6 Rules for Effectively Leading Your Globally-Distributed Team

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The speed and security of the internet has created a global economy allowing companies and employees to work from anywhere that has connection to the web. Some companies have adopted a series of smaller remote offices while others corporate giants like Mozilla, Automattic and Upworthy operate completely on a distributed basis.

The opportunity and even necessity to work remotely has grown tremendously. In 2014, the number of remote or telecommuting job listings rose 26 percent, and continued substantial growth is predicted.

Although it's tempting to become a globally distributed company for advantages such as decreasing overhead costs, management can be tricky. During virtual meetings, technical issues can arise, and employees are easily distracted or mentally checkout. Keeping meetings timely, organized and equally open to all involved parties is even more challenging when done through virtual platforms. Additionally, a wide spread team means that not everyone is always working during similar times, making communication and scheduling a bigger challenge.

Related: We're Turning Into a Freelance Nation. Here's What That Looks Like.

All this may sound troublesome and intimidating, but there are solutions. The following six rules from executives at globally distributed companies may help eliminate many unnecessary frustrations and optimize operations.

1. Use the best technology available.

VLP Law Group executives decided to maximize the savings from foregoing expensive offices and use it to invest in technology. The technology is easily shared and accessible by all employees, making their jobs much easier and increasing the likelihood of getting new clients. Investing in synchronous communication tools like Github, Hipchat and Asana can make all the difference in running efficiently within and outside the company.

2. Hire the best possible talent.

Groove CEO Alex Turnbull used this as his motivation to ditch traditional offices. “I wanted the best talent I could find, regardless of where people were based, so a remote team was a natural choice,” Turnbull said. 

Related: The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Distributed Workforce When Talent Is Scarce

When hiring for a position, it’s always best to find quality talent. Having employees work remotely should make this even more of an emphasis and opportunity for the company. There’s no need to settle for whoever lives in the area or is willing to move. Take a stand to truly stretch out the hiring process to ensure the best team is assembled.

3. Make a clear distinction between work and relaxation.

The stereotypical impression of working from home is getting together on Google Hangout in pajamas and strolling down their street in lieu of the classic coffee break. Lullabot executives found the most impactful habits of their team included dressing up for work and setting limits between work and home life. Without the typical 9-5 grind, employees often find themselves working strange hours spread throughout the day and night. Remember, versatility is important, but there always needs to be a way to signify work versus play.

4. Put individuals first.

Adam Wray, CEO at distributed database company Basho, believes it’s paramount to put your team first, and to really focus on the human aspect of your workforce. “You’ve got to respect people’s lives and recognize their time zones,” Wray said.

Humanizing the digital connection means being considerate to everyone and keeping a connection. It also means allowing for, and even encouraging social interactions between employees. Without a centralized office, there is no water cooler to gather around, and emails and agenda-driven meetings are often the only scheduled times for interaction. For example, try varying meeting times so that it goes on a cycle of convenience for different time zones. Establish a buddy for remote employees -- someone they can easily contact during meetings or times of troubled connection. This creates a human bond that builds trust.

5. Use formal facilitations.

One of the great things about a remote team is that they’re free from the standard distractions. In fact, this freedom is what FlexJobs’ executive Brie Reynolds says his employees enjoy the most.  

Although the typical distractions aren’t present, conducting meetings through video chat poses the challenges of easily getting off topic, not being heard and lower collective participation. Establishing formal facilitation ensures the meetings cover what they need to, everyone is heard and attendees can still continue to understand and follow directions even when things can’t be clearly seen or heard.

Related: 5 Ways to Ensure Remote Employees Feel Part of the Team

6. Meet in person.

It may sound contradictory to the idea of a distributed company, but meet-ups are a great way for the teams to build unison and buy into the company culture. Companies like Automattic use yearly meet-ups to drive their plan and direction for the future. A Small Orange also uses team meet-ups and even video get-togethers to give a team feel to the organization.

Managing a globally distributed company has huge upsides like lowering costs, having flexible hours and a worldwide network. While it can be advantageous, establishing or transitioning towards it has many possible challenges. Thankfully, all these challenges can be combatted and addressed by following the above rules. Certainly move forward with global distribution, but ensure the method and maintenance of doing so is sound.