync and that’s okay. Employees in the office might leave a little later to catch up on lost productivity from chatting with colleagues during the day, or some might come in later to avoid traffic. But employees scattered across different states and time zones might start to ask their teammates overseas for support at 12 o’clock midnight, and that can be problematic.

To make sure your employees aren’t being inconvenienced, boundaries should be ironed out. Employees on the East Coast should only contact teammates in the UK up until 2:00 p.m. Learn everyone’s schedules and needs and make sure rules are set. This will help everyone achieve a better work-life balance.

7. Trust your team to get the job done

Although distributed teams are difficult to manage by nature, it might not stop you from wanting to know everything that’s going on. But the future of work—and management—is centered around trust, and constantly checking on your employees is just going to stress them out.

If you want to lay low but still play an active role in your employees’ performance, you can simply ask employees to keep their tasks updated on whichever task management platform you use. And use your weekly video meetings to gauge their progress. Other than that, trust that your team is fully capable of meeting their deadlines.

With the right management, distributed teams will deliver exceptional business results

Managing a distributed team doesn’t have to be harder than managing an in-house team, but your approach must be different. You have to be comfortable trusting that employees will get their jobs done while setting them up with the tools, metrics, guidelines, and space for them to be successful. This means letting go of the in-office orthodoxy and adopting a new mindset towards work that puts employees first. 

When you figure out how to perfectly manage your employees, employees will not only love the freedom of a flexible manager but also have higher job satisfaction, lower workplace stress, and higher productivity. 

Employees need to communicate and collaborate effortlessly with one another in order for distributed teams to work. A single communications app for messaging, video, and phone ensures that your team has the tools to work and bond together. Click here to learn more about the RingCentral app.

Originally published Apr 25, 2020, updated Sep 10, 2021

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