COVID lockdowns have ruined the myth that the only way to get work done productively is to have the entire team present in the office. Remote and distributed teams have proved themselves as reliable models, creating a new wave of businesses switching to remote work even after lockdown restrictions were lifted.
Altamira also works mainly as a distributed team, and this practice has shown pretty satisfying results. However, the challenges of working as a distributed team are much different than the challenges of on-site work. Our experience showed that establishing and maintaining the right culture within the company is key to resolving most of the difficulties.
This article will explain why we focus on cultivating company culture and why it is important for effectively managing distributed teams.
What is a Distributed Team?
Let’s start from the basics. A distributed team is a team of members working remotely from different locations and time zones. So, within one team, you can have a tech lead from London, a developer based in San Francisco, and a QA engineer workationing from different countries every month.
This approach contributes a lot to sustain a work-life balance for your employees. They don’t need to spend time on the commute, they have the flexibility to plan their workday and blend the work activities conveniently with everyday chores.
The distributed teams are also beneficial for employers as well, as they lift the geo-limit for accessing top talents: a company can look for a necessary specialist in any part of the world, which immediately expands the search pool and opens new opportunities for exciting cooperation.
A big concern for those businesses who get used to traditional 9-5 office jobs is productivity: whether a distributed workforce will be able to perform as well as an on-site team. Of course, a lot depends on the team itself, but when the right people are managed in the right way, they can deliver results working remotely no worse, or even better, than office employees.
Distributed Team vs Remote Team
You may notice that the terms distributed and remote teams are sometimes used interchangeably. But actually, they describe different types of cooperation. Remote teams usually have a headquarters where the part of employees works; hence, some part of the team meets on a regular basis, and others work from home, or from another city.
All members of fully distributed teams work remotely and separately from each other. Usually, there is no HQ or any type of co-working space, and the team members communicate online, relying heavily on instant messaging and video calls.
The Main Challenge with Maintaining an Efficient Distributed Team
Let’s discuss the main difficulties you might face while managing distributed teams.
As we have mentioned, it is the biggest concern when switching to remote work arises. And truly, when globally distributed team members are scattered among different countries and time zones, it might be hard to predict how fast the task would be completed. In case some corrections or edits should be addressed, it might be hard to do it immediately.
Other issues might kill the productivity of remote team members, like lack of adequate home office and distractions in the form of children, pets, etc. The lack of comprehensive workflows and procedures can also slow down the work.
Team communication can also be a problem concerning work-related and informal chatter.
When everybody is on-site in the office, it is easy to just come to the person, talk, and find out anything you want. When you are communicating through the Internet, it becomes a little bit more complicated. It becomes much harder to build trust, resolve conflicts, finish tasks, conduct discussions, etc.
Isolation is a consequence of the previous point. Even the most passionate adherents of remote work might sometimes lack the feeling of community. Still, we are social creatures that crave human contact, and without it, we can start feeling depressed, which, in turn, will lead to reduced productivity and inertia.
At the same time, without face-to-face contact, remote employees may struggle to build authentic relationships with each other.
You can’t read the emotions and body language of another team member, you can’t just waltz into a conversation in the office kitchen and break a few jokes, and you don’t really see anything behind the work facade of your colleague. Hence, employees might feel a little bit uneasy communicating with other team members, which will only increase the isolation.
Why Culture Is Crucial to Success?
As a solution for the aforementioned challenges, we focus on building and maintaining a strong work culture. We believe that culture is a key point to keeping employees engaged, motivated and content to work in our company, which eventually leads to a high level of responsibility and efficiency, low employee turnover, and capacity to cooperate with top talents in the industry.
Some businesses’ perception of work culture is rather limited, like offering some tangible perks would be enough. While some benefits like extra vacation days or free educational courses are a great way to show appreciation to the employees, culture is more than that.
Culture is built upon values the company shares and promotes, and these values define the policies, approaches, and reactions to emergencies and out-of-box situations. A strong, employee-focused culture creates a positive atmosphere, and promotes work-life balance and non-toxic environments, openness, flexibility, and transparency — everything an employee might need to feel comfortable, appreciated, and at ease. And in such a state, any specialist will be able to perform greatly, contribute to the company’s growth, offer new initiatives and improvements, mentor newcomers, etc.
As for distributed companies, an articulated value-based culture is extra-important, as it can become a glue that can unite team members from different parts of the world. It also can create a trustful environment where employees will know that their colleagues got their back, even if they haven’t got a chance to even meet face-to-face.
