Morfternight #82 🌇 Good Afternoon!
Beyond Remote: Harnessing the Full Potential of Distributed Teams
This is Morfternight in the Afternoon, a newsletter about leadership.
More information about the Morfternight newsletters is available here.
I’ll be speaking at the Running Remote conference in Lisbon next week, and I feel like sharing a preview of my presentation with you all.
I have written about similar ideas on the blog and in Morfternight, as the subject is very dear to me. I’d love to hear any feedback you have, ideally before the end of the weekend, so that I can consider it before the talk.
Beyond Remote: Harnessing the Full Potential of Distributed Teams
As we continue to navigate the evolving world of work, remote and distributed teams have become more prevalent. Building successful products with distributed teams requires understanding the unique challenges and opportunities they present.
I will explore the difference between remote and distributed work and provide practical tips and real-world examples to help you harness the full potential of your distributed team. These insights can also be applied to traditional and hybrid organizations, making them more resilient, attractive, and effective.
The Difference between Remote and Distributed Work
While remote work has become a familiar concept, it differs significantly from distributed work. Remote work typically involves employees working from a location far from the main office, occasionally or regularly. In contrast, distributed work is a relatively new concept made possible by technology in the last 30 years. Distributed companies have no central office, and employees are everywhere, operating on asynchronous, transparent, and primarily written communication.
Building Successful Products with Distributed Teams
To effectively develop successful products with distributed teams, it is essential to embrace asynchronous communication, autonomy and flexibility, and a writing culture. The following sections outline how to achieve this.
Embrace Asynchronous Communication
Asynchronous communication is critical for distributed teams, as it enables team members to work across different time zones and allows for flexibility in how and when work is done. Consider implementing the following strategies to foster asynchronous communication without overwhelming your team.
Lead by example.
As a leader, set a clear standard for flexible response times, reducing the stress of constant communication. Emphasize the importance of giving team members the space to work effectively without feeling pressure to respond immediately to every message.
Promote a culture where ideas can come from anywhere.
Encourage team members to contribute their thoughts and ideas, regardless of location or the leadership team's proximity. This ensures that “being in the room” has no particular value and that everyone’s contributions are equally valued.
Limit synchronous time.
Be mindful of the amount of synchronous communication taking place within your team. When synchronous communication is necessary, ensure it’s recorded or documented in writing for later consumption by those unable to attend. In addition, encourage team members to move conversations from synchronous to asynchronous whenever decisions are required.
Foster a Writing Culture
Clear communication is vital for distributed teams. Developing a writing culture ensures that all team members understand each other and are on the same page. Consider implementing the following strategies to create a writing culture without alienating team members.
Encourage team members to express themselves through writing.
Create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas in writing. This helps ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, even if they are not physically present.
Use collaboration tools that prioritize writing.
Use tools encouraging written communication, such as project management software, wikis, or shared documents. This helps create a shared knowledge repository and ensures that important information is easily accessible to all team members.
Foster a culture of feedback and improvement.
Encourage team members to provide constructive feedback on each other’s writing, with the goal of continuous improvement. This helps create a supportive environment where everyone works together to enhance their communication skills.
Embrace Autonomy and Ownership
Autonomy and ownership are essential for building trust and alignment in distributed teams. To build trust and alignment without micromanagement, consider implementing the following strategies.
Embrace the flexibility and autonomy of a distributed team.
Allow team members to work on their schedules and decide how they complete their tasks. This promotes a sense of ownership and trust within the team, increasing motivation and productivity.
Foster a culture of transparency and open communication.
Encourage team members to discuss their progress, challenges, and ideas openly. This helps to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ensures that potential issues are identified and addressed early on.
Take advantage of the diversity of perspectives and experiences.
Distributed teams often include individuals from different backgrounds and cultures. Embrace this diversity by encouraging team members to share their unique perspectives and experiences, which can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.
Applying Distributed Company Teachings to Traditional Companies
The teachings from distributed companies can be applied to traditional office-based companies, improving their efficiency and effectiveness.
Office-based companies can benefit from asynchronous communication, autonomy, ownership, and writing culture.
By starting small and implementing one or two practices at a time, traditional companies can become more resilient and attractive.
Asynchronous communication can reduce interruptions and increase efficiency in a traditional office environment. By allowing team members to focus on their work without the constant pressure to respond immediately to messages or attend meetings, their productivity can be significantly improved.
A writing culture can strengthen institutional knowledge and improve onboarding in traditional companies. By creating a shared repository of written documentation, new team members can more easily access important information and get up to speed on company processes and policies.
Encouraging autonomy and ownership can lead to increased engagement and reveal a new potential in traditional office settings. When team members are given the freedom and responsibility to make decisions and take action, they are more likely to be motivated and invested in the company's success.
Organizations can unlock the secrets to building successful products with distributed teams by understanding the difference between remote and distributed work. Critical factors include embracing asynchronous communication, fostering a writing culture, and building trust through autonomy and ownership.
Regardless of your organization’s setup—distributed, traditional, or hybrid—these insights will revolutionize how your team operates, making your organization more resilient, attractive, and effective.
Finally, I will emphasize that all companies are, in the end, distributed.
Therefore, these teachings can be applied universally to improve productivity, communication, and overall success.