Brent Owens is one of Beanstream’s Developer Liaisons. Last week, on April 20th, he gave a talk on Managing Distributed Teams – Best Practices, which we will share in a two part series.
Managing Distributed Teams: Part 1
As companies expand globally, the teams naturally become distributed across different cities, countries, and time zones. This can present a real challenge when you are used to working face-to-face and now have to effectively collaborate with your colleagues online. This requires a transition from your physical office to a digital office.
Creating your digital office is more than just having meetings online. You also have to incorporate a culture shift, ensuring that the distributed teams feel like they are all one company They also have to be comfortable sharing information across the office borders and know who, in the various regions, to share the information with.
It is important for everyone to trust the digital office. If you are hiring new employees that will be working remotely or running a remote office, you need to ensure that you ‘hire the people that you trust, and trust the people that you hire.’
Not everyone is cut out for remote work, managers and employees alike. Some employees don’t operate efficiently working alone, and some managers worry that their employees aren’t working if they don’t physically see them every day.
For this first case, this can be resolved by hiring the right person for the work. For the latter example, it is important that the manager builds up a trust that the employee is getting their work done.
Building that trust in the workers can be achieved by measuring Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs. This means measuring performance based on completed tasks, sales closed, and ensuring regular communication of these OKRs. This shifts the emphasis from the number of hours an employee sits at their desk towards the measureable success that employee is driving.
Having trust in the tools you use is also important. If you company has three different chat programs, employees need to know which one to use. Having a clear communication cadence will ensure that employees take advantage of these technologies.
The tools also need to function properly; easy to set up, no dropped calls, and the ability to be used on different operating systems and web browsers. Without that trust in the tools, people will struggle to connect with the global team.
Overcoming Technology Barriers
We’ve all been there. You are on the phone with a group of people and you want to contribute to the conversation; only you don’t know when the right time to interject is.
It’s difficult because you cannot see the social queues, and when the delay in conversation finally arrives your contribution feels awkward and disjointed. While some of this just takes practice to overcome, there are some procedures that can be set up to ensure the discussion runs smoothly.
One solution is to appoint a moderator for the meeting. This person will go around the room and give each person a minute or two to present their topic then move onto the next person, including anyone dialing in to the meeting. While this works well to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to talk, it doesn’t guarantee a free-flowing conversation.
To solve this, you can delegate someone in the meeting room as a surrogate for every remote employee. The remote employee can then use chat to message the surrogate and say “I would like to chime in”. The surrogate then interrupts the conversation saying “SoAndSo has something to add”, and then gives the floor to the person on the phone.
It is hard to replace in real life (IRL) discussions. You can replicate IRL discussion using video chat, but it is also very important to meet the people you work with face-to-face.
During the hiring and training process the team should meet the new employee, giving everyone a chance to get a feel for their personality, quirks, and communication techniques. You can then associate a real person, and face, with an online chat avatar when the discussions move online.
Many companies make sure that everyone meets one to three times per year, in person, as a group. By putting a face to everyone’s name, the company feels more whole.
Getting the entire company together may not always be possible, nor financially feasible, but many companies will arrange mini-meetups for the teams that work closest together.
That completes Part 1. Come back next Thursday, May 5th for Part 2 in The Digital Office – Managing Remote Teams.