Maintaining a healthy, productive, and fast-moving team that's located all over the globe can be a real challenge. In my company, much of our work spans multiple offices, with nine different time zones on three continents.
I've learned first-hand that to successfully manage a distributed workforce, it's less about managing offices and much more about managing people, their priorities, and the work they do. Taking the time to have a personal bond helps foster a better working relationship both in good times and bad.
[Why it's a mistake to snub alternative communications tools and keep falling back on email. Read You're Sending Too Much Email]
Studies have shown that inefficiency and outdated workflow are costing companies money. Lots of money. In fact, McKinsey Global Institute estimates consumer goods and professional services companies alone stand to gain as much as $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value if they just figure out how to better collaborate. Even if a small fraction of that is truly accurate or achievable -- that's a lot of cheddar!
Here are tips that I've found to be helpful when managing a global team.
Set common goals for the team
It sounds like a no-brainer, but when you have a remote team it becomes that much more important to make sure everyone on the team has a clear vision of the goals and alignment. If everyone is working toward the same set of strategic goals, it makes it much easier to manage progress and recognize when things are headed off track.
Define and track work in one place
One of the biggest deficiencies I see is the lack of a "system of record." Too many people track work in their email (which contributes to inbox overload), in a notebook, or worst, in their heads.
Creating a simple workspace for a team where tasks are visualized and trackable is key, so that employees can easily stay on track with due dates and deliverables. At Redbooth, we simply could not manage the quality of work and steadily deliver at the high velocity we do without a simple workspace where we can track, manage, and share our efforts among team members.
Hold face-to-face meetings
Having a distributed team makes it more difficult to meet in person or as a team on a regular basis. My solution is to hold a regular video conference. Being able to see everyone on video is key because phone calls make it too easy for participants to disengage with any number of distractions on email, IM, and push notifications on tablets and smartphones. It's also important to read the room to see how team members react and engage with one another.
Track and report on progress
The work that your team does should be tracked and reviewed periodically. When this information is publicly available, the added visibility is an incredibly effective motivator to get things done on time. Nobody wants to let the team down or underperform in front of their peers. I've found this to be a great way to keep remote teams focused on key objectives and goals without a lot of additional business travel and intensive management.
Communicate in real-time
Let's face it: Email stinks and we all know it. You'll need a system for quick check-ins, responses, and team communications. Relying on email is too slow, and messages are often lost in the shuffle or swallowed by your inbox entirely. A simple, lightweight means of chatting with one another -- SMS, chat, or other tools -- will enable you to stay connected with remote teams on the fly (as the work is happening) and manage them anytime, anywhere.
Centralize work and communication
With the recent consumerization of IT movement, there has been an overabundance of cloud and SaaS applications as a way to solve singular problems.
Each office or department seems to select their own products to use, from Sharepoint, Dropbox, and GoToMeeting to wikis and personal to-do lists. This has created a sprawl, where information becomes harder to find and actually causes a drop in productivity. I have found that the creation of a single team workspace, project room, or "destination" eliminates confusion, helping us connect with team members more quickly, and ensures that everyone is working off the same system and with the same information.
Remote teams can be a challenge and even a business risk, but they don't have to be. In fact, it could become your business advantage. With these tips and suggestions, I hope you can create a productive and successful environment where your global team works as efficiently at 5,000 miles apart as they would within five feet.
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