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5 Challenges of Distributed Teams and How to Solve Them

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Updated June 20, 2020 Andzhela Angelova

With coronavirus on the rise globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the outbreak a pandemic. Therefore, in order to stop the spread of the virus, more and more governments recommended or even forced businesses, institutions, and individuals to stop going out, and instead work remotely. Some of the big enterprises such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and yours truly Wiredelta already adopted these norms, however, there are several challenges that may occur when operating with distributed teams. 

Let’s have a closer look at the 5 challenges of distributed teams and different approaches to solving them.

 

What is a distributed team?

A distributed team can be defined as a group of co-workers, who work together, however, they are separated by their geographical location. Be it different building, city, country or even continents. They communicate via reliable web tools and programs in order to operate in the most efficient way. 

 

What are the 5 challenges of Distributed Teams?

1.No face-to-face communication

No matter what the teams are working on, the most important practice for a good work environment is communication between each other. It allows everyone to be on the same page and to follow the specified tasks no matter if they are in the same location or not. 

 

But operating with distributed teams has a cost associated with the lack of real in-person interaction. That can make it difficult to feel the energy, read emotions and judge the body language. This may cause misunderstandings, create a lack of trust, in extreme cases even lack of empathy, and therefore affect productivity negatively.

 

In order to alleviate the lack of face-to-face communication, it is essential to use the many good collaboration tools out there. Be it for instant chat, audio or video conferences. It is recommended to have all mediums of communication set up for both unexpected conversations and various preferences. In this way, the teams can get regular updates, feedback, and help, if needed. Some of the helpful tools that your businesses can benefit from are Slack, Skype, Zoom, and MeetinVR.

 

For instance, MeetinVR allows businesses to create virtual workspaces, where members of distributed teams can easily connect with the help of VR technology. It optimizes office spaces, reduces travel costs, enhances the decision-making process and people’s productivity.

 

 

Additionally, it is crucial to create both a formal and informal remote working environment that represents actual team communication procedures. For instance, setting daily meetings ensures all team members’ involvement, responsibility as well as enhance the quality of the group process. In terms of medium, chatting on Slack is oftentimes more informal than meeting on Skype to video call each other. It is important to set up these casual as well as more serious rooms to allow for all types of communication to take place.

 

2. The difficulty of following a variety of tasks

An essential part of efficient work is keeping track of the tasks such as the progress of the project and deadlines. However, because of no in-person communication and the distributed team, it is difficult to manage and keep everyone on the same page. 

 

That is why distributed teams have to use a system or tool that can visualize and manage their project and tasks progress. In this way, it will be easy to foresee the risks and challenges that could prevent the fulfillment of a project.

 

Therefore, the choice of project management tool must meet the requirements for the specific business or organization. For instance, if a business needs to easily visualize particular tasks for the distributed teams, it is advisable to use some of the most common tools such as Asana that we use here at Wiredelta, but other popular task management tools are Trello and Jira.

 

5 challenges of distributed teams

Source: Asana

 

3. Time Zone Mismatch

When managing a distributed team, the team members may be located in different places around the world and therefore across several time zones. This challenge is often a prerequisite for delayed and postponed implementations.

 

Accordingly, it is suggested to prepare a calendar and meeting times based on each team member’s availability. Using tools like Google Calendar or Outlook can help you to set automatic meeting times for each participant. 

 

Another practical instrument, in this case, is Every Time Zone, which allows you to see what the time of your choice is across every time zone.

 

5 challenges of distributed teams

Source: Every Time Zone

 

4. Lack of efficiency 

Another challenge when operating a distributed team is less efficient coordination and implementation of projects. It may be caused by the team members’ surrounding environment or various distractions at different locations. No matter what the reason behind is, it may cost team members a lack of concentration, less efficient work and therefore undesired delay or postponed project deliveries. 

 

Consequently, there are few methods to prevent such a situation. First of all, the team members should set time frames that they have to keep in order to evaluate their performance and to accomplish their goals. There are many beneficial tools such as Time Doctor and Toggl to do exactly this.

 

 

A different method to keep distributed teams productive is to set clear expectations for each role and have regular check-ins to gauge progress. Furthermore, daily scrum meetings are usual to foster productivity, transparency, and collaboration. Possessing an informal group check-in every day keeps the team on the same page and holds everyone accountable for their daily tasks and ongoing projects.

 

5. Building an A and a B Team

As described in the first challenge, the lack of face-to-face communication makes it hard to align the entire team across any given project. It is natural when people sit in the same office, they exchange way more information than if they have to write or call to communicate. This essentially risks creating an A (office) and B (distributed) team.

 

However, already today many companies operate from multiple offices and have to cope with this challenge accordingly. For instance, at Wiredelta, we operate in two offices on two different continents. As a result, we go to great lengths to ensure that we align everyone across teams on a daily basis. Everyone has to feel equally informed, engaged and valued no matter the geographical location. 

 

It can be suggested for the organisations which operate with distributed teams to spread the important updates through their communication channels equally. A good example is Slack. In this way, both of the teams will receive the information at the same time which accordingly will avoid a misunderstanding or unwanted division of employees.

 

Likewise, a good idea for companies is to perform team-building activities regularly so all co-workers can communicate, get to know each other and feel treated in the same way.

Summary

If the circumstances require you to work with distributed teams, you face many challenges when operating. Fortunately, you should now be equipped to set up and operate distributed teams across the world to keep your business working in the most efficient way. 

 






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