Early in 2020, without warning, the pandemic made distributed teams a standard way of working for organizations all over the globe. Now, many employees have grown to prefer working remotely for at least part of every week. But despite the popularity of virtual workgroups—and evidence that they can be effective—employers are still trying to address related issues.
Are you among the employers looking for better ways to support distributed teams on an ongoing basis? What challenges are you facing, and how are you resolving them? Recently, when we asked business leaders these questions, they focused on seven key problems and ideas to resolve them:
- Coordinate Asynchronous Schedules
- Develop a Consistent Employee Experience
- Deal With Cultural Distinctions
- Address Issues Before They Become Systemic
- Offer Viable Child Care Options
- Avoid Information Silos
- Build Deep Connections and Loyalty
For details, check their answers below…
1. Coordinate Asynchronous Schedules
Distributed teams often operate hand in hand with flexible hours and asynchronous schedules. Even if you mandate specific working hours, different time zones can make it difficult for coworkers to connect at the same time. As a result, scheduling meetings and coordinating real-time collaboration can be frustrating and time-consuming.
One solution is to establish standard “overlap hours” when teammates are expected to be available online. This way, teams can easily plan to meet within established blocks of time without delays or unnecessary back-and-forth email activity. The rest of each day’s calendar is open, so individuals can structure their schedules independently.
2. Develop a Consistent Employee Experience
When employees aren’t based in the same location, engagement and interaction can differ dramatically. With members of distributed teams operating in different locations and time zones, delivering a cohesive, consistent employee experience will no doubt continue to be a major challenge.
There is no easy fix for this. All the more reason why it’s worthwhile to create robust internal communications designed to connect and inform remote employees throughout your organization. It pays to invest in a mechanism that helps everyone in the company participate in intentional check-ins and feedback. And be sure to equip and encourage managers, so they will continuously evangelize your culture and norms.
3. Deal With Cultural Distinctions
In a global workforce, employees may come from vastly different cultural backgrounds. This means you should anticipate that distributed team members will bring different communication styles, behavioral patterns, work ethics and ideals to the table. This naturally will influence how well team members understand each other and collaborate to reach a specific goal.
Leaders in global organizations must transcend these cultural barriers to manage distributed teams effectively. Start by encouraging multicultural understanding by delivering awareness training for management and employees. For example, focus on empowering people to identify preconceptions and handle unconscious bias. Also, help them learn how cultural differences can actually foster meaningful communication, collaboration, and creative problem-solving.
4. Address Issues Before They Become Systemic
Leaders will have to grapple with identifying and correcting issues before they become norms. With distributed teams, leaders will have a tougher time assessing employee sentiment towards one other, the company, and their roles. If any sources of friction or conflict are left unchecked, they can eventually take root, resulting in lower employee satisfaction and higher turnover.
One solution is for leaders to create a culture where everyone feels empowered to speak up about any problems or concerns that may arise with coworkers or managers. This can help prevent problems by giving people the freedom to come together quickly and solve problems before they get out of hand.
5. Offer Viable Child Care Options
Whether parents work in-office or from home, child care can be a continuous work-life struggle. Employee attention and productivity are easily compromised when quality care isn’t available or children are underfoot in a home office environment.
In the past, on-site child care or partnerships with daycare facilities made sense when employees worked at central office locations. But those solutions won’t work for distributed teams or employees with non-standard schedules. The best solution is to provide benefits from a company that provides child care on-demand. This gives parents options that fit their specific needs, no matter where they live or work. It’s one benefit that clearly benefits everyone—children, parents, and employers.
6. Avoid Information Silos
Information silos are prevalent in distributed workplaces. They inhibit the free flow of data, communication, and essential insights. Silos may arise from proximity, reduced permissions, or even a lack of knowledge about where specific data is stored. Regardless, the presence of silos is a productivity nightmare.
Lost or mishandled data can pose a considerable threat to distributed teams. Therefore, leaders must take the proper steps to promote transparency, accessibility, and collaboration between departments. The solution is to invest in your organization’s file infrastructure. This can be achieved through the use of cloud data solutions that back up and store data remotely in the cloud.
This, in turn, makes data available on-demand wherever workers may be, so they can retrieve what they need from whatever device they may be using. This streamlines data access and improves productivity while keeping confidential information as safe and secure as possible.
7. Build Deep Connections and Loyalty
Distributed work has one downside that can undermine team cohesion and organizational loyalty. Human beings build emotional bonds largely through social interaction. In-person, those connections easily develop because the environment lends itself to unexpected interactions and casual conversations. We “meet” briefly at the Keurig machine or in an elevator, while also making small talk.
In the absence of that unplanned, low-stakes social activity, emotional bonds don’t grow as deep. So, employee connections tend to be more transactional and less emotional—with colleagues, managers and the organization overall.
Without strong emotional bonds, distributed teams can suffer from low cohesion and loyalty. Virtual team members may be less likely to notice a colleague in need. It may also be easier to lure them away. To combat this, create as many opportunities as possible for employees to meet informally and get to know each other—even if it’s online. Encourage small talk before meetings. Support random, agenda-free phone meetings. Nurture friendships!
EDITOR’S NOTE: These ideas on how distributed teams can work together more effectively were submitted via Terkel. Terkel is a knowledge platform that shares community-driven content based on expert insights. To see questions and get published, sign up at terkel.io.