I Love My Team – Benefits & Challenges of Distributed Companies

There is always room for operational efficiency without hurting anyone’s feelings.”

-Greg Cox

In this special audio podcast episode, Greg and Dustin chat about the many joys and obstacles of working with teams in a virtual environment. We hear from company owner Greg Cox on exactly what makes the Think Around Corners team so dear to his heart.

While the concept of a distributed workforce is nothing new – in fact, working remotely has become the norm in our industry – the tools, marketplace and required skills are always in flux. We take a look at our own struggles and successes as a distributed company who has been fortunate enough to find some success in our field.

The Largest Hiring Pool In The World

The ability to hire team members regardless of location offers us one huge advantage: With an unlimited pool of talent, we have the luxury of hiring only those who truly fit our company culture.

In a virtual work environment, company culture is not defined by things like ping pong tables in the break room, dress code or quality of the office coffee. The heartbeat of our distributed team is based on individual personalities and processes.

Because human interaction is unpredictable and the way we approach problems is constantly shifting, our company has a unique ability to adapt and react to any obstacle we encounter. This is only possible because of our capability to hire the best talent on the planet – not just in terms of skill, but personality and culture.

No Man Is An Island

When your work environment is physically isolated from your team, the biggest temptation is to take on too much work for yourself and hesitate to contact others for help. This is why it is important to create a system for consistent check-ins and allow team members to self-govern their work, with assessments based on performance rather than effort.

Perhaps these systems differ from team to team. For our team, we have found a combination of SCRUM and Kaizen to be the heartbeat of our team structure and culture.

Herding Cats: Biggest Challenges of Remote Teams and How To Solve Them

Herding Cats: Biggest Challenges of Remote Teams and How To Solve Them

Sense of Isolation

Teammates do not get to experience in-person interactions with each other.

Solution:

Make it a priority to get out of your home or office and interact with others. Joining a co-working environment is a great way to do this. If necessary, schedule “people time” into your week to remind yourself to step back from your tasks and refuel with some warm interactions.

Lack of Motivation

It can be hard for some team members to stay motivated when working autonimously.

Solution:

There are a few strategies here. We all agree that it is important to get ready for work – shower, get dressed, make yourself presentable – regardless of where you are working from. It can be too easy to be in a relaxed and unproductive state at home if you don’t give yourself the psychological cue that it’s time to start working. We notice a significant increase in confidence when dealing with clients, too.

If you are a socially-motivated extrovert, it can often be enough for you to start your day with a phone call to help you refocus on the project at hand and gain feedback on your work.

Time & Task Management

For employees who are not used to being responsible for their own time and tasks, it can be a challenge to adjust.

Solution:

Everyone is different, but we recommend setting up a system that keeps you accountable. Define the time period during the day that you are most productive, and try to stick to those hours. Some team members may need to be available for communicating with clients at certain times of day.

Another important aspect is accountability. When setting up your own process and tools, do yourself a favor and include someone else on your team. Allow your task tracking to be transparent and ask for feedback. This helps keep you focused on delivering results and also provides some built-in team interaction to your day.

The Tools We Use

We thought it might be helpful to provide a short list of our favorite tools that help us to overcome the obstacles of time and place we encounter as a distributed workforce.

Asana Asana

A tool for tracking tasks and processes within your team. Organize your tasks into separate projects and clients, assign tasks to team members and use email less.

Slack Slack

A channel-based communication tool that feels a lot like IRC chat. Slack allows your team to focus conversations on specific topics, and indexes all your communication for searching later.

Skype Skype

Communication tool. Easy phone or video conferencing – great if you don’t want to use your personal number for work, and often the audio quality is better than your cell phone.

 Google Apps

Google Apps for Work is a way to integrate Google’s growing list of products to your company’s domain. Your employees are probably already used to the format of many of these products, which makes life easier for everyone.

Google Drive Google Drive

Let’s face it, sending email attachments of Excel spreadsheets is an outdated practice. It becomes almost impossible to stay up to date with revisions and team members are likely using different software versions and computer platforms. Google Drive solved this issue by standardizing the creation of documents and making it easy to collaborate in real time.

Xendo Xendo

Xendo indexes your cloud apps such as Asana, Dropbox, Google Drive and others to provide a single search bar. There is a convenient Chrome Extension available as well.

LucidChart Lucidchart

A simple, fast tool that allows you to create diagrams for anything. We use it to wireframe our concepts for web design and user experience.

Evernote Evernote

It started out as a digital notebook, but has evolved into much more. Evernote boasts an ever-growing number of features, but we find the OCR capabilities particularly useful. If you don’t have time to enter notes into your phone, you can take a photo and the app will convert a photo into text automatically.

What tools do you use for your own remote work? What are your biggest obstacles for completing work and staying sane in a remote environment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Greg Cox

Analytics Geek. Gregory likes Motorcycles, Cooking, and Sciencey stuff.

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