How to Effectively Manage Distributed Teams

#Article
#Software Development
April 10, 2020 11 min read

The majority of organizations have been forced to transition to a remote working environment which has become a real challenge. However, there are some well-known technology companies that have never had a stable coworking space.

Stack Overflow, Zapier, Stripe, Automattic, InVision, GitHub and many other companies have always had distributed teams. This was not an obstacle for them to succeed in the market. These companies provide teams with the necessary hardware and software, paid maternity/paternity leave, unlimited vacation, and assist in organizing home-based working spaces.

Many of us have used the successful products and services these companies offer. So, how do they manage to build the work and keep everything under control being distributed around different places and without physical face-to-face communication?

In this article, we are going to overview the trend of remote working in 2020 and outline effective ways of managing distributed teams.

Remote Working Trend: Why Distributed Teams Are Growing?

During the period from 2005 to 2017, the number of people working remotely in the US grew by 159%. Today, this number keeps growing, and almost 3.5% of the entire US population is engaged in distributed teams.

Trends in Remote Work

The quarantine is not the only reason why distributed teams are growing in popularity. There are other factors affecting this, so let’s see some of them.

Experts Beyond Geographic Boundaries

80% of IT companies CEOs state they find it challenging to find suitable skillsets to match their technical positions within their location. This is why recruiters are tapping into a wider pool of precious talent to hire specialists from around the world to join their teams remotely.

Moreover, millennials prefer to agree on the job offerings where remote working is an option. Not only does this “millennial effect” shape the global rise in distant working mode, but it also opens new horizons for employers allowing them to access more talents.

Reduced Costs for Businesses and Employees

Remote working can be beneficial both for business owners and employees.

According to the studies, companies that have distributed teams can save up to US$10,000 per each employee annually in regard to real estate expenses. Administrative and operational office costs such as cleaners, furniture, equipment maintenance, supplies, and others are scaled-down.

Working in a distributed team means that employees can also cut down their costs on commuting. According to many surveys, no need to travel to the office saves employees up to US$5,000 annually. And this does not include money spent on purchasing food for lunch every day while being at the office.

Distributed Teams Are Green

To understand this trend, let’s see some examples.

remote is green

So, quarantine and switching to the remote working can be beneficial and bring value to the environment which can lead to the upgrade in our health.

Companies such as Dell, Xerox, and Aetna contribute greatly to environment protection by managing distributed teams. For example, Xerox saved over 4 mln gallons of gas, 90+ mln miles of driving, and 40,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions by providing remote work opportunities.

Ways to Effectively Manage Distributed Teams

Once you see an advantage in working remotely, you can move forward with organizing the workflow. This can be challenging. However, in this part of the article, we will describe the tools that can be helpful for managing distributed teams and provide some tips from the Innovecs practice.

In my previous career, I used to work with many distributed teams or even distributed companies. So this experience was not entirely new for me. I knew this would work, you just need to change your habits a bit. Some days I only have 30 minutes free from calls; online communication takes noticeably more time than one offline. A pack of good ground coffee helps to cope with the absence of a coffee machine, and evening jogging helps to keep proper physical conditions. Overall the quarantine experience should increase company tolerance to work from home and give more flexibility in team composition.
Oleksandr Katrusha,
Senior Software Development Manager at Innovecs

Overall, the success in managing remote teams is hiding in these three components:

  • the team itself
  • useful tools
  • stable process

Let’s go through each of them in detail.

Capable Team

Focus on hiring doers and stick to the “get work done” principle. This is how you will be able to come closer to achieving company-wide goals.

We focus on two things when hiring. First, find the best people you can in the world. And second, let them do their work. Just get out of their way.
Matt Mullenweg,
WordPress CEO

To make sure the tasks are being completed and the results are being delivered, hire the right people.

Another critical point is to hire the people you trust and trust the people you hire. It may sound weird and confusing, but it makes sense.

When even at the initial stage of recruiting someone, you feel yourself re-checking twice the information about the candidates they provided before, it is a bad sign. The absence of trust at the very beginning of the hiring process can’t bring successful collaboration in the future.
Nataly Shulepa,
Head of Talent Acquisition at Innovecs

When you shape a team completely engaged in the process where you trust each employee, it is a guarantee that even working remotely they will contribute and achieve objectives.

Right Tools

For distributed team management, you may turn to tools you have not used before in the office. Tools such as Slack, Skype, Asana, Trello, or Jira to maintain communication or track tasks are common within both offline and online teams and you perfectly know how to use them.

In this part, we will discuss solutions that might be new to you and will help keep processes under control.

ProofHub: an all-in-one project management tool

ProofHub combines features for planning and organizing workflows, collaborating and communicating within distributed teams, and many more.

This project management tool allows planning work in Kanban boards, customize workflows with necessary stages, visualize parts of the project in timelines, manage tasks, and assign roles and responsibilities.

It has a built-in calendar, provides various project templates, and file management functionality with version control option. ProofHun also has a chat to maintain communication. Overall, it is a full-package solution for effective team management.

proofhub

Troop Messenger: a team management tool

This is a great alternative to Slack. Troop Messenger is aimed at all types of organizations: from small businesses to large-scale enterprises. It is an intuitive and low-complexity solution with the features of instant chatting, audio and video conferencing, screen sharing, etc.

