The pandemic initially brought about remote work as a temporary solution. Yet, it has been proven to be sustainable and beneficial to both employers and employees. This could explain why a study by Stanford, Harvard, and other institutions supports the idea that remote work is becoming more and more common. It was found that 12.2% of job postings explicitly mention remote work in 2023, four times as many as before the pandemic.
However, job seekers should be aware that the 12.2% of job postings mentioning remote work is slightly lower than the 13.01% mentioning remote work in November 2022. This suggests that employers are advertising remote work less frequently.
Despite that, remote work appears to have a bright future. Approximately 22% of the American workforce will work remotely by 2025, according to Upwork. In this projection, remote work arrangements are projected to continue to shift slowly, but steadily.
How come? The future of remote work will be determined by several factors:
- Hybrid work is on the rise. Employees can now work some days remotely and other days in the office as part of hybrid work arrangements. Taking advantage of remote work while addressing challenges such as isolation and lack of collaboration is a good compromise for companies.
- Gig economy growth. Growth in the gig economy is expected to continue in the future. As a result, more independent contractors and freelancers will work remotely.
- Technological advancements. Remote workers will be able to collaborate more easily and feel connected to their teams with the help of new technologies, such as virtual reality and augmented reality.
- Workforce demographics are changing. Flexibility in the workplace is in high demand as the workforce grows more diverse.
Despite this, business leaders in the United States are discussing the increasing challenge of finding skilled employees and how to keep them long-term. Employees with certain job-related skills are in high demand. Using distributed and remote teams can be beneficial to the bottom line for the best and most innovative companies.
However, what is the difference between remote and distributed teams? Aren’t they the same if they’re both composed of virtual teams?
To put it simply, no. There is a fundamental difference between distributed and remote teams. As such, to be an effective business leader, you should understand how distributed and remote teams differ.
Distributed Teams 101
In a distributed team, people work together on a project or task but are not physically present at the same time. They can be working from different countries, cities, or even different parts of the same city. Depending on the situation, distributed teams can include full-time employees, contractors, or freelancers.
Unlike traditional teams, distributed teams do not require team members to report to headquarters or regional offices. In general, this is a 100% virtual office.
What is the best way for distributed teams to communicate and connect with one another? The team uses tools like video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management software.
Distributed teams have some of the following key characteristics:
- Each team member is located in a different geographical location. They may live in different time zones, are from different cultures, and have different work-life balances.
- There may never be a face-to-face meeting between team members. Because of this, it can be difficult to build relationships and trust when this is the case.
- Communication and collaboration between team members are facilitated by technology. As a result, they must be comfortable with video conferencing, instant messaging, and other communication tools.
- In comparison to traditional teams, distributed teams are more flexible and agile. Since they are not based at a single location or work during certain hours, they can work whenever they like.
- Compared to traditional teams, distributed teams can be more cost-effective. Because they do not require office space or travel expenses, they are cost-effective.
Examples of distributed teams include:
- An international team of software developers.
- To provide 24/7 customer support, a team of customer service representatives is located in different time zones.
- A global marketing team that works with freelancers and contractors.
- In a product team, engineers, designers, and product managers work in separate offices.
The pros and cons of distributed teams.
A distributed team can provide several benefits, including:
- Having access to a larger pool of talent. Regardless of the location, companies can hire the best candidates.
- A reduction in costs. By cutting office space and overhead costs, companies can save a great deal of money.
- A greater degree of flexibility. The ability to work from anywhere can improve the work-life balance of employees.
- Improved collaboration. It is now easier than ever to collaborate across distributed teams with the help of technology.
There are, however, some challenges associated with distributed teams, including:
- Problems with communication. Team members who do not interact face-to-face can find it challenging to build relationships and trust.
- Challenges associated with time zones. When team members are in different time zones, it can be difficult to coordinate meetings and work hours.
- Managing cultural differences. Misunderstandings may occur when team members have different cultural expectations.
It is still possible to work effectively with distributed teams, despite the challenges. Distributed teams can be a flexible and adaptable tool for companies when properly planned and implemented.
