Running a dispersed team comes with its own unique challenges. Here is how you can overcome the hurdles For many people working in the tech sector, remote working is more than just a company perk. In fact, it might be the factor that attracted them to the industry in the first place. For employees, particularly […] The post So far yet so close: How to successfully manage a dispersed team appeared first on e27.
17 Oct, 2018E27.CO
When your team members are somewhere beyond the horizon …
For many people working in the tech sector, remote working is more than just a company perk. In fact, it might be the factor that attracted them to the industry in the first place.
For employees, particularly those of the millennial generation, working in a dispersed team enables them to maintain work-life balance. The benefits of having employees work remotely can also be felt by employers, from increased productivity to lower overhead cost.
For us at the e27 content team, remote working is something we strongly believe in, with a team of writers spread across four countries and five cities. The majority of the team has been working together for over three years, of which the entire time has been remote; basically, we are experts.
But in 2013, when she was appointed as CEO of former internet giant Yahoo!, one of the first moves that Marissa Mayer made was banning remote working for its employees.
The move led to heated discussions about the efficacy of working in a dispersed team; even for proponents of remote working, it has brought to light the problems of running a dispersed team.
So what can businesses do to ensure that they can reap the benefits of remote working, and deal with the potential challenges?
There are steps that managers of a dispersed team can take to prevent and handle issues, but before we get to that part, first and foremost we need to list down the challenges faced by employees who are working remotely.
1. Lack of productivity
For opponents of remote working, lack of productivity is the main reason why they avoid implementing the procedure in their company — or canceling it after giving it a try for some time. Employees end up being distracted and failed to keep up with deadline and other responsibilities.
In some extreme cases, employees even use the flexibility enabled by remote working to take up second jobs or projects, eventually sacrificing their full-time work with the company.
Another great challenge in running a dispersed team is in communicating with team members. The challenges lie not only in matters such as understanding instructions or order, but also in more serious matters such as being able to notice brewing conflicts among team members.
Knowing your team members –their characteristics, habits, and concerns– is easier when you have them in the same room as you are. But having them located in other cities (or even other countries) means that everyone should go the extra mile to understand each other.
While Google Hangouts (and other similar services) facilitate meetings, it is a challenge bring the same energy as in-house meetings. Plus, organising a remote team to attend online meetings becomes tedious after a few months.
3. Mental health
For professionals who would rather avoid remote working, boredom and loneliness are important reasons. Remote working often means only getting to meet your colleagues for a few times each year; members of a dispersed team are usually left to work by themselves, whether at co-working spaces, coffee shops, or at their own home. Even when employees have the opportunity to travel and work at the same time, it is possible to feel out of touch.
Another challenge with remote working, that is not often being talked about, is the social stigma that comes with working at home.
I have personally met professionals who had to decline an opportunity to work in a remote team, as their family members were concerned about how it will affect their reputation. In a more conservative society like Indonesia, while women who work at home tend to be praised for their ability to balance between their career and home life, men are being looked down with suspicion instead. “Working at home” is still believed to be a code language for unemployment or unsteady income.
Based on our experiences, here are the five main points of actions that managers of a dispersed team can do to tackle the identified challenges:
1. The right person at the right time
This is going to be hard to admit, but just like any other work settings, remote working is not meant for everyone. So the first thing that managers need to do is to make sure they have hired the right personnel for the job.
There are certain personality types that seem to suit better with remote working, and people with strong sense of self-discipline come up on top of the list.
As managers of a dispersed team, you certainly need to set up clear regulations and targets for your team, and a self-disciplined individual will fulfil them without the need for their managers to hover behind their back.
We also noticed that remote working tends to work better for people who have had years of work experience behind them, instead of someone who is completely new to the job force. As years go by, a professional should be able to identify his or her own strength and weakness, and most importantly, working style.
I personally took at least three years to realise that I perform better when working in the early morning, and that I am more comfortable working behind the desk (instead of in the field).
The more an employee understand themselves, the more they can encourage themselves to be productive.
2. Teams that hang together stay together
No matter what new communications technology is being invented, there is nothing to replace real, offline interaction. At e27, we try to ensure that at least once a year, the team has the opportunity to get together at a company outing event. Spending more than a day together in the same location helps team members get to know each other better.
Working with other teams encourages greater involvement, and eventually a sense of belonging for members of a dispersed team. A greater sense of belonging may lead to employees feeling more enthusiastic and responsible for their work with a company.
It will also give them a variety in the tasks that they do for the company, and this is great way to prevent boredom or stagnancy.
3. Written in stone
Rules and regulations that managers set up for a dispersed team should go beyond deadline and working hours. While it may not be feasible to prevent employees from taking second jobs or projects, managers should encourage employees to be open about it.
Another aspect that teams should be clear about is procedure to manage conflicts. It is recommended to have even have a communications guideline: What kind of issues can be discussed via Slack, and which one would require a conversation over the phone? What are the issues that team should discuss once they have the opportunity to meet offline? Is there any particular terminologies, or even code language, that team members can use to make communication easier?
Also Read: 5 myths about working with remote teams
The communication guideline is strongly related to the next point-of-action that managers need to take.
4. Be your own support system
Closeness between team members –or even between managers and team members– might start off naturally when individuals spend an significant amount of time together at a physical location. But when your team members are beyond the ocean, a little extra effort is needed.
Managers need to make sure to communicate individually with each team member; not only to discuss ongoing tasks, but to stay updated with how the team member is holding on.
It is also important for the team to become its own support system. Make it the norm to always be open to discuss issues, and have a strict “no gossip” policy. Keep the mindset that whatever challenges a team member might face, the other team members and managers are always ready to help.
5. Nothing is permanent
Last but not least, managers of a dispersed team need to keep in mind that the only thing that will never change is change itself.
You may believe that you have found a solution that works really well in improving your team’s productivity and communication, but the solution that works today may not work forever. Managers should never stop learning new ways to grow, and they should have regular sit-downs with their team members to figure it out. Pay attention to team dynamics and changes that happen within it, and adjust the way you lead your team according to it
Most importantly, make sure that every team member has an active contribution in discovering the best ways to more forward.
The post So far yet so close: How to successfully manage a dispersed team appeared first on e27.