You don’t want your business to be located in a traditional, office environment. In fact, you don’t want it to be located anywhere at all.
You want to run a company that operates flexibly.
A company where work isn’t defined by location but by merit.
Where talented team members are handpicked from various locations around the world.
You want a distributed team; where members work together but not in the same physical space.
But how can you ensure that your current team will work effectively together when they’re not, physically, together?
What challenges do they need to overcome?
1. Working in different time zones
Erran Carmel, Dean of the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington D.C., says that “distance is dead, but time zones aren’t.” He makes a valid point.
Work is no longer constrained by geographical location. Advances in connective technology now enable companies to hire virtual teams from around the world.
Technology, however, can’t perform miracles. Teams that are dispersed internationally will always have to contend with time zones.
Renuka Rayasam, BBC journalist, points out that 10 million knowledge workers have to “coordinate regularly with others across time zones”. That’s a lot of people.
Drawing on his wealth of experience with remote teams, Mutahhir Ali Hayat, a software developer at Amazon, highlights that this coordination across time zones can be problematic. Particularly, when there is the expectation that some remote team members be available during the working hours of the head office.
How can team members ensure communication across different time-zones is fair?
To make cross-continental communication fair, distributed company and global furniture provider Steelcase came up with a strategy of “sharing the burden of 24/7 across the team
This strategy involved creating a rotating meeting schedule for the team.
Donna Flynn, a Director at Steelcase, explains that “every month, each team member has one evening, one mid-day, and one early morning meeting, and misses one meeting that falls in the middle of their night.”
The rotating schedule is a useful option to consider in a distributed team as it prevents the same team members from repeatedly taking video calls in the middle of the night.
“Sharing the burden” is just one means of making international communication fair.
Another strategy to make communication fairer is to split a large team into smaller, communicative sub-units.
Annie Spratt, Community Manager of Unsplash, a royalty-free photography platform, found that when the Unsplash team divided itself into smaller teams, there were less time zone conflicts:
“If you’re trying to do a whole team meeting online, in different time zones, it can be tricky. Now … we have split down into smaller teams with 2 or 3 people, which makes video calls a lot easier.”