Reading Time: 8 minutes
At G-P, our industry leading Global Employment Platform™ helps companies unlock their full potential by building highly skilled global teams in days instead of months. But how does the everywhere workforce work together best? Here we discuss the opportunities – and challenges – in achieving the kind of global growth and success we can all share.
G-P. Global Made Possible.
In recent years, remote work has become increasingly popular across a vast array of industries.
In a global survey of 1,200 CIOs, 70 percent said their workplaces are currently remote. Out of those CIOs, 31 percent said they expect remote work to be the future of their company.
One remote work concept that’s also gaining traction is that of the distributed agile team.
What are distributed agile teams?
To better understand this concept, it’s important to break down and explain its two main components:
“Distributed”refers to the fact that employees are spread out across two or more geographic locations.
“Agile” refers to both a development approach and a teamwork method. An agile team is a self-directed team made up of individuals working on a project from multiple angles simultaneously. For example, an agile team working on a new program would include developers and business professionals working together. They’d break at regular intervals to reflect on the project’s successes and shortcomings, then adjust their approach and strategy to make improvements.
The agile development approach is growing in popularity in the software development sphere and many other industries because it allows for consistent program improvement, even in late stages. Projects go through multiple iteration cycles, or increments, before release.
The approach follows a PDCA procedure, which stands for “Plan-Do-Check-Act.” Here’s what each step entails:
- Plan: During this stage, the team outlines what they’d like to accomplish with this product iteration. They discuss what did and didn’t go well in previous iterations and map out what steps they will need to take moving forward.
- Do: This phase involves the development and implementation of those plans. The team can conduct short rounds of testing, but the primary concern of this phase is creating the product’s newest iteration.
- Check: In this phase, team members extensively test this iteration to ensure it meets appropriate criteria. They can return to previous iterations if they feel that the product needs further modification, or they can pass it into its next iteration.
- Act: The team reflects on the iteration and documents their findings. Then, if the product needs further improvement, the cycle begins again.
A distributed agile team is a geographically distributed group of individuals working to create the best possible product through multiple feedback cycles.
What are the benefits of using distributed agile teams?
The benefits of distributed agile teams mainly stem from this method’s remote nature. Working from home, a coffee shop, or wherever an employee feels most productive can significantly increase the efficiency of your team.
Here’s a look at a few advantages of this approach.
1. Access to top-quality talent
Restricting talent recruitment to one location can be limiting, especially if you’re looking for a professional with specific skills. Opting to build a geographically distributed team allows you to recruit talented people from around the globe, increasing your chances of finding the best people for the job.
Hiring globally can also help to ensure a more inclusive and productive team. An agile team would especially benefit from different perspectives, as each member’s input is essential in every step of the process. The ability to approach a project from varied angles can provide a team with ideas a more homogeneous group may not have considered, leading to innovative solutions and greater team engagement.
2. Quicker turnaround
Having employees working in different locations can prove advantageous to your output rate. A “follow the sun” approach, while challenging, can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to create each iteration of your projects. Here’s how it works:
- One sub-team works during their typical hours.
- Then, they pass their work off to the next sub-team several time zones away.
- That second sub-team works on the project, and then sends it to the next sub-team.
- And so on.
This approach allows your team to remain functional 24 hours a day without requiring employees in any location to work late or overtime. Because development never slows with this approach, you’ll be able to produce deliverables at a much quicker pace.
You’ll need a widespread team stretching across two or three time zones and strong communication channels for this approach to work, so consider whether it makes sense for your company before putting it into practice.
3. Higher productivity
In general, employees report higher productivity working remotely versus working in an office. With fewer interruptions and meetings chipping away at their available time, they’re able to get more work done.
A 2020 study from the Harvard Business Review found that knowledge workers spent 12 percent less time attending large meetings and 9 percent more time interacting with customers and external partners. With fewer office distractions, employees can apply their full concentration to more pressing tasks and work at a much faster pace.
Additionally, the percentage of tasks these knowledge workers rated as tiresome dropped from 27 percent to 12 percent. Since remote employees are responsible for setting and sticking to their own schedules, they’re more likely to view work as a personal choice than an external obligation. This simple shift in mindset can result in higher motivation levels and long-term efficiency.
4. Lower overhead costs
Overseeing a remote team means you can save on overhead and administrative costs. You can use this money to invest in better resources for your employees, like higher-end software or more growth opportunities.
Consider some critical questions when creating a remote workplace budget:
- Will your team need any special equipment?
- What software will you use to communicate with team members?
- Will you offer your employees professional development opportunities?
By refocusing the resources you would have used to maintain your office, you can provide a better work experience for your team and increase employees’ engagement with your company.
What are the challenges and risks of distributed agile teams?
As with any workplace model, there are some challenges that come with managing distributed teams. Remote work is unique because each employee has a certain degree of freedom to work according to their individual style. However, each member’s work still needs to coordinate with the team’s overall goals.
Here are some common challenges distributed teams face.
