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Building and
supporting
the distributed
team through
collaboration
with remote teams

Author: Sue Poremba

Organizations of all sizes experienced the challenges of abruptly transitioning to remote work when the COVID-19 pandemic forced offices to close. For small and midsize businesses with one location, managing distributed teams was a new experience that pushed them into a digital transformation.

But for many organizations, the pandemic highlighted an issue they were already facing: coordinating collaboration with remote teams within a distributed team.

In the past, you may not have given much thought to coordinating work amongst distributed employees. Two years ago, it was normal for leadership to manage a workforce spread out across different locations and time zones. And these different offices may have worked independently.

But 2020 showed us a workplace without walls and how distributed teams can work together more cohesively. Now, with hybrid offices and employees working together in new ways, organizations need to make adjustments and support teams with the right communication and collaboration solutions.

The ongoing needs of a distributed team

To meet the needs of your distributed team, you should recognize that remote teams and distributed teams are different. Even though your remote workers may be full-time employees, they connect with your company much like contractors. They log into your network through their own personal internet account or via public Wi-Fi. They can work from anywhere, and depending on their role within the company, they might make their own hours. A remote worker may be a full member of your distributed team, but for a variety of reasons, they are not in a situation where coming into the office on a regular basis is a possibility.

Distributed team members could be remote workers, but just as often, they are employees who are dispersed at locations all over the globe. They are coworkers who have little to no in-person interaction. Many are based in an office with coworkers, but the members of their work team aren't necessarily on location together.

On one hand, having talent working together from all over is a benefit to the company; on the other hand, team members may feel disconnected from each other. They may only know each other by voice or video calls. There are no in-person social interactions with each other. This is different from remote workers who can still come to the office for meetings or attend a coworker's happy hour to build camaraderie.  So how do you promote collaboration with remote teams?

Tools for collaboration with remote teams

It's up to corporate leadership to ensure that each member of the distributed team feels like they are a productive and accepted part of the work group and the company.

Cloud computing allows distributed teams to collaborate in near-real time and to have ongoing group conversations. There is a wide range of cloud-based tools that organizations can use to facilitate tasks such as tracking work hours, setting project deadlines, organizing multiple conversation threads so that important details don't get lost, and much more.

The pandemic brought greater awareness to the value of video meetings and face-to-face conversations. But "Zoom fatigue" is real, so organizations may want to consider other technology options that offer remote team building without constantly looking at a camera. This can include:

  • Business operations and project management platforms that let coworkers share documents and tasks for collaboration
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software to let customer-facing teams track areas such as sales reports, contacts and interactions with customers
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) that integrates different departments and functions across the organization, such as finances, supply chain management and CRM in one location
  • Human resources tools that let employees upload vacation schedules and billable hours and manage personal information required by the organization

Many of these tools can integrate with each other for a more streamlined collaboration experience across the distributed workforce. Additionally, if the budget doesn't include funding for collaborative tools, many current business platforms offer some of these options already, and they can be modified to the team's needs.

Remote work will certainly stick around in the post-pandemic world. But you can also expect to see more of a distributed workforce as employees make living choices that don't require cross-country moves. The more leadership can do to facilitate stronger collaboration with remote teams, the more productive the distributed workforce will be.

Want to learn more? Explore these key tips for successfully managing remote employees.

  • FAQ

What is a distributed team? +

A distributed team is a group of employees who work together on projects but are based in different locations that can make it difficult to meet in person.

How is a distributed team different from remote workers? +

Remote workers have the option to work together in the same location. Distributed teams are geographically separated, whether in different office buildings, cities or countries.

How do distributed teams benefit the organization? +

A distributed workforce allows employees to work where they are without having to move. Companies that require 24-hour coverage can spread these jobs across time zones so someone is always working. Offices may be located in less expensive areas to cut down on costs. Employees may also benefit from a better work-life balance.

How does technology allow cooperative teamwork? +

Tools designed for collaborative work can allow team members to share documents and files, communicate in near-real time on projects and work regular hours in their own time zone. Virtual meetings can let team members work as if they are at a conference table, with shared screens, and meetings can be recorded for future reference.