How Altamira Promotes Culture with Distributed Teams
Corporate culture is a strong instrument for the distributed model. But what does it take to cultivate such a thing, and how to ensure a reliable, transparent environment so employees can stay focused on team collaboration and performance?
We will share Altamira’s practices on how we cultivate corporate culture. As these actions allow us not only to keep the non-toxic and employee-friendly ambiance within the company, we can ensure that our developers are working in the productive and wise matter on clients’ projects and are delivering a quality product.
So, what do we do?
We Care About Our People
The basis of our company is people: without them, the company would not exist. We dedicate a lot of effort to hiring specialists that will not just fit our hard skill requirements for a certain position, but who will also match with the team on a value level. Then, it is only logical to focus on keeping these people with us.
In our opinion, the best way to retain employees and keep them content with the company is to make their lives easier.
Better work-life balance, clear and truthful communication, support, and guidance are our priorities. We also want to know our people, understand the problems they face, share their joys with them, and support them during the hard times.
So, everything starts with the effective onboarding process: when a new employee joins the company, HR guides them through everything they should know about the company, including the company’s mission, values, and goals.
We also present a clear work policy to avoid any misunderstandings about working time, availability, and location, as we implement flexible work hours. All new team members also get a buddy — a coworker who will help to join the team and navigate the environment. Of course, everyone is also supported by tech leads who will teach, support and guide.
To understand the employee’s needs and their state, we regularly conduct 360-feedback surveys, where people can anonymously share their concerns. There is also regular 1:1 session with project managers or tech leads, where employees can discuss anything they need and want with the management.
We always encourage speaking directly and sharing everything that disturbs our employees: this way, we would be able to address the issues to resolve them.
We also want everyone to be on the same page and understand what is happening inside the company, hence, every month we conduct an all-hands meeting, where the management shares the latest developments, achievements, changes, or challenges of the company.
Thanks to tools like sli.do, employees can anonymously or non-anonymously ask the questions they are interested in and get the answer during the team meeting.
We’re using asynchronous communication channels like instant messaging chats that allow everyone to read through chat history for context and stay on the same page, despite being in different time zones.
And of course, there is always a place for informal communication.
We have a non-work related “water cooler chat”, where people can discuss news, ask for advice or recommendation, send memes, etc. If possible, we also organize an annual company party, so people can gather and have some fun together offline.
We Support Differences and Respect Other Opinions
We want everyone to reveal their full potential, which is only possible when people feel comfortable enough to express their disagreement and offer a different opinion.
We try never to discourage people from disagreeing and starting a civilized discussion: expressing a different opinion would even be a requirement.
We want our crew to take smart risks and test theories if they feel it is worth it. However, we expect them to stay honest about their achievements and mistakes and share lessons learned with the rest of the company.
We also want to see the faces of the employees when working online, but we respect that everyone can have a bad day and refuse to turn on the camera during team meetings or feel better using an avatar only.
We Protect Our Culture
Building culture and setting rituals and policies are not enough. To make it really work, we need to protect culture across different processes.
Hiring is one of these processes: one wrong hiring can impact our culture not the way we would want it. So, as we have mentioned, we are searching for people who share similar values.
To ensure that our culture is efficient, we run regular eNPS surveys to quantify employee loyalty, set actions if needed, and track improvement. eNPS is anonymous, which helps to save privacy and also measures the employees’ engagement: if many people don’t participate, something is wrong, and we need to address it.
We want to hear the employees’ opinions regarding our culture, so everyone in the company has a free path to raise their concerns about our culture. There are a few ways how to do that:
- to speak publicly at All-Hands meetings;
- to write it down in our company channel;
- to talk privately to a manager or our HR
- to stay anonymous and give feedback in eNPS.
Either way, we will pay attention to any concerns, and find a way to resolve the issue.
Looking for a software partner with the same values as ours?
Our culture allows us to deliver software efficiently for businesses.
Culture is the basis for any distributed company. When you are looking for a distributed development team for your custom software project, ask them about their culture. If they can describe it in words, and it actually matches your values, then, you have a great chance to acquire a reliable partner for many years who will deliver consistently.
Generally, a strong team culture implies that the team shares the same values, goals, and practices and that everybody feels that they are valued as individuals and as employees.
Distributed teams consist of employees which are based in different locations in different time zones and work remotely without having a physical office space
A positive team culture is one where team member feels comfortable disagreeing with each other but can handle conflicts and discussion in a respectful, productive manner, so any difference in opinion will lead to growth and improvements.