1. Low morale among team members
Whether you’re a classic introvert or an energetic extrovert, one fact remains true — people motivate people. Physically seeing and interacting with co-workers can help build a solid foundation of trust and motivation between team members. However, this kind of interaction is difficult to simulate in a remote work situation, resulting in potentially lower motivation and energy among team members.
You can minimize the disconnect by providing opportunities for co-workers to engage with each other, like video meetings or virtual after-hours events. Even encouraging communication through instant messaging channels can strengthen bonds between team members and boost morale.
2. Communication gaps
If your team is spread out across the globe, you may run into language barriers. Miscommunication can occur even between two native speakers of the same language – having a global team means that not all members will share the same first language. Cultural differences can also arise, as different expectations may not translate well in digital communication.
The best thing you can do as a leader is provide educational opportunities to verse your employees on ways to communicate with co-workers from different cultures. Courses on topics like microaggressions and sensitive language can be valuable for your employees as well.
3. Time zone mismatches
A lack of coordination when it comes to time zones can affect productivity. Having sub-teams working in multiple time zones can be beneficial for project turnaround, but you must be able to coordinate schedules so your employees sleeping halfway across the world can get their rest.
Synchronized calendar software can help you set up meetings and determine appropriate business hours. You should also ensure your employees know which time zones their co-workers are in.
3. Lack of visibility
If you’re unfamiliar with remote work, it can be challenging to track team members’ progress on assignments when you cannot drop by their desks in person. While you need to trust your employees to stay on track, a lack of transparency can result in lower productivity and lower quality work for some.
Beyond that, missed opportunities for improvements in the early stages of a project can prove detrimental in the late development stages.
You can improve visibility by leveraging cloud-based productivity tools like Toggl Plan or Asana. A program that includes progress-tracking features will be most effective for providing a complete view of what each employee is working on.
How to make distributed agile teams work
There are no quick fixes to any of the above risks, but knowing how to manage people and technology effectively can help you navigate distributed team leadership.
1. Delegate responsibilities
Set clear expectations for each sub-team and individual team member. Everyone on your team should know what their responsibilities are so they can accomplish their tasks efficiently.
You also need to make sure you assign appropriate amounts of work. Give your employees enough tasks to fill up their day while also allowing time for unexpected issues. Reassign duties when needed to keep everything on track.
2. Use remote collaboration tools
In general, you want to choose collaborative tools that allow you to check in on your employees’ progress while also offering integration with other software you may use, like Google Suite or Outlook. Synchronized workspaces help keep everyone on the same page.
Synchronized scheduling programs like Google Calendar can help you make sure you include everyone when organizing team meetings or conference calls. Referring to multiple clocks or using a tool like Every Time Zone can help you account for time differences when sending urgent messages.
3. Schedule regular meetings and check-ins
Holding an informal check-in each day helps keep each team member aware of any important changes or progress updates. It can also help foster a sense of community within the company and develop familiarity between co-workers.
Ideally, there will be some overlap between each sub-team’s workday. Take advantage of this period to schedule full-team meetings.
You should also consider regular check-ins with team members individually. These meetings can take place as often as you need them to. The key is that you feel you’re getting a good view of what each employee is accomplishing every day and where they might need additional support.
4. Establish a shared vision
As the leader of your company, it’s your responsibility to paint the big picture for everyone. Strong company culture and good co-worker relationships can make employees feel comfortable in their environment and encourage growth over the long term.
Establishing a common goal and creating a sense of community is critical to maintaining a cohesive and motivated team. Here are a few tips:
- Cultivate trust: Trust your employees to meet their deadlines with minimal intervention from you, and encourage them to ask questions.
- Develop relationships: Establish a solid company culture by providing team members with opportunities to get to know each other on a more personal level. Some companies organize virtual happy hours on a weekly or biweekly basis. Employees can chat about anything unrelated to work at these virtual meetings while enjoying their beverages of choice.
- Illustrate the company’s mission: Your team members should have a solid sense of your company’s goals. Why is the work you do important? What will this project achieve?
- Validate team members: Understanding your role in a team can give you a sense of purpose and inspire you to do your best. Make sure everyone on your team knows that you hired them for a reason.
5. Manage accountability
To ensure high productivity from globally distributed teams, you need to keep everyone on the same page at all times.
Here are a few tips for holding team members accountable:
- Schedule regular check-ins with each employee individually.
- Create and maintain a timetable for every assignment.
- Work with employees to set measurable and achievable goals.
- Require team members to track their progress using collaboration apps.
Because the visibility of distributed teams can be so low, it’s essential to regularly update team members on how each project is going. Well-documented processes and consistent communication enable employees to keep the productivity streak going.
6. Team up with a global employment platform
Working with a global employment platform like Globalization Partners makes managing distributed teams a breeze. Our AI-driven global employment platform takes care of payroll, contract generation, employee onboarding, and legal compliance. Our technology allows you to streamline complicated and time-consuming processes, so you can focus on creating high-quality deliverables and expanding your company.
Build your distributed agile team with Globalization Partners
Overall, the benefits of operating a geographically distributed team far outweigh the challenges and risks. You can easily build a team around the world with Globalization Partners’ global employment platform.