Distributed teams can offer your organization an advantage over your peers. Here’s how.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor

April 25, 2019

4 Min Read
Image: fizkes - stock.adobe.com

Working from home or remote work or full-time telecommuting isn't just something you do because you hate your commute, want to wear bunny slippers, or need to walk your dog more frequently. Remote work can benefit businesses and workers, and even local communities, too.

That's the message from John O'Duinn, senior strategist at CivicActions, an organization that helps agencies and organizations execute digital projects. O'Duinn has spent a career in the technology industry, much of it as part of distributed teams. During that career he has become an expert on the cultural, technological, and other requirements to make distributed teams more than capable. O'Duinn believes these teams offer the businesses that enable them a competitive advantage over the businesses that require workers to come to an office to work.

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It's a message O'Duinn has been taking to the masses, and will deliver at Interop 2019 in Las Vegas, May 20 - 24. O'Duinn spoke to InformationWeek in an interview, while parked in a car in Ireland, across an ocean from this interviewer. To make the call flawless, he used many of the technologies he lists in one of the chapters of his recent book, Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart.

"It's no longer a technology problem," O'Duinn said. "All that has been solved. But it is a management problem," because not many of today's managers have been taught to manage distributed teams. They are accustomed to walking down the hall to see what everyone is doing. Distributed team management is different. O'Duinn's book offers lists of technologies he has personally vetted, including his impressions of various phone conferencing solutions. He also provides tips for presenting a professional image when you are doing a lot of video conferencing. He's a big advocate of video conferencing.

But beyond the technology, the cultural issues still stand in the way of some organizations fully embracing the idea of remote work and distributed teams. For instance, management styles are different when your team is spread out in different offices and perhaps even different time zones.
"You have to manage by outcomes, not by time sitting in a chair, and that's a change for some people," O'Duinn said. "It's radical if you've always managed one way and have to start changing."

But the workforce as a whole is undergoing major changes, according to O'Duinn. For instance, as of 2015, Millennials have become the largest segment of the workforce, he said, and the option to work remotely is among the top job perks that attract this group to work for a particular company or organization. Gen Z is also becoming a major force and will become the second largest group in the workforce in 2020, O'Duinn said.

Offering these job candidates the option to work from home can give you an edge against your competition when it comes to hiring the best talent. You can hire the best, most talented and qualified candidate for a job, or you can hire the best candidate who lives near your office.

Enabling distributed teams benefits not just individuals and organizations, but can also benefit local communities. For instance, consider the measures taken by local governments to get big corporations to locate major facilities there, for instance, Amazon's HQ2. Local governments offer huge tax breaks to these companies in order to get the benefits of creating so many local jobs and ensuring a healthy population and residential tax base.

O'Duinn, however, provided input that helped lawmakers craft a new law in Vermont that benefits the state's tax base. Vermont has suffered in the wake of a shrinking and aging population. To counteract those forces, Vermont is offering up to a $10,000 incentive for people to move there and work remotely for out-of-state companies. Unlike the Amazon HQ2 effort, in this case the state is offering incentives to citizens rather than companies. More residents mean a stronger tax base, but also more customers for existing local businesses, too.

The law went into effect in January and has helped 69 people move to Vermont, as of mid-April. The state is looking to expand the program.

Remote work and distributed teams "have to be good for humans and good for the corporation. If it's done right, it's good for the town you are in -- the city and state and nation," O'Duinn said.

Come see O'Duinn talk about Distributed Teams as a Competitive Advantage at Interop on May 22. 

About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Senior Editor

Jessica Davis is a Senior Editor at InformationWeek. She covers enterprise IT leadership, careers, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and enterprise software. She has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology. Follow her on twitter: @jessicadavis.

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