Running productive distributed teams

“Humans have come into being for the sake of each other, so either teach them, or learn to bear them.”—Marcus Aurelius

At  Distributed we manage distributed teams that deliver work in hard-to-hire-for and expensive areas of digital marketing and tech on behalf of our clients. From content creation, through API design and analytics integrations and all the way up to the development of Artificial Intelligence.

We deliver this work at a higher quality, in less time, and at a lower cost than centralised agencies.

It’s not been easy building  Distributed, but it’s working incredibly well, and we’re now in a position to scale and add a few more clients to our roster.

I’m not going to bore you with the story of how we built  Distributed over the past 5 years, if you want to read more about us please check out  this post that I wrote a little while back, I am however going to detail a few of the lessons we’ve learned about building and running distributed teams and hopefully offer some valuable insights that may help you reap the benefits of building your own distributed team.

People first, every time .

I can’t stress this highly enough, when you run distributed teams, you’re rarely in the same room together, now, most organisations would see this as a problem, but fortunately for us, and our clients, most organisations are wrong, and here’s why.

Companies believe that by having their staff in the same room or building that they are taking care of their team and managing them them effectively, they believe that managers are more effective, that they are promoting collaboration, team building and skill sharing, and they believe that their teams are happy, well, it’s a fallacy, and it’s an outmoded mind-set.

Distributed team members are more productive

Open-plan offices make workers more unfriendly and less productive

Offices are not designed for modern work

Distributed teams are happier

Distributed teams are more diverse

Offices are bad for your health

Working with distributed teams not only means that we have a happier, healthier company, but it actually helps us be a ‘people first’, company, because it requires us to really care about our team members, to check in on them regularly, to make time specifically to talk about them, their projects and how we can be doing things better, most of all, it makes us value them as individual contributors, we don’t have the luxury of believing that a 3 minute chat while making a coffee constitutes catching up with a team member.

Enabling technology

With distributed teams it’s important that your tech stack enables productivity, we’ve found the following areas to be critical areas for our teams:

Video calls:

From a quick 5 minutes, to an ‘all hands’ team call, video calling software is essential for enabling face to face conversations with team members and clients.

We’ve just recently moved over to  appear.in — it’s blisteringly fast and elegantly degrades video quality depending on your connection speed, it also has a companion mobile app that works great even over 3G networks. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

Chat

We try not to send emails internally here at Distributed, we’ve found that 60% of emails should actually be a 2 minute video call and 30% should be an instant message. We reserve email communication largely for when external email addresses are being included. As with most project based teams, we use Slackto chat, sure there are lots of options available, but Slack works great for us.

Document sharing and storage

Creating and maintaining an accessible document hub is critical to our business, I personally spend a lot of time making sure that our filing structure is kept up to date, easy to search, and as simple as possible to understand. As we run a full G-Suite integration here at Distributed, Google drive was an obvious choice for us, we’ve never had any issues with it.

Culture

Peter Drucker famously said, “culture eats strategy”, and we agree with him. What is really going to define the success or failure of your team is its culture and values, these are every bit as important as your tech stack, the talent within your team, and your processes. Without building, and reinforcing a shared set of behaviours and making the upholding of them everyone’s responsibility, you risk losing sight of your mission as a team, and risk operational failures. Above you’ll see our manifesto, this is our shared set of values that we strive for every day.

Hopefully that’s been a good introduction into the critical building blocks of running a productive distributed team. I’ll share more on the lessons we’ve learned soon.

If you’re ready to start working with a distributed team, or you just want to know more about them,  please get in touch, I’m happy to jump on a video call to talk about the future of teams and how we’re helping shape it at  Distributed.

If anyone has any comments/suggestions/additions please reply or tweet me  @callumadamson

#recommendedreading

Managing Oneself by  Peter Drucker

Widely regarded as the best self help book ever written, in the book Drucker explains how to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself by identifying your most valuable strengths and most dangerous weaknesses. Articulate how you learn and work with others and what your most deeply held values are.

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