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Distributed Teams: Best Practices, Benefits and Challenges

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Virtual and remote work has changed quite significantly since 2020. Though many organizations brought their employees right back to the office, others explored the advantages of remote and hybrid teams. In doing so, they developed updated models, platforms, and strategies for managing their dispersed workforces.

In 2024, many businesses now use distributed teams instead of traditional in-person and remote models. These distributed workforces perform almost all responsibilities virtually, usually with no in-person office to speak of.

Learn about distributed teams' challenges, greatest advantages, differences, and strategies to see how they can benefit your organization.

What Is the Difference Between Distributed and Remote Teams?

Most remote and distributed employees work virtually, such as from home or shared office space. Their most significant differences lie in their work processes and physical locations — if they have any.

Though remote teams can work virtually, their operations are usually based out of a physical location, such as a company headquarters or regional facility. Most remote employees live in the same time zone and may even be required to go to the physical office on occasion. Many larger organizations are comprised of a variety of in-person, hybrid, and remote teams. For example, while an IT company's development team may work from home, it may also have in-person accounting and administration teams at HQ.

On the other hand, distributed teams operate entirely virtually and usually don't have physical locations. They often rely more on virtual platforms for sharing, storing, and protecting data. This makes it easier to share information since all teams will work from the same digital platform.

Additionally, since employees can work worldwide, you can spread your distributed team across time zones to cover more work hours. Some distributed organizations, such as a business owner's office, may have physical locations. But most work processes are still entirely virtual.

Benefits of Distributed and Productive Teams

Depending on your industry and setup, distributed workforces offer many advantages over traditional remote work. First, a distributed workflow can improve your organization's communication and collaboration since everyone will work from the same platform. As a result, you can hire employees from across the globe while keeping their workflow manageable and synchronized.

For instance, employees won't have to follow multiple steps to send files to international coworkers. Instead, they can contact them like they would with the rest of their colleagues, such as chat tools. This can bridge the gap between virtual teams and boost your productivity.

Furthermore, many high-level employees may prefer distributed jobs over other remote team models. This is because distributed workforces typically offer more flexible schedules and responsibilities. So, a parent won't have to take time off of work to pick their kids up from school as long as they can still hit that day's deadline.

Other benefits of distributed teams include:

  • Reduced in-house and recruitment costs
  • Recruitment opportunities outside of your geographical area
  • Extended business hours
  • Increased perspectives and backgrounds
  • Improved employee retention
  • Flexibility in digital workforces

Challenges of Teams Working From Multiple Physical Locations

Distributed team models can also pose disadvantages for certain businesses and industries. Virtual employees may struggle to adapt to your digital platform and miss vital aspects of their job responsibilities. Additionally, some organizations benefit more from having a physical facility that customers and clients can visit, even if most teams stay remote.

Other distributed team challenges include:

  • Limited opportunities for in-person meetings with team members
  • Scheduling conflicts for international meeting times
  • Inconsistent methods for international payrolls
  • Difficulty finding software and tools that meet your team's needs

7 Distributed Teams’ Best Practices To Increase Productivity

Though they won't fit every organization, distributed work models can keep your entire team engaged and on the same page. Many of the best practices for distributed workplaces are just jumping off points. As you implement your model, you may identify challenges and valuable strategies unique to your team.

Follow these best practices when working with distributed teams.

1. Provide Tools for Effective Asynchronous Communication

Effective communication is one of the most critical components of distributed workforces, guaranteeing every teammate can reliably contact the other. Many organizations use Slack, Scoop, and other team communication tools to keep goals and schedules on the same page.

The best platforms combine chat tools, video calls, and more to develop tight-knit teams that work around each other. For example, Scoop makes it easy for teams to plan their upcoming office days, ensuring the right people are in the right place. 

2. Set Clear Goals and Performance Expectations

An essential aspect of effective communication is setting measurable goals and expectations. It's no longer 2020, and most virtual employees know how to juggle their responsibilities within their own workflows. Delegating tasks and laying out expectations gives distributed teams more time to prepare for their tasks.

As a result, they can identify potential questions in advance and manage their workloads within their expected timeframes.

3. Hold Regular and Well-Structured Team Meetings

Regular team meetings can further improve your team's communication and company culture. Though chat tools are great for quick information, meetings let teammates hear each other's voices. This can improve idea-sharing and how employees connect with the rest of the team.

Meeting agendas are especially critical amid distributed teams and other hybrid models. Planning each agenda item in advance keeps your meeting structured and ensures no important topics are missed. Additionally, by sharing the agenda in advance, you can give attendees time to prepare their own thoughts and ideas.

4. Encourage Constructive Criticism and Feedback

Offering employees constructive feedback has always been a challenge. However it can be even more difficult in remote and distributed teams. Virtual workforces give you fewer opportunities to interact with employees, especially on positive topics. So, if most of your communication is feedback and criticism, your employees may quickly lose confidence and motivation in their work.

One-on-one meetings are typically the best way to share your thoughts with virtual employees. Employees may develop their own interpretations of written feedback and messages. However, video meetings let you share your thoughts verbally and cover more topics, making it easier to discuss positive feedback.

5. Share Successes and Achieved Milestones

Developing a robust company culture is often more challenging for remote and distributed teams — but it's not impossible. Virtual teammates may not see each other in person or talk daily, but they can still learn from and appreciate one another.

One of the best ways to foster a stronger team culture is to celebrate successes, milestones, and other accomplishments. Consider setting a designated channel within your chat tool for "Shoutouts" and encouraging everyone to get involved.

Alternatively, consider sharing successes and milestones in your team's general chat so everyone can see them. This can help employees feel more empowered, appreciated, and aware of each other's contributions.

6. Provide Flexibility and Autonomy Among Team Members

Many employees prefer distributed team management models because they give them more flexible schedules and workflows. Certain distributed teams, such as customer support departments, operate around fixed schedules, usually based on employee locations.

However, other distributed schedules tend to be looser. Employees must work around deadlines and meetings but can decide which eight hours they work each day.

This level of autonomy can benefit your organization in many ways. High-quality candidates who prefer these hybrid models may be more likely to consider your position — especially if they can't work certain days and times.

Furthermore, letting employees work around their personal rhythms can boost their confidence, engagement, and motivation.

7. Coordinate Schedules to Include Water Cooler Sessions

"Virtual water coolers" are increasingly popular remote strategies that replicate the one-on-one interactions of office water coolers and break rooms. These "water cooler sessions" are usually designated video calls or chat rooms that let employees talk about anything they want.

Depending on your setup, you can designate set water cooler sessions or keep the room open during general business hours. This will allow employees to share interests and develop a healthier, more inclusive workspace. It can also keep off-topic conversations out of your primary work channels.

Implement the Best Digital Tool To Coordinate Distributed Teams

Though best practices have advanced, businesses are still learning more about distributed teams. The tools and strategies you implement can significantly impact your team's productivity and engagement.

Built for hybrid and virtual work, Scoop helps organizations manage complex schedules and keep teams on track — even from across the globe. Plus, with a user-friendly interface, you shouldn't worry about teammates falling behind.

Get started with Scoop for free to learn how it can improve your distributed team strategy.

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