Working in distributed teams

Quality together-time

This post series is a summary of my talk about the challenge working in distributed teams. Find the other parts here.

The few times you spend together with your employees face to face should be quality time!

If you have fixed the missing watercooler you are still not learning much about the personal quirks everyone has, but this is important for a good understanding of each others motivations and fears. That’s why you simply must bring everyone together regularly, at least every other month. Yes, this requires a lot of effort and it costs money! And to focus on getting everyone to know each other better, this occasion should not be spent with business-as-usual activities.

Focus on activities that require interaction and profit off physical presence which is doing retrospectives, doing 1-on-1s or even lunch and dinner.

For us it worked best to have all-hands on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remotees would travel on Monday and Thursday which left the weekend untouched for them and also prices for flights are lower if you don’t travel on fridays or the weekends.

And this is the important part: you need to make sure that they feel the effort of traveling is worth it.

Protip #4: Plan every hour - make their stay worthwile!

When bringing people together for an all-hands meeting it is important to not only take care of their activities during the day but the complete trip has to be planned and prepared in advance. You need to be their host! This may sound superfluous but I for me this is an import part of making room for the connection building part that is the purpose of these events.

  • Take care of their individual travel preferences.
  • Let them arrive on the afternoon before so they are relaxed when the all-hands starts.
  • Pick them up on arrival because they are usually not accustomed to the local modes of transportation. Also take care of their departure!
  • Organize for their accomodation: staying with colleagues is awesome, but make this opt-in only, not everyone likes having people at their homes or staying over at other peoples places. Pay for hotels and don’t force them to share rooms.
  • Plan the days but also the evening activities.

An important side note: especially remote work is attractive for people that are introverts. Therefore it is important for every group activity you plan to keep this in mind. You should always find a polite way to offer everyone a way to opt-out of an activity or provide an alternative that allows them to recharge.

Coming up: celebrate successes

Having everyone in one place is the perfect occasion to celebrate successes! This is not so easy as it sounds: because we are pushing out updates to our products every day, a natural date to celebrate does no longer manifest itself. As a manager we have to take care of this, too. Read about it in Part 3 of this series.