Distributed team, remote work, work-from-home, telecommuting, flex work… whatever you call it, you can’t deny the impact technology has had on the flexibility and mobility of modern workers.
The concept of distributed teams is nothing new, but the past decade has brought about an explosion in the number of people who work from home at least part of the time. This is in large part due to the introduction of new technologies that make it easier to work remotely.
Reaktiv Studios is a fully distributed team, which is one of the reasons I was initially interested in joining the team. I’ve been a part of remote teams for more than 10 years. During that time, I have learned valuable lessons about the benefits of working remotely and how remote teams can be successful.
Working remotely isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t a good fit for every team or situation. But for the work that we do here, there are a lot of benefits to operating as a distributed team.
Expanded Applicant Pool
Each industry has a limited talent pool regardless of where you do business. If you further limit your talent pool to a single geographic location, you make it harder to find the right talent to fill important roles in your company. The best fit for a particular role likely doesn’t live within a 20-mile radius of your office. Don’t let proximity be a barrier to finding the right people.
Performance Over Presence
This one is huge and should really go without saying, but distributed teams value performance over presence. Spending 8 hours physically on location in the office does not always result in the best performance. With distributed teams, you must be intentional about measuring the overall performance and effectiveness of each worker, and time in the office is an unreliable way to measure results.
At Reaktiv Studios, work/life balance is very important. Working from home offers us the best opportunity to lead happy, fulfilling lives while consistently providing high quality service. Instead of spending an hour each day commuting to and from work, we get to spend that time pursuing the things that make us tick as individuals.
How to be Successful
The benefits of working remotely are many, and they vary from person to person depending on your individual circumstances. But working from home is not for everyone, and it can be difficult to be successful on a distributed team if you have never done it and you don’t know what to expect. Over the past 10 years, I have learned a few tricks for working from home, and the following are just a few of the key elements to being successful in telecommuting.
Communication is key for any business, but especially when you work on a distributed team. Fortunately, there are a plethora of tools that enable communication at a level never before possible. There are 3 main types of communication that are important for distributed teams: instant, asynchronous, and scheduled.
Before tools like Slack, Skype, and HipChat, instant communication came in the form of a visit to your coworker’s cubicle or a quick phone call. We live on Slack, and that makes it possible for any member of our team to get an instant response from other members of the team. It’s important as a distributed team, though, to understand that an instant response might not always be possible. If your coworker is in the middle of writing a complex algorithm, persistent attempts to get that coworker’s attention will result in distractions that kill that person’s efficiency. This is where asynchronous communication becomes important.
Asynchronous communication occurs when you post or send a message to a coworker with the understanding that a response may not be immediate. Email is a great example of asynchronous communication. Most people understand that responses to emails are not always immediate. Even better than email, there are project management tools like Asana (our tool of choice) and Basecamp. These tools provide channels for asynchronous communication. Instant messaging tools like Slack can be used for this type of communication, but there is a general expectation of quicker responses when questions are posted in these types of tools.
In general, I hate meetings. It’s mostly just a general aversion to meetings, though. I know that they can be very important, especially when done right. At Reaktiv, our meeting philosophy is the fewer, the better. By limiting meetings that could be resolved in email and having a focused agenda for each call, we maximize our communication with the client while minimizing the time and cost of having 8 people on a call.
For distributed teams, it is very important to have a scheduled time for everyone to get together and touch base. I highly recommend using video conferencing tools for this. It helps to put a face to a name or a voice, and it helps to see that there is a real person on the other end of all of those messages and emails.
Separate Work & Personal
When I started working from home 10 years ago, I found this one very difficult to do. If you work from home, you are always at the office. Because you are always at the office, it’s difficult to leave work to focus on your personal life, your family, or just getting things done around the house.
You have to be very intentional about keeping work time and personal time separate, and if possible, to keep your work space separate from the rest of your home. This also helps to keep personal things from interfering with your work time.
In the 9-to-5 economy, we worry more about presence in the office than we do about results. With remote teams, you have to be intentional about measuring results over how much time is spent in the office.
As much as I love working at home, I also love getting to know the people I work with. It is also important to take some time for the team to meet face-to-face. At Reaktiv Studios, we do an annual company retreat. This is a great opportunity to get to know each other outside of work and bond as a team.
I learned early on that I need to get out of the house every once in a while. Many cities offer coworking spaces where remote workers can come together and work in an office with other professionals.
This offers great opportunities for networking and learning, and it’s a great way to get out of the house. In Waco where we don’t have coworking spaces, a friend and I started a coworking group a few years ago. We meet every Wednesday at a local coffee shop with anywhere from 2 to 10 people and just work.
Is remote working right for you?
Telecommuting isn’t for everyone. It can be difficult at times to get motivated to work, especially when a comfortable couch and a TV are in the other room, or your kids keep coming into your office asking you to play with them. If you are a major extrovert, working from home can be extremely difficult and at times lonely. But if you are intentional about your approach to remote work, I believe that anyone can be successful and find a lot of joy in this highly rewarding and fulfilling way to work.