To manage a distributed team, follow these tips:
- Establish clear expectations and goals. Make sure everyone understands the goals of the project and what is expected of them.
- Invest in the right tools. To facilitate collaboration and communication among distributed teams, a variety of tools are available. The tools you choose will depend on the type of project and the needs of your team.
- Communication should be a priority. The success of any distributed team depends on effective communication. Ensure that you communicate with your team members regularly and effectively.
- Trust and rapport should be built. In a distributed team, it can be harder to build trust and rapport. Take the time to get to know your team members and establish relationships with them.
- Don’t be rigid. In a distributed team, things don’t always go as planned. As such, it is important to be flexible and adaptable.
If you decide to form a distributed team, be sure to carefully weigh the benefits and challenges. It is possible to have a successful distributed team if you plan and execute them carefully.
Remote Teams 101
There are some similarities between remote teams and distributed teams. It is not uncommon for remote team members to work in more than one location, just like distributed teams.
In contrast to distributed teams, remote teams generally have a central or regional office where employees can work full- or part-time. Whether the team is for sales, customer service, or call centers, businesses have many options for setting up remote teams.
Here are some examples:
- Some team members work remotely, while most work on-site.
- Occasionally, a member of the team works on-site while the rest work from home.
- The team primarily works on-site, but some team members work remotely part-time or full-time.
Each team member works for the same manager, regardless of where they are located. In some cases, companies may use remote teams for sales or support personnel who are inherently required to work outdoors most of the time due to space constraints or the nature of their work.
The pros and cons of remote teams.
Remote teams have the following benefits:
- Flexibility and work-life balance are improved. With an internet connection, remote workers can work from anywhere and set their own hours. Many people find it difficult to work a traditional office schedule due to their families, health issues, or other commitments.
- Cost reductions. Working remotely saves companies money on office costs, utilities, and other overhead costs. As a result, they will be able to save a significant amount of money.
- Increased productivity. The productivity of remote workers often exceeds that of their office-based counterparts, according to studies. The reason for this is that they are less likely to be interrupted and can arrange their workspace in a way that facilitates their productivity.
- Improved employee morale. Employees who work remotely often report feeling happier with their employers and jobs than those who work in an office. As a result, they often find it easier to balance work and home life since they have more freedom and flexibility.
- Access to talent. Teams that work remotely can provide businesses with access to a wider talent pool.
There are several challenges in working with remote teams, including the following:
- Communication. Having team members located in different locations can make communication more difficult. A clear and regular communication channel, such as instant messaging, video conferencing, and email, is vital.
- Culture. When team members are not interacting in person, creating and maintaining a strong team culture can be challenging. To build relationships and create a sense of community, it is necessary to establish communication with remote team members
- Collaboration. In situations where team members are not in the same room, collaboration can be more difficult. Team members should have access to tools and processes that make sharing ideas and working together easier.
- Motivation. Workers who work remotely may feel isolated and unmotivated at times. To keep remote workers engaged, it’s important to create a culture of communication and support.
- Management. Team management for remote employees can be more challenging than for office-based employees. Team members should be provided with regular feedback and be provided with clear expectations.
It is possible to have very successful remote teams despite the challenges. To create and maintain productive, efficient, and engaged remote teams, companies must carefully plan and implement the right strategies.
For effective remote team management, here are some tips:
- Set clear expectations and goals. Ensure everyone on the team understands what is expected of them and what the team’s goals are.
- Provide regular feedback. Feedback shouldn’t be left at the end of a project. To keep team members on track and improve, provide regular feedback.
- Use video conferencing. You can build relationships with your team members through video conferencing.
- Use project management tools. Teams can stay organized and on track with project management tools.
- Set regular check-ins. Communication lines need to be kept open and everyone needs to be on the same page by keeping regular check-ins.
- Create a virtual water cooler. Virtual water coolers allow team members to communicate and connect.
- Celebrate successes. It is important to celebrate both big and small accomplishments to motivate the team.
- Be flexible. You will need to be flexible and adaptable since things don’t always go according to plan.
