Distributed Teams: The Basics & Beyond

A distributed team meets in person - flags displaying their countries

For those who are part of distributed teams, it’s not uncommon to sit down at your desk and check-in with a manager who not only lives in a different city, but in a completely different country. It’s also not uncommon to send a message to a co-worker who lives in another part of the world to update them on the project they are collaborating on. 

Once upon a time, this kind of work setup would have seemed downright impossible. In a world where more companies are relying on distributed teams, though, it isn’t just possible, it’s quickly becoming the norm.

Today, the standard approach to work looks very different than it did in the past. From remote and virtual teams that handle everything from a home office to hybrid teams that spend half their team in the office and half the time at home, there are lots of ways — and places — to do one’s job.

Of all the different ways to manage a team, a distributed team is one of the best options, particularly for global companies. Read on to learn more about how these teams work and what you need to know to manage them.

What Are Distributed Teams?

A type of remote team  — often with members spread out all over the world. Not only do team members have to contend with being in different places during the day, but they also have to grapple with various time zones and cultural factors.

As you can imagine, technology is a crucial component in keeping everyone connected. Members are linked by a singular network and rely on various tools to minimize disruptions and ensure all team members are on the same page.

Lots of companies all over the world utilize distributed teams, but the following are some of the most well-known:

Automattic: The parent company of WordPress and Tumblr, Automattic has been 100 percent remote for over a decade.

Zapier: The company responsible for the popular automation tool operates 100 percent remotely with employees in 13 countries.

Doist: The makers of the popular productivity app Todoist are 100 percent distributed and have employees in 25 different countries.

Who Benefits from a Distributed Team?

This model clearly works well for some high-profile companies. This type of work may be a good fit for you and your team members, too, if the following statements are true

  • You want to reduce costs: Without the overhead costs of a central office, you can save a lot of money when your company is made up of distributed teams.
  • You want to attract better talent: A distributed team allows you to attract qualified employees from all over the world and promotes more company-wide diversity.
  • You want to increase productivity: Remote work often increases productivity, especially when people are allowed to set their own schedules. 
  • You want more flexibility: As the manager of a distributed team, you have the flexibility to work at any time and from anywhere.

Unique Challenges + Questions to Ask

Are you thinking about taking on a role as the manager of a distributed team? Managing distributed teams comes with plenty of benefits, but there are also some unique challenges to keep in mind, including the following:

  • Develop poor communication habits: Without proper tools and technology, it can be hard for everyone to stay in touch and plan time to touch base on projects, or social interactions.
  • Lack of trust: Poor communication can also hinder trust between teams, especially those who have never met in person.
  • Distracting work environments: Working from home presents unique distractions, especially for those with young children or pets.
  • Limited company culture: It can be hard to establish a strong, positive company culture when everyone is spread out across the world.
  • Cultural differences: Managing a distributed team requires you to learn about cultural norms in other countries so you can accommodate and understand all of your employees.
  • Timezone mismatches: When teams are spread out across the globe, timezone mismatches can create unique communication obstacles.

If you’re still on the fence about managing distributed teams, consider asking the following questions when interviewing for this role:

  1. What tools/software do you use? Companies with distributed teams must have reliable software to help everyone stay connected.
  2. How often do you plan company-wide, in-person events? Company-wide, in-person events are great for team building, boosting morale, and establishing a strong, positive company culture.
  3. How would you describe your company culture? A lack of company culture can impede productivity and employee engagement, so you must take this into account when deciding whether or not you want to be part of a distributed team.
  4. What is your current employee retention rate? If a company with a distributed team has a low retention rate, that’s a red flag. Additionally – read about other ways to measure employee engagement and ask questions about this!
  5. How do you handle onboarding for new employees? A distributed team must have a strong, in-depth virtual onboarding process to set new team members up for success right away.

Is a Distributed Team Right for You?

Distributed teams may be the way of the future. However, you should still understand what you’re getting into before choosing a role as a manager at a distributed company.

From communication challenges to grappling with time zone differences, there are some of the obstacles you’ll face taking on this new role.

But, if you're keen on transparency and have a knack for getting people involved – this could just be the perfect fit for you! And we believe that with the right remote work software, you'll be able to manage all types of teams.

Weekdone Team Compass provides a shared workplace for team updates. You'll gain an automated overview of individual, team, and company day-to-day processes. Each week see how your team is feeling, what they're working on, and how you're progressing toward goals!