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Working Without Borders: 3 Key Rules For Working Effectively In Distributed Teams

It was just a while ago that we switched our weekly meeting to a group video call. On that call, we had two people meet with us from other countries. We also collaborated on three different documents shared over the internet. Since that call and the first couple of documents shared virtually, we have grown into a fully distributed team, having colleagues in Australia, Philippines, Singapore, London, Prague, New York, and Columbia. We use a number of software that helps us get things done and collaborate effectively. 

 What started with that confusing first call between a group of people who wanted to gain more freedom at work, was, in fact, the first building block of a strong team. A team that’s working together seamlessly, feeling connected, yet far away.

Distributed teams redefine everything that dominates traditional workplaces. In doing this, they pave the way to reimagine what we consider to be efficient work. This concept rethinks the very basics of work including working hours and pay. It spills deep into the motivation and purpose of the team.

Fears and opportunities

The number one fear that some point to is that this experience won’t sufficiently replicate the physical office experience. But that’s actually not even the question here. Why replicate the old when we can approach the same space from a completely new perspective?

Many still think of remote work as secondary, limited or supplementary. Companies are struggling with the needs of their employees wanting more family time and seeing it as an obstacle. Employees prefer to work from the more comfortable environment of their homes rather than the four corners of an office. Many are starting to realise that working in open spaces isn’t as beneficial as they expected. Furthermore, the mass migration to cities for work, which we experience in the Industrial era is starting to lose its appeal in today’s age.

Virtual work actually offers huge advantages in the following ways: it helps us to access talent regardless of geography, it allows people to work where they feel most comfortable and as we’re going to argue in this article, it gives the opportunity for new, more mature kind of work relationships built on communication, efficiency, and trust rather than control.

Principles of collaboration

 Let’s explore how to open the door to new opportunities through remote work and explore ideas on how to save time, money and to achieve effectiveness and productivity in teams.

1.    High trust

The foundation for success in any type of teamwork is trust. When people are not meeting in person, they might encounter the impressions of a “black box”. This gives us the feeling that we lack the knowledge of how others are handling their tasks. In an office, we tend to get the impression that having everyone under one roof ensures that they are all being productive.

Being physically present doesn’t ensure complete focus and engagement. In both cubicles and shared offices, people may be completely disconnected from their work. How many times have you find yourself mind-travelling outside the office and need a breather while having to keep sitting in that chair?

Mutual trust in the fact that everyone is able to manage their time, energy and abilities is the beginning of success. When there is mutual trust, here is what happens: Individuals work with autonomy, people take responsibility for their tasks, and results are achieved. At this point, everyone matures and cooperates in a professional manner. 

When trust is low, control is high. This makes leaders micromanage and patrol the halls. But when trust is high, leaders give the people space to do the work they need to do. This alleviates the micromanaging and controlling nature of leaders and allows the employees to work with a greater sense of freedom, which also allows more creativity. This requires team members to realise that their time and abilities are assets they transfer to the employer and that they are responsible for their most efficient use.

2.    Communication and asking for feedback

When employees fail to clearly understand what is expected of them, it will cause delays in the whole project. In situations where everyone works alone, it is impossible to satisfactorily complete a job without understanding the assignment. Nothing can be hidden or swept under the carpet. On the contrary, there is a need to define, agree and share work in the virtual space with transparency. Most of all, the owners of the project must explicitly express what they are after. 

In this case, there’s never enough communication and it should come in many forms. Already in the early stages of our work, it’s beneficial to share our work in progress to get feedback and to make sure that we are on the right track. 

Effective communication should take place verbally, both in written form and through visual demonstration. 

3.    Less time working brings more results

 Efficiency is indirectly correlated with time. The less time we spend doing our work, the more effective we become. Of course, we may not optimise everything towards efficiency, but it is important to point to the stereotype of fixed working hours and the waste of energy and time due to the expectation to be always available and always ready.

In shared offices, we are more likely to be a subject to micromanagement and distractions. We deal with meetings and colleagues, who are entering our space during the course of the tasks on which we need to focus. Because of this, the time we spend executing a task extends radically and we’re more susceptible to making mistakes.

Certainly, it is possible to mitigate some of these problems by working remotely. When trust and communication are optimized, we have the conditions to work when we are most productive and where we work best. Why not empower our teams with such efficiency? If we want to achieve efficiency apart from these factors, it is necessary to re-evaluate how we manage our own energy in relation to the work we perform.

When we need a break, we can be stimulated by taking a walk, playing a sport, having time alone or with family. It is important to have the opportunity for such diversions. After such a transition, we usually return to work with renewed enthusiasm – we are better attuned, more involved, empowered with new ideas and energy which fuels our creativity.

If you are considering remote work or you are partly working this way, you will definitely deal with questions about timezone, pay for work that is not done in the conventional 8-hour intervals, team management, or the specific instruments and tools that allow you to fully leverage the newly-discovered freedom and to make this freedom available for your team as well. 

In the next post: We look at various factors and tools that help us to be efficient when working and collaborating remotely.