You can reap the many benefits that remote teams offer if you can manage them effectively. As a result, the productivity, efficiency, and engagement of remote teams are higher than those based in offices. Additionally, they can improve employee morale and save companies money.
How to Choose Between Distributed Teams or Remote Teams
The terms “distributed teams” and “remote teams” are often used interchangeably. However, there is a key difference between them.
Distributed teams have members located in different parts of the world. Remote teams, on the other hand, are made up of members who may work from different places around the world, but who may also work from a central location.
To help you determine whether you should choose distributed teams or remote teams, consider these factors:
- Nature of the work. In some cases, remote work is more suitable than in others. Developing software, for example, can be done remotely effectively. Others, however, require employees to be available at a central location, such as customer service.
- Company culture. Some companies are more open to remote work than others. Distributed teams are a good fit for companies with strong collaboration and communication cultures. It may, however, be more challenging to implement a remote team if your company is more traditional.
- Time zone difference. You may find it difficult to coordinate meetings and work schedules if your team members are located in different time zones. You might be better off with distributed teams if your team members live in different time zones.
- Management style. A remote team’s success depends also on the organizational management style. For managers to be effective, they need to be able to trust their team members and give them the freedom to work independently.
- Availability of technology. For remote teams to communicate and collaborate effectively, they rely on technology. You should make sure your company is equipped with the necessary technology for remote working.
- Budget. Employees who work remotely must provide their own equipment and software, which can add to their costs. Don’t forget to take these costs into account when making your decision.
In the end, your organization’s needs determine which team is best for your organization: distributed or remote. You may still want to consider hybrid approaches, with some team members working remotely and others working onsite.
How do distributed teams differ from remote teams?
All members of a distributed team work remotely from different locations, and there is no central office. On the other hand, remote teams can have a central office, but some members may work from home.
What are the pros and cons of distributed teams?
- Increased access to talent. No matter where the team is located, distributed teams have access to a broader pool of talent.
- Reduced costs. The cost of office space, utilities, and other overhead can be reduced by distributing teams.
- Increased flexibility. Employees can have more flexibility in their work schedules when they work in distributed teams.
- Improved collaboration. Despite being in different locations, distributed teams can collaborate effectively using technology.
- Communication challenges. Due to time zone differences and cultural barriers, communication can be more difficult in distributed teams.
- Lack of face-to-face interaction. In distributed teams, relationships may not be built or conflict may not be resolved when face-to-face interactions are lacking.
- Management challenges. In managing distributed teams, managers need to ensure that team members are in the loop and stay connected.
What are the pros and cons of remote teams?
- Increased employee satisfaction. Employees with remote teams can achieve a better work-life balance and have more flexibility.
- Reduced commuting time. Rather than commuting to an office, remote workers can save time and money.
- Increased productivity. Since remote workers are not distracted by office distractions, they may be more productive.
- Isolation. Employees who work remotely may feel isolated from their colleagues and the company’s culture.
- Lack of face-to-face interaction. Employees who work remotely may miss out on the benefits of face-to-face interaction, such as building relationships and resolving conflicts.
- Management challenges. It can be challenging to manage remote teams since managers must ensure that they stay in touch with team members.
How do you effectively collaborate with remote and distributed teams?
For effective collaboration with remote and distributed teams, follow these tips:
- Use the right tools. Using video conferencing, project management software, and instant messaging can all help teams collaborate remotely.
- Set clear expectations. Communication, deadlines, and deliverables should be clearly communicated to everyone on the team.
- Don’t be reactive. Be proactive rather than waiting for problems to arise.
- Patience is key. Building trust and rapport in a remote team takes time.
- Be flexible. Team members may have different needs and constraints, so be willing to adapt to them.
How do you manage distributed teams?
For managing distributed teams, here are some tips:
- Establish clear goals and objectives. Team members should be aware of what they are working towards.
- Set regular check-ins. Discuss progress and stay connected with team members by scheduling regular meetings.
- Use technology to your advantage. The use of project management software and video conferencing can help you manage distributed teams.
- Be supportive and understanding. When managing a distributed team, be understanding and patient with each member.
Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels; Thank you!