The 7 Elements of Successful Work on Distributed Teams

14 January 2021

The 7 Elements of Successful Work on Distributed Teams

by Inmaculada Rodríguez

Working on a distributed team can be challenging. It’s especially tough when most of the team is working together in-person and just one or a few people find themselves working at a distance.

To help overcome the complications that this type of distributed team structure presents, there are seven main elements that the whole team should keep in mind. 

Communication

If you want to work successfully as a team, this is one of the most important aspects.

Communication is already extremely important when people work together in offices. So when a team is distributed around the world, actively fostering good communication should be a top priority.

Clear and fluid communication creates a healthy and productive working environment. Within it, new and better ideas appear, people are able to say what they’re thinking and strengthen interpersonal relationships. 

Having various communication channels where the team feels comfortable sharing their ideas, worries or even just chatting about personal or other non-work issues is indispensable. If these links don’t exist, then neither does a team. 

If you are physically dislocated from the rest of your team, you’ll probably miss out on the daily debates that can lead to spontaneous changes at work. Be aware of this and make the effort to stay up-to-date on all the shifts that are bound to occur. The only way to do this is by talking to your teammates. 

To achieve good communication with the rest of your team, you must set up frequent meetings and try to get to know everyone you work with. On top of that, you should always know what tasks each person if working on (not in full detail, but at least in the general sense) and ask about whatever you don’t understand, no matter how absurd it may seem. Finally, and perhaps the most difficult of all, speak up when it’s needed. Don’t shy away from raising your hand just because you’re far away. 

Video Calls

This tool does one extremely important thing – it allows the whole team to see each other’s faces. This is tightly linked to communication. 

Speaking on chat platforms can be great, but actually being able to see each other helps create those fundamental links that we need for good communication. Communication isn’t just verbal, and video calls allow you to understand other people’s ways of expressing themselves more fully than text or voice alone.  

Your team is like a little family within the company. Those are the people you’ll spend most of your time working with so knowing their gestures, moods and character will help you form bonds with them. Normally, we overlook these little details and miss out on opportunities to bring our relationships to a deeper level, which unites us as a team and as professionals. 

Team Building

Team building exercises help team members relate and strengthen bonds. They’re also great to help break up the daily routine and disconnect from quotidian pressures. Social psychology experiments have shown that dynamic exercises outside of the office improve output. They oblige everyone to interact and get to know each other, and in turn, people are more open to trusting their teammates, asking for help and confronting future challenges successfully. 

These exercises are usually fun, so the teams relax, share opinions and say things that maybe they wouldn’t dare to normally. Subjects often come up that could be highly valuable to improve the general wellbeing of the team. 

It’s best to schedule these exercises regularly. They could have to do with getting closer, improving something specific or simply to speak about whatever subject.  

Being able to do team building in person, even if it’s just a couple of times per year, can create a lot of value. Spending time with your teammates, talking in person, eating lunches or dinners together and see how everyone reacts under novel circumstances goes a long way in boosting trust within the team. 

But if getting together in-person isn’t possible, there is a huge range of virtual team building activities that are both fun and effective. 

Trust

Trust within teams is what makes day-to-day work more pleasant. It’s also been shown to produce higher quality work and better results. 

If you trust your colleagues, you’re more likely to ask for help with whatever question or problem.

A team with trust is a team that can take on the world. 

Motivation

Sometimes people on distributed teams feel lonely, distracted and apathetic. When people aren’t surrounded by colleagues, there is a heightened risk that work can feel meaningless. That’s why motivation is one of the most important factors when it comes to working on scattered teams. 

If someone is motivated and doing what they love, work doesn’t feel like work. 

To keep motivation high, it’s important for everyone to stay active and up-to-date with the latest news at work, be involved in the decision-making process and feel like they have the power to take the initiative. This helps everyone stay engaged and not isolated within their own work. No matter what the task, this helps people feel like they’re working together for a common goal.

It is also helpful to be in touch with people from other teams or areas. Whatever social relationships you form related to work will help you stay happy and enthusiastic.

Empathy

Having patience and the ability to put yourself in other peoples´ shoes is fundamental for good relationships. There are days when you’ll be very happy and giving it your all at work, but other days could be the exact opposite. Your colleagues may not realize when you’re having a good or bad day, especially from a distance. This is a challenge even when working together in person. 

 No matter your mood, you should be mindful that how you’re expressing yourself can affect others and produce misunderstandings. Try to avoid negative communication, even if you’ve been having a bad day.

Keep this in mind not only with your colleagues, but with your bosses too.

Just saying “it’s your responsibility” or “you’re a boss for a reason” isn’t helpful. Any good relationship with management should be a two-way street. 

Be aware that it’s difficult to detect people’s moods. Your teammates should be there to support you, but you can’t expect them to be mind-readers. It’s better to speak clearly about how you feel, what you need and how they can help. 

Most of the time, they will be happy to do whatever they can to make you feel better. 

Attitude

Having a positive attitude does wonders for your daily life. 

Your attitude, whether positive or negative, is contagious. That’s why you should put in the effort to stay happy, optimistic and enthusiastic. It is partly up to you to make sure your team doesn’t fall into a passionless rut, which usually ends up dragging down efficiency.

Our successes and failures are highly dependent on the attitude we take towards our daily tasks.

A positive attitude makes us happier. This allows us to become more productive. Most of us spend more waking hours working than doing anything else, so it’s important to do your job with passion and an open mind. 

Your attitude multiplies everything you do, as Victor Kupper’s formula suggests: Value = (Knowledge + Ability) x Attitude

It’s hard to find fast personal success if you’re only thinking about yourself. But when everyone is united and cares about the successes of their colleagues and entire team, goals are achieved more quickly and easily. 

Find support in your team, no matter how far away they are. It’s essential for your professional growth and together, with a good connection, you’ll be able to create great things.

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