Leading from abroad: Effectively managing distributed teams
By Eugene Peters, Director Product Management (Workforce Management) at Ceridian
The way in which work is performed, as well as where, has a prominent influence over a company’s ability to attract and retain talent. At an increasing rate, work is being done in a distributed fashion. There are many benefits to exercising a distributed workforce model that highlight why it should be a priority for organizations, including:
- Access to better talent: Distributed teams enable organizations to leverage a bigger pool of talent and skills that would otherwise be unavailable. Some areas are either too competitive or don’t have the right type of talent , but technology and location flexibility allows you to access talent beyond market boarders. Furthermore, you can often achieve a skill/cost advantage for your human capital investment.
- Improved service offerings: With a global team of workers, you get to “follow the sun,” meaning your organization can service clients worldwide and around the clock, spanning different time zones.
- Cost-savings: In addition to securing the best and cost-effective global talent, distributed teams can also help boost operational efficiency and significantly reduce expenses. For example, FlexJobs reported that organizations can save as much as $11,000 per employee by allowing them to telecommute even just half the time.
- Improved retention rates: According to WorldatWork, of the 62 percent of businesses that offer telecommuting, nearly half agree that it has had a positive effect on employee retention rates. Remote working promotes a healthier work/life balance. Plus, it demonstrates an organization’s environmental responsibility, making it even more attractive for environmentally minded job-seekers.
6 tips for managing distributed teams
If you’re new to a leadership role, managing a distributed team can feel overwhelming. You have to navigate many different types of distance – geographic, temporal, cultural, linguistic, and configurational. Each of these dimensions plays a pivotal role in team dynamics and, therefore, influences the effectiveness and performance of the organization as a whole. Fortunately, there are ways that you can effectively lead from abroad.
- Align team priorities. When you are managing workers that aren’t in the same physical location as you, you don’t even have the option to micromanage. This is why it is especially important to implement specific goals and strategy plans so that the entire team is focused on well documented deliverables; knowing what the objective is enables distributed teams to work autonomously. Daily goals should be set, shared, and completed to ensure everyone is staying productive and helping the organization improve its bottom line.
- Facilitate ongoing communication. You need to make sure there is at least some temporal overlap during which you and your team can communicate in real-time. Meet briefly to discuss what project status and make sure you are on the same page. Keep in mind that these meetings should be as brief and efficient as possible – long meetings can often be a waste of time and a productivity pitfall, especially if they are being done abroad. Be consistent in keeping everyone connected and engaged. Also, share the burden. Switch the time of the day that meetings occur so no one member has to be on the graveyard shift every time.
- Hire people you trust. Managing a distributed workforce is a lot easier if you actually trust the people on your team. You need to hire employees who you entrust to self-govern and are mature enough to effectively handle their own time and deliverables.
- Make it personal. Teams work best when there is a certain level of relatability and accountability. This includes having an understanding of communication styles, cultural sensitivity, and even personal priorities. Giving people across the team visibility to all that is in flight, how individual projects are linked, and who is on which base gets people invested in the success of broad initiatives, as well as individual projects. Consider hosting a company retreat or all hands meeting where everyone comes together. Not only will productive conversations take place but it will also aid in building stronger connections and relationships among the team.
- Utilize collaborative technology. As with any type of workforce model, collaboration is key and, without it, your team is at risk of failing. Leverage digital tools and systems such as Dropbox, Google Docs, Evernote, Basecamp, or WorldTimeBuddy. Dayforce Performance Management with TeamRelate is another example of a tool that makes collaborating, working, and communicating abroad simple and seamless.
- Learn from others. If you’re new to a leadership role or just getting started with a global team, read up on how other companies and managers have successfully implemented a distribution workforce model. Below are two recommendations to get started:
- “The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work,” Scott Berkun
- “Remote: Office Not Required,” Jason Fried and David Heinemeier
Effectively managing distributed teams requires a certain mindset and corporate culture. If you’re responsible for leading people who aren’t in the same physical location, you face a number of challenges. However, by using the above tips and strategies, you can significantly enhance your leadership skills and, in turn, help drive your company’s success.
Eugene leads the product innovation of Ceridian Dayforce’s Global Workforce management suite (both the hardware and software). He is the executive sponsor of our client centric inbound marketing initiatives. Active outdoors with his family regardless of season.