The appeal, and necessity, for businesses to build and work with distributed teams is on the rise, and all indications are that this remote working trend will continue to grow. The distributed team model — whether managing an onshore, but remote team, an offshore engineering team, or a mixture of the two — means HR directors and CTOs may not get a chance to interact with their remote workers in person, which is a professional reality that can present some interesting managerial challenges. Executives need to learn how to communicate and work effectively with remote teams in order to take advantage of the exceptional creative and engineering talent a distributed team can provide to any organization.

According to a recent survey by Buffer, a social media management software firm, “90% of remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers.” Among those surveyed, 94% said they actively encourage others to work remotely as well. These statistics reinforce the fact that decentralized, remote development teams are here to stay.

Here are 4 essential steps to recruiting augmented staff, building distributed teams, and successfully managing those teams over time:

1. Partner With a Staffing Firm to Build a Distributed Team

Building, and then managing a distributed team often seems like a daunting task. One of the most effectual ways to overcome the challenges of finding, interviewing and onboarding remote workers from scratch is to partner with an experienced staffing vendor. Staff augmentation agencies can administer the entire staffing process on an ongoing basis. A company that simply posts an ad for remote engineers on a job site like LinkedIn or Upwork, then hires and cobbles together a remote team on its own, has a higher probability of running into some personnel related issues down the line.

Staff augmentation agencies can help organizations build and manage distributed teams during every step of the hiring and onboarding process by taking care of many essential activities such as:

  • Staffing agencies will recruit and vet remote candidates that match a development team’s staffing requirements, based on a needs assessment that prioritizes the skills and educational background a client is searching for in a candidate.

  • Staff augmentation firms can provide skills tests for job candidates, and thoroughly check a candidate’s references and work history.

  • IT staff augmentation vendors can tap into a large reservoir of previously vetted technical or creative talent. This pool of established candidates helps clients build professional distributed teams as quickly as possible.

  • Experienced staff augmentation providers can evaluate supplementary staff on a continual basis, while adjusting a remote team’s working hours (based on time zone differences), if needed, to match a client’s preferred operational hours.

  • Staffing agencies like BXGI will train remote workers on a client’s management style, internal communication protocols, corporate culture, and overall expectations related to remote staff. This training allows for a smoother integration of remote teams with full-time employees, project leaders and managers.

  • A staffing vendor can set up remote communication tools to deal with daily/weekly work assignments, and to monitor or address any queries (from project managers or remote staff) that might arise during an ongoing project.

  • Technical staffing services can manage different aspects of the onboarding process, as stipulated by the client, which may include: additional staff training, providing technical equipment, setting up remote workstations, 24-hour IT support, handling contracts and payroll administration, or dealing with any other contractual HR issues that may arise.

2. Set Up Effective Communication Systems and Protocols

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Remote communication can distort the normal pace of our conversations.” Virtual Distance, which is a distant feeling people have from one another when physically separated, often surfaces when working with distributed teams. The stronger the virtual distance is between a remote development team and a client, the higher the chances of possible communication issues arising. The best way to overcome complications caused by virtual distance is to set up clearly defined communication systems and protocols.

BXGI believes that well-defined communication protocols help minimize glitches in intra-team interactions that sometimes come with geographical and virtual distances. After implementing a client’s preferred cloud or SaaS based communication systems — including real-time video conferencing (Zoom, Google Meet, UberConference, Skype, etc.), realtime chat (Slack, Facebook Workplace, Skype, etc.), as well as information radiator visual displays that track and update a project’s progress - communication protocols need to be quickly established.

For example, regularly scheduled video conference calls can promote actual “face” time with remote team members, establishing intra-team empathy, which comes from the ability to see human gestures, facial expressions, and hear someone’s tone of voice. These “human” ways of communicating (not readily apparent through text messages) can build a stronger foundation of trust, based on more intimate modes of communication

Clear rules about when remote team members can contact project managers or scrum masters via a chat application can also help foster better communication, while keeping everyone happier and more productive. Remote and in-house staff will know when they can discuss project tasks or creative issues with one another, without having to worry about being woken up in the middle of the night, which sometimes can lead to misunderstandings and irritable staff (remote or in the office) the following day.

By taking advantage of user-friendly communication systems and setting up protocols around how those systems are used, businesses working with remote teams can reduce the disconnect that often comes with virtual distance. These communication protocols will, in turn, boost intra-team empathy and morale, which can bridge communication gaps across cultural divides, ensuring that no team member feels like they’ve been left out of the development loop, or are falling behind.

3. Build a Cooperative Team Culture

Businesses that create a cooperative team culture that strives to include every team member in the overall ethos of the company, regardless of geographical location or cultural differences, will get the most out of their remote teams by laying down a foundation of trust between local and remote workers. This trusting relationship strengthens the team culture needed to successfully create great products and services. A sense of a shared culture can be further reinforced by implementing an inclusive managerial approach. Here are a few tips to help engineering and HR executives build cooperative team environments:

Embrace Ceremonies and Rituals: Companies working on creative, engineering, or agile development projects — or any other type of project, for that matter — often develop internal ceremonies and rituals over time to mark the completion of different phases, or to celebrate when a programming obstacle is overcome. This might mean lunch is free or brought in for the day, or everyone gets together and sings a silly song, or has a drink and eats something sweet. By including remote workers in these rituals, and adjusting slightly for time zone or cultural differences (singing on Zoom, for example, or taking into consideration dietary restrictions for offshore staff), distributed team members will be further integrated into the company culture, and made to feel a part of the greater whole.

Set Up “Open” Communication Channels: As we’ve already discussed, setting up effective communication systems and protocols is a vital part of working with remote teams. But once those systems and protocols are set up, it’s important that internal communication channels remain open and free. Remote staff should feel comfortable enough to politely raise any questions or issues they might have with project managers when those issues arise. Great communication tools are of little value if the company culture stifles actual communication, or remote workers are too afraid to use those tools.

Instill Company Values through Training and Team Building Events: Even if a company can’t afford to bring global staff together for a single team building event, locally-coordinated events (for development teams in India or Ukraine, for example) can do a lot to educate, and boost staff morale. Adventure-based team building activities like zip line courses or escape rooms can build team spirit among remote staff. Periodical training conducted via internal communication systems, which includes both local and remote workers, is another way to instill company values in remote teams, while making sure everyone is operating under the same professional standards.

4. Create a Trusting Work Environment that Promotes Responsibility

Once project managers, remote staff, effective communication systems and an inclusive culture for offshore and nearshore development teams have been hired and established, it’s time to hand over a certain amount of responsibility to remote teams. While it’s important to monitor the quality of outcome, it’s also important to let remote workers operate as independently as possible — once the project development parameters have been clearly defined.

According to Gallup, trust and belonging are essential factors that come into play when managing remote staff: “When employees don't trust organizational leadership, their chances of being engaged are one in 12. But when that trust is established, the chances of engagement skyrocket to better than one in two.” Businesses that create a sense of trust and community with remote teams and augmented staff will likely see a substantial increase in efficiency and job performance.

By engaging a competent staffing vendor, hiring the right team members and project managers, ensuring easy communication among employees, as well as nurturing cooperation and shared values between full-time and remote staff, companies can build effective distributed augmented teams that work together to help them achieve their business or product development goals.