Challenges of Building and Managing a Distributed Team and Ways to Deal with Them

Challenges of Building and Managing a Distributed Team and Ways to Deal with Them

Remote work is far from being a trend. As you’re probably aware by now, remote working is becoming the mainstream for both corporations and small businesses. Nearly two-thirds of US companies have employees who work remotely at least half of the time.

Further, 14 percent of global companies are fully remote with no office option available and 46% offer some form of remote or flexible working arrangements which means more and more remote employees are entering the workforce everyday.

As a result, organisations are discovering a set of challenges related to building and managing a cohesive remote work environment.

Some of these challenges are:

  • The challenge of finding the right talent
  • Cultural barriers
  • Communication and project management challenge
  • Team building challenge
  • The challenge of evaluating the performance
  • The challenge of keeping data secure

The challenge of finding the right tech talent

The shortage of talent, high turnover rates, and the lack of experience in recruiting tech talents put organisations under pressure to build a winning tech team.

Given that tech talent are the most important part of any business, you should invest some time in this stage to make sure you hire the best fit.

To find the right fit, employers can utilise modern recruitment solutions such as job boards, online communities, and social media.

Job boards such as:

Improve your employee engagement

Improve your employee engagement in less than two minutes

Get started for free today.

Free sign up

Social media:

  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook

Online communities

Attracting great tech talent remains a challenge, what employers can do is to offer an opportunity for professional growth rather than offering just a job.

Cultural barriers

The benefits of working in a diverse workplace are massive. In such environments, you’re surrounded by different perspectives and ideas. A study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that companies with more diverse teams have 19% higher revenue due to increased levels of innovation.

However, working in cross-cultural remote teams can be stressful for some reasons. Firstly because teams don’t see each other. The absence of face to face interaction forces employees to put a lot more effort to understand and make themselves understood.

Secondly, remote teams who represent different cultures and backgrounds constantly face communication challenges because they bring together a variety of work styles. Hence, some form of knowledge is needed to communicate effectively with people from different cultures.

Anthropologist Edward Hall defines an approach to understand the cultural differences with high context and low context cultures, which refers to the value cultures place on indirect and direct communication.

Image source: Southern University (Online Learning)

Low context culture (e.g. Australian, German, Dutch, Canadian)

  • Communication style relies heavily on direct, literal use of language.
  • Values direct verbal interaction and is less equipped to read non-verbal expressions (eg body language, tone).
  • Tends to use logic, rather than feelings, to present ideas.

High context culture (e.g. China, Japan, Middle East, India)

  • Tries to avoid direct confrontation by implying indirectly non-verbal. messages (including body language and non-verbal expressions).
  • Values communicating as a group rather than as an individual.
  • Tends to take time to cultivate and establish relationships.
  • Non-verbal expressions/cues are valued more.

That being said, employees from different cultures should try to practice active listening and take into consideration that different cultures

Business leaders and remote team managers who understand the benefits of diversity should take time to establish an effective internal communication strategy. Remote employees want to feel they’re part of a community, therefore, showing interest in other people’s cultures and implementing diversity training to new employees is a great start.

Communication and project management challenge

Cultural and language differences, different working styles and backgrounds may encourage conflicts to arise between remote teams. Work progress will definitely suffer as a result of miscommunication and employees may feel out of the loop.

It’s completely normal for any team to experience miscommunication. Good management is able to spot conflicts, resolve them and establish a clear communication strategy for remote teams.

Miscommunication is likely to happen due to:

  • Time zone differences: It might be extremely challenging to run meetings across multiple time zones. You may end up wasting a great deal of time trying to gather everyone in the team for ad hoc calls.
  • Collaboration: Not having the right tools may result in missed deadlines.
  • Lost information: The absence of body language, face to face conversations and nonverbal cues result in loss of information and miscommunication between employees.

Potential solutions: 

The key to successfully manage remote teams is making your team’s communication and knowledge as close to in-person interaction as possible. You need to use project management and communication tools to assign tasks and track the progress of each employee as if they’re in the office.

Project management and communication tools include:

  • Slack: Simplifies communication between remote teams using channels.
  • Trello: Trello is a Project management tool known for its simplicity and efficiency. You can use it to visualize the entire workflow and assign tasks to each member of the team.
  • Jira: Jira is another powerful project management tool that helps agile teams get things done in an organized manner.
  • Basecamp: Basecamp is designed to facilitate remote teams communications and collaboration processes. They have a 30-day free trial so you can try it out first before upgrading.
distributed team

Image: Unsplash

Team-building challenges

In a study by Buffer, they found that the biggest challenge to working remotely is loneliness. Remote employees report constant feelings of depression and anxiety as a result of their lifestyle. Hence, enforcing a strong culture is one of the critical points to establish good relationships between your team and foster a sense of community.

How to build a strong culture:

  • Arrange a monthly/weekly water cooler conversations to bring the whole team around a non-work related topic.
  • Set up daily check-ins with your remote team.
  • Utilize communication tools such as Zoom and Slack.
  • Meet in person every once in a while.
  • Use remote team building games and activities such as the white map, and 10 common things to bring enthusiasm to work.

The challenge of evaluating the performance

One simple strategy to evaluate remote employees is to measure output, not input. Find a metric to evaluate productivity rather than the 9 to 5 grind.

Mike Desjardins, Founder of Cereslogic.com, says

“If you’re measuring performance correctly in an office environment, there will be very little difference in how you evaluate a remote employee vs. an office employee. Performance is best determined by outcomes, and whether an employee is meeting measurable benchmarks or goals.”

Your role as an employer is to set clear expectations for your team, outline their job description and provide constructive feedback.

“I measure productivity by the number of important tasks we have managed to resolve per week.

This is how I look at my team’s efficiency; important tasks in our case are either things that directly helped clients resolve issues they had or will make clients’ (and theme authors’) lives easier, so issues will be prevented in the near future.” Amit Kvint, compatibility team leader at OnTheGoSystems

The challenge of keeping data secure

Working with remote tech teams makes your business vulnerable to data breaches. Protecting your data in remote workplaces is possible with the right tools. One possible solution for employers who are concerned about data mismanagement and GDPR compliance is to put a remote work policy in place.

A remote work policy will cover your data accessibility principles, and employees’ responsibilities. In addition to remote work policy, you should take extra precautions to protect your data and establish a strong security system for your remote team. Actionable tips you can do today include:

  • Encrypt devices and
  • Use an encrypted email program
  • Use cloud storage
  • Appoint a data protection officer (DPO)

In Summary

Successfully managing a remote team can bring a lot of benefits to your organization. You need to identify potential challenges and set clear troubleshooting strategies that suit your team.

Once you establish clear communication with every member of the team, you will start noticing progress and results.

About the Author

Menna Shalaby is an online marketing manager for Remoteplatz GmbH. Specialized in building, creating and managing content marketing strategies.

She is passionate about the recruitment industry and recently she is focused on remote working trends, best practices and collaboration tools to help empower remote leaders build successful virtual workplaces.