Part one of a multi-part guide to getting started as a geographically distributed team. In this article I talk about the attitudes that form the foundations of an effective dispersed team.
This is the first installment of a multipart guide distilling the basics of what I’ve learned so far about effective distributed teamwork. This series will take a concrete, prescriptive approach, with specific practices and tools recommended. Any distributed team will eventually need to customize their workflow and tools to their own preferences and needs. The advice here is simply a starting point based on common elements that have worked for other distributed teams.
When people ask me for advice on how to make remote collaboration work, the first thing I tell them has nothing to do with tools or even practices. The basic requirement for distributed team success is attitude.
Every member of the team needs to be fully on board with working remotely. Making a dispersed team successful requires an active investment from everyone involved. If one of your team members is reluctant to work remotely, or critical of remote work, your team culture will be compromised from the start.
See if you can talk to the unhappy individual and address his or her fears. He or she may have had a bad experience – or heard stories of bad experiences – with past remote or telecommuting work. If you can’t persuade him or her to give remote work a fresh shot, it may be best for the team as a whole to find a different person to take their place on the team.
A little bit more
The most important fact to understand about distributed teams as compared to a collocated team is that communication takes a little bit more effort.
- Instead of just catching the eye of the person sitting across the table from you, you have to open an IM window.
- Instead of just speaking an idea aloud, you have to type the idea into the group chat room.
- Instead of seeing from a teammate’s body language that he is struggling, you need to deliberately check in with your coworkers periodically.
- Instead of a group gathering naturally in the hall, you have to coordinate a Skype call.
None of these are insurmountable obstacles. But is is vital that everyone on the team understand that a little extra effort will be required. After a few weeks of practice, the team members will find that these habits become second nature.
To sum up this first part, succeeding at remote collaboration takes a conscious attitude of wanting to make the team work, and the understanding that communication will require extra effort. Stay tuned for part two, where I’ll start to talk about specific tools and practices for staying in communication as a distributed team.
This post is continued at The Wide Teams Bootstrap Guide: Part 2.