Aug 15, 2023

Five Cs of Distributed Teams: How To Work Together When You Are Apart

Our attitudes toward remote work have changed considerably, with employees even choosing remote work flexibility over getting a pay raise. Companies that have moved to distributed teams have largely done so to meet a difficult labor market and keep wage growth under control; up to 52% of larger companies surveyed used remote work to successfully deal with inflation costs.   

Moving to distributed teams can ease financial pain points, and employees love it, too, but how can leaders maintain motivation and productivity across the miles? Here are five ideas for helping distributed team members collaborate, communicate, and continue to deliver great service to customers, regardless of where they work.

What is a distributed team?

A distributed team is a group of employees, freelancers, or contractors from various locations that work together. They may or may not have a centralized, physical workspace that they can use, or they may work 100% virtually from anywhere in the world.

Distributed and remote teams face common obstacles: isolation, distraction, scheduling challenges, and the lack of in-person interactions, to name a few.

But there’s much to be gained as well, including enhanced engagement, productivity, and creativity. Businesses may also reduce costs on physical office space (including insurance, property tax, and utility costs), in addition to being able to offer remote work as a “work perk” that may be more affordable than other employee benefits.

Best practices for distributed teams

Customer support and success managers have unique work challenges, especially when it comes to connecting teams and keeping everyone on the same page. Yet, it’s more than possible to create positive outcomes.

Here are the “five Cs” for successfully managing a distributed workforce:

1. Consistency: Provide daily structure for your distributed team.

Structure is important in any workplace. It becomes even more essential in a virtual office, where team members work in isolation and don’t interact in person with managers and colleagues. In the absence of an office’s daily rhythms, be sure to provide tools to help team members structure their days.

This could take the form of a short 15-minute standup meeting, where team members share what they’re working on and any problems or obstacles they’ve encountered. While this may initially feel like added work for you, remember that team transitions also provide opportunities to introduce new and better practices.

One of those practices is to embrace transparency and make it your friend, as the folks at Trello recommend. Be sure to share calendars and meeting availability windows between team members. This is the best practice for a distributed team, where team members work in different locations and time zones.

Also, check in with each team member every day. Yes, it is a lot of work. But it will completely transform the experience from disconnected to connected, allowing you to assess your team members’ state of mind and provide a little bit of much-needed kindness and warmth.

2. Collaboration: Foster teamwork with tech huddles.

Whatever your customer model, team synergy is key. In a typical office setting, collaboration happens every day in break rooms, along hallways, and across worktables, more than in Slack or other apps. Distributed teams don’t have in-person common areas where impromptu brainstorms and catch-ups occur. But entire teams don’t need to be in the same physical location to produce outstanding work.

Here are some actionable ideas:

  • Organize daily technical huddles to review tough customer cases and provide on-the-spot suggestions. These huddles can also occur with your colleagues on the engineering team and address tech issues and product updates.
  • Use a video-conferencing tool to provide “face time” between virtual team members. Focus on situations where the case owner doesn’t know where to start and requires more urgent help.
  • Consider recording each video huddle and sharing it with other teams as needed.
  • Ask the recipients of these help sessions to write up what they learn in your knowledge base or company wiki. (It’s likely that other team members have experienced or will experience similar issues.)

Finally, agents often work in different time zones, but intelligent case routing technology can use this to your advantage. It flags cases in real time before they escalate and then routes them to the agents most likely to be online.

3. Competency: Build a skills matrix for your distributed team.

A critical obstacle for distributed teams is knowing who can help with what. A skills matrix provides a framework for identifying which team members have the skills to successfully complete a given project.

It also provides a road map to help identify:

  • What gaps exist in your team
  • Where training is needed
  • How team members’ abilities can be nurtured and developed
  • Your team’s strengths and shortcomings

Use it to make informed decisions and plans for future hiring.

How do you create one? There can be many approaches, but the most common skills matrix looks at both ability and interest. It’s not always possible to lean on those skilled employees who want to do a particular job. But an ideal work environment uses those who are passionate and prepared to handle each task given to them.

Be sure to consider the technology used for remote work in your skills assessment, too. Employees who are talented but have yet to achieve competency with a particular tool should be given time to master that tool, if possible. Update your skills matrix often to reflect individual growth in both skills and tech aptitude.

4. Communication: Make it intentional, frequent, and clear.

Lack of communication is already a common workplace challenge. For a distributed team to succeed, clear channels of team communication are critical. Nobody wants to read more emails, though, so consider these best practices:

  • Shift away from traditional (and tedious) email chains: Invest in instant messaging systems and other collaboration tools to keep your team members aligned on responsibilities, tasks, and goals.
  • Use video calls for your team meetings: Face-to-face interactions via Zoom, Teams, or Skype help build trust. Team members can read each other’s faces and body language just as they would in an office conference room.
  • Use public messaging channels when possible: They increase transparency and make information accessible to everyone.
  • Beware of over-communication: No employee likes the feeling of having a manager looking over their shoulder. Trust your team members, and allow them to focus on their work.

You can also integrate the latest intelligent technology to keep your teams doing their best work without excessive back and forth. SupportLogic’s intuitive case management tools ensure the right support agents are assigned the appropriate cases so they can efficiently handle them—no matter where they live. This means less time spent making calls to team members to figure out who can take the case. 

5. Connection: Keep it human.

Last but certainly not least, remember that your distributed workforce—despite all the technological wizardry at their fingertips—is still composed of human beings who need human connection. Include team-building activities in your weekly planning to counteract the social isolation that can occur for remote employees. Nothing can replace a weekly happy hour at your team’s favorite sports bar, but via a Zoom room, you can still create the same social opportunities that flourish in a physical office.

Many companies create Slack channels to allow employees to chat about fun, non-work-related topics, like #music, #movies, and #pets. Try holding a virtual office party or hosting a weekly trivia contest. Look to other companies, like Zendesk and Slack, for creative team-building ideas. A quick Google search reveals countless inventive ideas, whether through community coffee breaks or virtual karaoke. (Zapier even suggests how to do a book club remotely.)

In a virtual workspace, the sky’s the limit.

How a distributed team model creates results

While remote team members may not work together face-to-face, opportunities exist for them to be more collaborative and effective than ever before. You won’t even need a water-cooler conversation to feel connected.

Consider the case of Coveo. They used SupportLogic to augment customer support team skills to expertly route even those cases that agents weren’t as familiar with. They saw a 31% increase in first-day resolution and an overall case escalation reduction of 56%. SupportLogic’s intelligent routing got the right cases to the right agents and decreased mean time to resolution (MTTR) by 53%.

Are you looking to harness the power of your distributed teams to boost customer outcomes and business KPIs? Learn how SupportLogic can help you level up to your fullest potential, even with new employees.


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