Six Tips for Managing a Distributed Workforce
By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
Ever watched a Formula 1 pit crew go to work? You’ll never see a better display of execution anywhere in the world. These teams are so in-sync that the average pit stop takes about 2.4 seconds. It’s the kind of team dynamic every manager wants to achieve—whether their team changes tires or assembles marketing campaigns. But how do you accomplish such efficiency while managing a distributed workforce.
A Formula 1 pit crew is the gold standard for teamwork, but not because of how fast they can do their job. That quickness comes from something even more important: cohesion. Every person knows exactly what to do, when to do it, and how it affects the greater objective. To bring this level of cohesion to your distributed team, look at each team member and their contributions in relation to the greater goal. Synergy happens when everyone is on the same page.
How can you turn your distributed team into a Formula 1 pit crew? Here are six tips that’ll bring them together (virtually), get them focused, and keep them accountable.
1. Hold a weekly all-hands meeting
The mark of a world-class team is each member’s recognition of the greater goal. To identify and reinforce this goal takes routine and consistent communication amongst the group—starting with the leader. The simplest solution for fostering this level of remote employee engagement is to hold an all-hands weekly meeting with your team.
All-hands meetings should be short, sweet, and to-the-point. What’s the current objective? How are duties delegated? What’s the timeline? What obstacles does the team face? Create a systematic approach for distilling the group’s goal into attainable milestones and bring accountability to everyone involved. All-hands meetings are an opportunity to show the synergy of the team and make sure everyone is on the same page.
2. Use project management software
Every distributed workforce needs a system of record—something to keep them accountable and to maintain the transparency of everyone’s efforts. Project management software—particularly a cloud-based app—achieves this. This software not only delegates duties and reinforces accountability, it facilitates communication and strengthens the team dynamic. In other words, it helps the team act more like a team.
Successful use of project management software will leave your distributed team looking more like a Formula 1 pit crew—everyone doing their part in a larger execution. Plus, it also sets the pace of progress as group members complete tasks, fall behind, or work ahead. Some common platforms are Wrike, Monday.com, Trello, and Asana.
3. Organize and centralize communication
Mastery of organization paves the way for better team communication. Consolidate communication to as few channels as possible, without disrupting the group’s ability to coordinate. Slack is a premier example here. Organize channels to keep communication on-task, so information and correspondence are accessible and uninterrupted by off-task topics. No more wasted time or confusion as employees try to track down information—it’s all right where it needs to be, visible for everyone at any time.
4. Maintain personal accountability
The biggest obstacle for teams is the aspect of distributed work. They can’t adjourn to a conference room to hash out ideas or break into small groups around someone’s desk. A majority of the time, distributed groups work as individuals in the privacy of their own home. This emphasizes their role as individuals first, group members second. To keep them an active, contributing member of the group, employees need personal accountability.
Part of this accountability comes from project management software and the individual tasks they’re held responsible for. Another part comes from inclusion in the group—when people know others depend on them, they’re likely to see themselves as part of the team. The final piece comes from management. Managers need to hold their remote workers accountable and help them succeed, both as individuals and as members of a distributed team. This means one-on-one meetings, progress updates, and open communication about expectations and support.
5. Moderate and control workflows
The reason Formula 1 teams can be so phenomenally good at their job is because they’re tasked with doing one thing. They’re mission-focused. It should be the same for your distributed teams. This doesn’t necessarily mean working on one project at a time, but it does mean moderating and controlling the volume of work and the stress levels of your team.
Look at the transition to remote work and distributed teams as an inverse bell curve. At the outset of telecommuting, productivity is likely to drop as employees adapt. Then, it’ll slowly rise as they get into the groove of working remotely. Then, it has the potential to peak at new heights as remote teams find ways to be more effective in their collaboration. But this path to productivity is only achieved under controlled workflows. Open the floodgates and you’ll drown your remote teams before they learn how to swim.
6. Find ways to bond beyond work
Never underestimate the power of camaraderie. When a Formula 1 driver crosses the finish line in first, the pit crew is right there with them to pop the champagne! The team needs to exist outside of the shared mission that drives them. Find opportunities to grow those bonds—whether it’s a virtual trivia night each week or raising a beer via video chat after the completion of an arduous project. Shared experiences lend themselves to better performance.
For Formula 1 pit crews, the object is quickness: how fast can we get our driver back onto the track? Milliseconds matter. Every person needs to do exactly what’s expected of them for it to work. It’s the same for your team and their objective. Whether it’s developing a new product or creating a winning marketing campaign, everyone needs to do their part to facilitate success.
This accountability is even more important when the group isn’t centralized. Use the six tips above to manage your distributed team and bring them together in pursuit of excellence.