It also allows for sharing files quickly. The messenger integrates with such common data storage platforms as Google Drive and Dropbox.

troop messenger

Krisp: a tool for increasing productivity

Krisp is a very useful tool for those who work from home and have a lot of noise around like kids crying, dog barking or repair activity sounds. This solution helps you minimize the noise while audio calls or video conferences are going on. It removes all background noise allowing you to remain productive.

Krisp can be a great extension for such applications as Skype, Slack, Zoom, and many others. It ensures that all your remote meetings are effective as if they are held offline.

krisp

Time Doctor: a time management tool

Even if you trust each member of your team, it is important to have a finger on the pulse of all processes. This is why we recommend using such a time management tool as Time Doctor which helps keep track of the time your team works on certain tasks.

Time Doctor has a desktop and mobile version, and can even be added within Chrome as an extension. You can try this tool for free for 14 days. It includes the features of tracking time and location, making screenshots of the employee device, reporting, and more. It can be integrated into Slack, Trello, Asana, GitHub, and other solutions.

time doctor

Timezone.io: a work-life balance tool

Maintaining the flexibility and balance between work and life at home might be challenging. However, it helps stay healthy, keep good relationships with the team and your family, and significantly boost performance. This is why we recommend applying Timezone.io for managers who have distributed teams.

If your team members are distributed across different locations and time zones, this tool will help you to track where and when everyone is. This way, you will not send a message to Mike who is in a different timezone and is most likely sleeping at the moment. Instead, you will reach out to Josh who is available and ready to take on another task.

timezone.io

Stable Process

So, now you know which tools to use to make your distributed team more productive. The last component for effective team management is a stable process. This is where you have to set rules of how your team will work in the remote mode.

The top priority of the distributed team manager is to build an effective process and find ways to share knowledge with the team without micromanagement and never-ending conference calls. Moreover, team leaders are also responsible for implementing internal policies within teams to minimize direct communication and boost performance.
Illia Chmut,
Technical Program Manager at Innovecs

Set common goals

First of all, your distributed team members must have a common vision of what they are doing and understand what has to be achieved in the end. After you see that everyone moves in the same direction towards the common goals, the chances the work will be done in a proper way are high.

Carry regular hangouts

No matter the size of your team, daily/weekly/monthly hangouts are required to discuss the current status of all tasks and set new priorities. As a manager, you can carry one-to-one meetings with each employee to understand how individual work is being done.

The work of the IT department is now challenging: we have to control the migration of hardware, help employees deliver their devices to their places, and install all necessary software. So, it is partially remote work. However, to manage the team and track all tasks completion, we have moved all our internal sync-ups to MS Teams and hold them more frequently. Also, we have deployed a tool for remote administration.
Oleksii Shcherbatiuk,
Innovecs IT Director

Automate processes

The recommendation is simple: automate any part of your work that can be automated. First, automation helps reduce human work and save time on completing certain tasks. Second, your team can focus on more important tasks instead of being engaged in mundane and repetitive actions.

For example, Zapier promotes distributed team management and allows you to automate workflows by connecting various applications and streamlining processes. Their internal motto is “Don’t be a robot, build the robot”.

Distributed Team Management: Summarizing the Tips

In the article, we have discussed how to manage distributed teams and remain productive. To sum up, let’s outline the key recommendations:

  1. Understand the benefits of remote work. Staying at home is not only environment-friendly but also saves you money and energy.
  2. Shape a capable team you trust. Make sure all your team members are united by the same goals and are engaged in the process.
  3. Use the right tools for project management (ProofHub), team management (Troop Messenger), time management (Time Doctor), work-life balance maintenance (Timezone.io), and quality noise-free conferencing (Krisp).
  4. Set a stable workflow and automate all its parts that can be automated.
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April 3, 2020
Message from CEO Alex Lutskiy on COVID-19
To all Innovecs employees, clients, and partners As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to develop and affect people globally, I want to personally update you on the steps Innovecs is taking to maintain our business operations and ensure the health and safety of our staff. We remain committed to ensuring the superior service our clients have come to expect from us. We monitor the situation closely and remain watchful to the recommendations of government and public health authorities. Our R&D teams, as well as all other employees, continue to work remotely, and we are ready to adjust the measures in response to changing quarantine circumstances. We have established a special COVID-19 team within senior management to respond to the ever-changing impact of the coronavirus and to protect employees’ health and safety. We have also set up regular online meetings to keep up to date and plan activities so that we could advise our customers and coordinate our teams accordingly. And we continue to provide our internal and external audiences with the relevant webinars and online events with regard to the new world order. To combat the spread of the disease in Ukraine, Innovecs has created the “Innovecs COVID-19 Fund” in the amount of 1,500,000 (one million and a half) hryvnias. The fund is directed to support the initiatives that fight coronavirus, as well as to ensure the safety of the company’s employees and their families. As part of this initiative, Innovecs purchases and installs an oxygen pipeline system at one of the Kyiv hospitals. This is a challenging period for everyone, and the situation is changing rapidly, but Innovecs is responding to it with unity, as a company, and as a team. I believe that when we stand together through moments that bring uncertainty and seem dark, we come out even stronger in the end. Thank you for your patience and attention throughout this stressful time. As an employer and a partner, Innovecs is confident in our business continuity plan and our ability to provide support to our clients and staff. It is my sincere hope that our efforts and those of businesses, communities, and governments will empower the containment of the coronavirus and enable a speedy recovery for people around the world. In the meantime, let’s stay safe and help others keep safe too.   Sincerely, Alex Lutskiy Innovecs CEO & Founder  
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