01 Mar 6 Secrets to Building and Leading a Globally Distributed Team
Managing a group of people isn’t always easy even if your entire team is sitting right in front of you. But the challenges faced by anyone building a team increase exponentially when that team is spread across different offices – whether the offices are at different locations within the same city, or whether the offices are spread across multiple time zones.
A distributed team is a distributed team.
You can’t just gather everyone around spontaneously to share a quick team update; the team in one office may be celebrating a win while their colleagues in another office are asleep; having a difficult conversation with a team member over a video chat is never going to be the same as taking them out for a coffee and sitting across the table from them; and maintaining team morale across multiple locations can often feel like an insurmountable task.
I’m guessing that anyone looking after a remote team can relate to at least one or two of these scenarios.
I spent many years looking after teams working in different offices around Australia and the Asia Pacific region. Over the last 7 years, in building RecruitLoop, I’ve built a core team that physically sits across 7 countries (quite simply because that’s where the best talent was based, or where they have since chosen to live). We’ve also built a global network of over 5,000 recruiters working in over 50 countries servicing clients in nearly 70 counties. Today it’s not uncommon for a client based in San Francisco to work with one of our recruiters in Tel Aviv; or where a recruiter based in Phoenix, Arizona can help a client build out their team in Sydney, Auckland and LA.
So from personal experience, I wanted to share a few pieces of advice and best practices when it comes to building and looking after distributed or remote teams. After all, it’s practically impossible to avoid time zones and the more companies realize that the best talent doesn’t necessarily need to be physically located in the same city (let alone the same office), it will become critical for HR and executive leadership teams to set expectations and implement processes that are ‘remote friendly’.
There’s no denying that today the best talent for your organisation can actually be located anywhere in the world.
The days are long gone of needing to build a team in one central location or having all your staff sitting together in the same office. With all the communication tools and technology available today, time differences and the all too infamous ‘tyranny of distance’ are practically non-existent.
- Building a distributed team
When it comes to recruiting for distributed team, you must hire personality types that will align with this style of working.
You must also be 100% comfortable that you can implicitly trust everyone you hire who will work remotely given that you are probably more accustomed to having your entire team within eyesight and ear shot.
- Leading a distributed team
First and foremost, never treat members of your distributed team any differently than you would a team you spend every day within the office.
Sounds strange, right?
You still need to have clearly defined reporting lines and you need to set crystal clear and deliberate performance expectations.
It’s entirely up to you whether you choose to have synchronous or asynchronous meetings with your staff, as long as you put extra effort into team building.
Here’s a tip: Try not to refer to anyone working remotely as “working from home”. This immediately conjures up images of taking client calls between laundry loads, sending emails from the kitchen table, or writing up a report in a tracksuit after taking the dog out for a walk. “Remote” or “distributed” team members has a more professional ring to it.
From a management perspective, in a ‘traditional’ work environment, you would probably try to promote a culture of work-life balance. However given that your remote (or ‘virtual’) consultants may well be working in a completely different time zone, it’s important to set clear expectations around work-life ‘separation’. In other words, you need to encourage your staff to not feel guilty if they are not online when you are (as long as the above-mentioned performance expectations are clearly established).
Wherever possible though (ie when time and budget permits), try to schedule face-to-face visits with everyone in your distributed team. I’m actually writing this post while spending a few days with my team based in the Philippines!
- Communicating across a distributed team
It is absolutely essential that you set (and stick to!) a regular communication schedule with your distributed team.
Using some of the communication tools outlined below, your team meetings and 1:1s can continue as normal. However, the only real difference is that you will probably want to set separate personal check-ins at different times to your work-related meetings.
In a ‘normal’ office you might grab a quick coffee or a lunch with individual team members. As you build your distributed team, you need to create virtual impromptu coffee or ‘lunch’ moments (even if you’re eating dinner while they are having breakfast!).
- Collaborating within a distributed team
Some of the communication and collaboration tools we currently use at RecruitLoop (or have experimented with in the past) include: Zoom, Slack, Facebook, Asana, HipChat, Trello, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, DropBox, Mightybell, StatusHero, and Sundial Teleport.
These tools allow us to see each other whenever we want to or to keep conversations going with individuals or groups at any time.
- Creating a culture without borders
It’s often hard enough inside a single office to remove barriers between different teams or between departments working on different floors in the same building. When you’ve always got the remote experience top of mind, you must also ensure you’re creating a culture with no borders at all.
In order to foster a ‘culture across cultures’, you really just need an up-to-date calendar of international events. Depending on where all your team members are located, you may find yourself celebrating Independence Day, Bastille Day, Australia Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Chinese New Year, and Diwali. Trust me, this will only further encourage camaraderie, engagement and a true sense of community among your virtual team members.
- Dealing with the curse of separation
Coming from personal experience, if you are promoting the ability and freedom to ‘work whenever and however’, then problems associated with isolation and separation will undoubtedly arise. You will never be able to prevent it entirely, but as a manager it’s up to you to handle it.
An effective distributed team only works with the right people, the right leadership, the right touch-points and the right technology.
These days there is absolutely nothing stopping you building a team that crosses borders, time zones, or even language barriers. As one of our own RecruitLoop recruiters recently said, “These days it shouldn’t matter whether your team members are two desks away, two offices away, two blocks away, or 2,000km away!”
Paul Slezak Co-founder – RecruitLoop
Paul Slezak is a co-founder of RecruitLoop – a global marketplace of expert sourcers and recruiters available on-demand. With nearly 25 years in the recruitment industry and having worked for both an international publicly listed group as well as a global niche recruitment business, Paul has been a hands-on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry and HR Tech space across Australia, the USA, Asia, and Europe.
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