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How to get your distributed team to work like a swiss watch and what are the benefits of this business model

Ana Milas, Head of Marketing

56% of global companies today allow remote work and 62% of global employees can work remotely at least once a month. Studies show that this particular benefit makes them 24% happier in their workplace.

The conventional wisdom today seems to believe that co-located teams in general perform better, probably because they are under the radar. Which is not possible to implement when people are not physically on company’s premises. Several high-profile CEO's turned heads to remote working for their employees, like Marrisa Mayer from Yahoo! And Reddit’s Yishan Wong.

However, the past couple of weeks went hard on all industries and the stubborn 44% from the beginning of the story were forced to accept the work way of the modern age- remote. Sounds nasty to some, but shockingly for the 44 club, It really works.

Co-located vs. Distributed team

Distributed, dispersed or remote teams have been a part of Serengeti's vocabulary prior to crisis as this is the way we do business. We have people in the office and then we have people in other people's offices, as hybrid between the two, consulting and providing our clients with the best solutions for their problem. In some cases, we blend in with their IT as a chameleon, whilst in other cases we are standalone autonomous team and we communicate directly to their business departments. At this moment, we are handling the entire core system of one big international bank, from maintenance to development in this second model.

Key points of organizational support for effectiveness of distributed teams.

To have a successful collaboration and effective teams, one needs to take care of three things:

  1. People
    This is where we need to be careful as team members are critical for team effectiveness. Think of the end goal, think of your client and then pick the right person who can do the job. Besides technical expertise, business or domain expertise is very important.
  2. Training and education provided by your organization
    Our job is to pass on the knowledge and to help optimize the necessary processes at the same time. Therefore, we need to be able to support our people with education that will help them adjust to client and be efficient. Proper on boarding is important. It is not realistic to expect optimal team performance from day one from team where members work first time together and they are dislocated.
  3. Team Autonomy 
    This is crucial for good decision making and it includes unambiguous expectations and requirements. If different team members are in different locations, then it is important to have individual contributor autonomy. Everyone must be more efficient and responsible. The same is true in SCRUM lead teams so it shouldn’t be big difference for teams that are used to it.

Don't treat distributed team the same as co-located team

There are couple of things we need to keep in mind when managing distributed teams and keeping them up to date with all things going on at the organization and at the same time doing high quality people management and support. Let’s put it this way: We need to tweak our leadership strategy a bit.

  • Use the right software
    You need to be able to do video conference, at the same time do screen sharing and document sharing. There is a variety of tools out there and each company has a tool that works well for them. We use Office 365 and SharePoint. Good tool is Homeslice, for figuring out different time zones.
  • Cut on endless meetings
    Instead, to boost productivity, add structure to your meetings. They will be shorter, but in the end more productive. What we do here at Serengeti is having our management meeting once a week, and then we have daily meetings where we discuss our to do lists, but the „style“ of this meeting is more casual, and we use this time to give suggestions and ask questions. My team and I call it „virtual coffee “.
  • Don't impose fixed working hours
    You can't treat distributed team the same way you would treat people in the office. Office people can work 9 to 5, but distributed teams sometimes depend on time zones, on client's preferences, etc. At the end of the day what really matters are the results delivered.
  • Clarity as a must
    When sharing an office, people communicate much easier. They can watch each other's body language, talk and hang out more often. When handling distributed teams, this is not so easy, so our goals and expectations need to be clearly defined and communicated.
  • Onboarding
    Well-structured onboarding process is pivotal, especially because people are not sharing their workspace, so it makes it harder to transfer the knowledge.
  • Make them feel as a team 
    Meaning, whichever tool you are using for your work communication can be used for fun as well. At Serengeti we use Microsoft Teams. We hold our virtual meetings on Teams, share presentations, but we also have channels such as Food, Ladies only channel and other non- work things.
  • Company Intranet
    We have our Serengeti web portal. We publish a newsletter each month with all the spicy details from that month; be it promotions, rewards, new babies on board, you name it, we share it 😊
  • Form a club
    In order to get people closer together, we formed Geti blog club, which is a club of writing enthusiasts who are to write about topics particular to their scope of work. We have business writers, technology, high tech, general news.
  • Appraisal
    This is often lacking in remote environment, but it makes your team feel valued and appreciated and it is often 

Managing distributed teams can be tough, especially having in mind that they often sit at client's or at home. Traditional workspace is something learned and of course it is more natural to all of us. However, distributed teams have many benefits. Aside from the fact that we are fishing in a global talent pool, we are giving people more flexibility and thus more space for being creative and to grow and develop. Another benefit is fewer overheads, companies being leaner with expenses such as electricity, office space, etc. There are much less distractions as meetings are structured and they have their slot in your outlook calendars.

Now download our Guide - How to successfully manage a distributed software development team:

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