Working together as a team - Challenges faced by distributed teams
Written by: Hrishikesh Pardeshi, Founder at Flexiple, buildd & Remote Tools.
Last updated: Jan 19, 2023
Before touching upon the challenges faced while working together in a distributed team, let's see what it means and why it's required. Famed author Helen Keller simply put it as "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." And there is immense truth in this. Just Messi isn't enough to win the match for Barca. Steve Jobs wouldn't have been able to get Apple up to where it is all alone.
Every individual's contribution plays a big role in getting the company to its aim. It is thus necessary to inculcate the spirit of teamwork in the members and motivate them to work together. Having a common goal of delivering a good end product or service to the customer by itself puts the team far ahead of competition. If some individuals work with the aim of getting the company to a better place while even if one works with just the aim of earning bread, it could be detrimental for the company's growth.
The above makes it pretty obvious that on a broader level, teams that work together are bound to be more successful. But what about the particulars? And in a remote working environment, would the same ideology still work?
Overcoming challenges related to working together in a distributed team:
In a 2007 research conducted by Harvard Business Research, they examined the scores of quite a few factors that affects the functioning of a team. The research analyzed factors including the company's culture, HR practices, leadership, etc. Although this is quite an old survey and working in remote or distributed teams is only just becoming more commonplace, the factors are largely the same even today.
In the following paragraphs, we'll focus more on how these factors play a role in working together in a distributed team. You can also find below tools that can make this more fruitful. Various attributes directly affect the style of working in teams and these are often magnified in a remote team. We tackle these problems head on and give you ideas on how to overcome them.
i. Team Culture
The company's culture is a reflection of the aims and goals of the company. It involves the treatment given by individuals toward each other. Working remotely, it is not possible to observe what each individual actually works towards achieving.
To tackle this, changes have to be made in the hiring process. Driven individuals who can get the work done even without someone constantly overlooking them make ideal remote employees. Remote work is based on trust alone and mutual trust among the team members is the forte of a successful distributed team.
ii. HR norms
Having a set of human resource guidelines that make the work more employee friendly and encourage healthy practices among employees is a must. In a distributed team, it is very easy to miss the behind the scenes. As Teresa testifies, people cant organically notice when you are struggling. Workload varies from company to company, so the Human resource rules that work well for a big firm need not apply in the same way for a five member startup.
A good set of human resource guidelines keeping in mind varying needs and situations can help in making working together more fun for a remote team. Employee satisfaction needs to be a core goal even in a distributed team.
iii. Working together in a social environment
For a distributed team, this directly translates to fighting loneliness. Isolation in a remote environment is a real challenge. Team members often get demotivated without their fellow teammates to cheer them on. Not only this, working for long hours alone can lead people to a hermit mode. Not being able to have a banter with colleagues over lunch could make an individual less motivated to work with them. This could particularly be a big problem for people who may have never met their team members except over Slack and Zoom calls.
Make conscious efforts to overcome this. The team, too, needs to have constant virtual or real-life meetups. Encouraging your team to try out different locations could also work. Be it the neighborhood coffee shop, or a co-working space. Regular meetups create a good bonding among remote employees. Weekly rituals also help to build strong remote cultures. Having a team you want to work with is going to directly affect how you work.
iv. Task Design
Individual perception of the task could vary. This factor magnifies while working remotely as it's difficult to judge a person's understanding. Since the tasks are checked only after completion, it could be a waste of time.
Here, have a simple step by step guide. Every individual is required to understand the task from a common perspective. Have proper documentation, share videos and get on calls if required. Of these, documentation is the most important. Write every task that is done in simple words such that everyone can understand it. Members who read something could also be asked to share their understanding of the task before performing it. This could ensure that no time is lost in wrongly-done tasks.
From the CEO to the junior-most employee, the leadership and hierarchy model affects the way a team works together. If the goal of the CEO is the same as the employees, this is going to play a direct role in the outcome that the company obtains day by day.
Good teams work with a common goal. This applies regardless of whether it is a remote or co-located team. And good leadership plays a huge role in ensuring the goal is achieved. Train leaders and inculcate a spirit of working together with the employees.
vi. Junior - Senior relations
In a remote setting, and in line with the 3rd point, it could be all the more difficult for a junior to understand the way the company works. The rapport between employees often lacks in a distributed team.
Assigning mentors to individuals works particularly well in this case. Put each new employee under a senior in their team. Alternately, assigning mentors in a different team also helps in building rapport. These bonds between employees make sure that the ideas are shared between the senior and the junior.
vii. External factors
These include physical environment, workspace, family, etc. Not a big factor in a co-located setting, this directly affects remote workers. Although external factors affecting an individual's attitude towards working together in a team are not something that the management can control. However, there are certain things that can be tried.
Set guidelines on how workspaces should be. Assess individual performance. Indeed these factors might vary for individuals. Hence the way of tackling them also varies.
viii. Work hours
Finally, a challenge seen more in distributed teams is working together across time zones. Vari Sync between employees is difficult to achieve. Async is then the way to go. Not an easy thing to do, but worth it in the long run. Check out our blog on the importance of documentation here.
Working together towards team success
To conclude, the only advice would be to have a common goal. There's not much more to elaborate on that. The above points cover most of what we've seen. Do write and let us know if we missed something!
P.S. Do check out our other blogs too: