Distributed teams aren’t just a new, trendy way to refer to hybrid teams. They’re an entirely different dynamic that brings together talent from across the globe. And in some ways, they might be a better fit in the future of work than hybrid teams are – read on to find out why.

What is a distributed team?

A distributed team is a team where all members work from different cities. They don’t work from one primary location, and they rarely (if ever) meet in person unless on a specific business trip, in-person client meeting, or conference.

Their time zones might vary, and their schedules are different, but ultimately, if done right, they’re solid examples of good communication and teamwork. A study from the Harvard Business Review shows that distributed teams were more efficient than local teams at ensuring the completion of projects and that local teams were quicker to abandon failing projects and slower to accomplish successful ones.

What’s the difference between a distributed team and a remote team?

Distributed teams and remote teams have several distinctive differing characteristics. Remote teams are comprised of employees who work from home, yet all share the same office. Additionally, hybrid teams are also different, as they can have several members at the same office and several others working from home. In a distributed team, however, no one is in the same location. Even if each team member is located at a different global office, they don’t have one central place to reconvene. Distributed team members may also work from home.

Benefits of distributed teams

While in-person or hybrid teams might seem like the way of the future, distributed teams also provide a refreshing and progressive way to work. They allow for certain things that remote teams might not be able to accommodate: increased freedom, productivity, flexibility, and enhanced company culture.

1. A global footprint

One significant feature of a distributed team is its natural global footprint. Even if you’re a small company, having global talent can be a great way to find skilled workers and expand your outreach. Of course, there are many highlights of finding talent on the international stage, such as an increased hiring pool and additional cultural perspectives. However, another bonus is that employees from different countries have different networks, and they can familiarize others with your brand in a way that parallels grassroots marketing.

2. A flexible schedule

Since the pandemic, flexible work schedules have become a tremendous priority for those exploring the job market. And there’s no better place to test out a flexible schedule than a distributed team. Differing time zones and continuous asynchronous communication allow employees to have a little more autonomy as to when and how they’ll be working. And in an era where 43% of workers report higher productivity levels with a flexible schedule, this level of independence will make employees happy, and companies prosper.

3. Productivity skyrockets

Studies continually show that distributed workforces are hotbeds of productivity. A Stanford report shows that employees who work separately from their teams experienced fewer distractions and took shorter breaks. In keeping relationships with teammates more structured and providing adequate team bonding in addition to reasonable meetings, distributed teams are capable of something other teams might find troublesome. They obtain the perfect balance of individual and group-based work to facilitate maximum productivity.

4. A culture of freedom

Finally, a distributed team fosters a new type of company culture. From management’s perspective, hard workers with flexible schedules and global connections can serve as an ideal for others to achieve. Happy, worldly team members with cultural sensitivity and communication skills that transcend time zones or language barriers are excellent role models for others around their local office. And from a team member’s perspective, having an unconventional team dynamic can feel exciting, invigorating, and inspiring.

What does a distributed team need to succeed?

While these teams are effective when they work well, they can also fall apart if every coworker isn’t investing the right energy in refining their collaboration techniques. In order to function well, a distributed team needs good boundaries, great tech, and an excellent leader to provide them with the framework to flourish.

Communicating boundaries

A distributed team’s most important tool for success is incredible communication skills. They’ve got to be adept at both synchronous and asynchronous communication, scheduling, resolving conflict, and prioritizing. And most importantly, they’ve got to know how to set appropriate boundaries.

Sometimes it can be difficult for distributed teams to manage their availability. It can feel like you need to be on the clock constantly to be available for teammates who may be working at hours that you’re not. A way to manage these potential hiccups involves setting boundaries. Team members can clearly delineate when they’re reachable by allowing other teammates to see free time in their calendars or openly discussing their bandwidth in meetings.

Amazing digital tools

Of course, no team is complete without a great set of digital tools – and a distributed team needs them more than most. A survey from How Life Unfolds showed that 75% of respondents believe that remote work has created a sense of “digital overload.” This could cause considerable burnout on a distributed team that solely relies on remote work tools for its communication needs.

As digital tools are the only way a distributed team can communicate, it’s important not to muddle interactions with too many different channels, platforms, or types of software. To avoid tech-related burnout, try finding a program that allows for software integration.

A solid manager

Lastly, a distributed team won’t succeed without a good leader at the helm. A great distributed team manager will help navigate different time zones, problem-solve potential misunderstandings, and foster an environment of trust.

Like any good manager, they should be clear and concise about their expectations but open to feedback. However, a distributed team manager also needs to continually invest in team culture by making an effort to organize social interactions between teammates, like virtual coffee breaks.