If someone asks me what an ideal team is like, I will answer without any doubt that an ideal team is a collocated team. And what`s also important, an ideal project manager is the one who works in the same room with a collocated team.
This point is easy to explain because, when the whole team is located in the same room and when you as a manager is present there, you may feel the pulse of your team. All communications, interactions and all potential conflicts will never get past you. The same is true for your team members` and the whole team`s mood. Sure, you will never get 100% true perception of your teammates’ mood, but it is much easier to do it when you are talking face to face, not via Skype.
Nevertheless, if a collocated team is so good, you may ask why companies go with virtual teams more and more often. In fact, due to recent Future Workforce Report done by Upwork, nearly two-thirds (63%) of companies today have remote workers.
Well, the main reason of growing popularity of distributed and remote teams is a lack of appropriate resources.
The lack of appropriate resources in some cases can imply a lack of cheap resources. Businesses, which are trying to increase their profits, find a perfect solution of outsourcing their tasks to those countries where labor force is much cheaper.
Another reason may be a lack of resources of some particular qualification. If some company needs additional people who are good at some technology or have some other necessary skills, but there are no such people in their area, they can look for them in another region or even country. I bet you agree that it`s a great temptation when you have an alternative of hiring the superstar who lives on the other side of the globe instead of taking the mediocre candidate in your area.
In software development industry there is no crucial need to relocate engineers to another place in order to let them do their job, especially when these relocations may cause some regulation issues and additional pain and headache for employers.
Another reason, which may force companies to form a distributed team, is a necessity to spread their product on different markets. This means that local employees of the company will become the ambassadors of their product in the local area. However, I can`t give any real example of such a case so far.
The types of remote teams
It`s worth mentioning that the notion of distributed team is a general name for all the teams that are not completely co-located. But we may define several types of distributed teams based on their structure.
Distributed team is a team which consists of a different groups that are spread in different locations.
Fully dispersed team – is a team where each team member comes from different location.
Partially dispersed team – the team in which the core of the team is located in one place and there is the rest of the team (one or a couple of other team members) who sit in different locations.
Pros & Cons of a remote team
I think most of you can easily name a couple of challenges that arise when you work in a remote team. The most common issues are communication barriers, knowledge sharing difficulties, time zone difference and cultural differences. It takes more time to solve the problems of misinterpretations and misunderstanding in remote teams. In addition, especially in dispersed teams, it is easier to fall into individual work. Frankly speaking, these mentioned issues are sufficient to cast doubt on effectiveness of distributed teams.
So, what about benefits?
There is a number of apparent benefits of remote teams mentioned above that come from the reasons of their leveraging. Among them are cheaper costs and a larger pool of talents.
However, there are also a couple of unobvious benefits. If you have a remote team, which consists of a couple of subteams in different time zones, you may have a quicker time to market. In other words, it means that your development activities can be done more than 8 hours a day.
It goes like that: while one development team is having a rest, the other one is able to deliver and deploy some feature and then when this team has finished their workday, the first one will start their work and may be even deliver something new until the end of their working day. So, in a case of a distributed team you can have a 12- or even 8- hour delivery cycle for new features instead of 24-hour cycle in a case of a co-located team. The only caveat here is that this argument is valid if you have good continuous delivery process at place. This benefit may be valid, for instance, in game development industry where customers are looking for new features to come out very soon. Nevertheless, the largest value of this benefit can definitely reveals itself in maintenance or user support projects.
The next benefit is the following: more diversity may be a source of new ideas. Different opinions, viewpoints and work styles combine to make a better work environment and a group of employees who are more creative at solving problems and better at understanding their customers. In addition, when you work on a global product you definitely need some input from the representatives of other countries and cultures, where your product is used.
Also, having a distributed team may be strategically more convenient, for example, in case when you have customers in different parts of the world. Having a part of the team close to the customers can definitely be beneficial.
Now you may use the mentioned arguments in order to “sell” the idea of having a distributed team to your boss or client. In order to make your position even stronger I will give you a couple of examples of famous companies that praise remote teams. In fact, some of the companies in the list below do not have any offices because all their employees work remotely. The most famous are Automattic(their main product is WordPress where this blog is rolling), Basecamp, Citrix, DuckDuckGo, GitHub, MariaDB, Mozilla. You may find a larger list here.
I bet you have found a couple of familiar names there.
If you`re still hesitating moving to distributed teams, go ahead and share your concerns with me, I will do my best to consult you. Moreover, if you have already had some experience working in a remote team, please, share your opinion in comments.