6 Challenges of Managing Geographically Distributed Teams

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 14, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A geographically distributed team is one with members who don't all work or live together in the same area. Teams that have remote workers or hire contractors or freelancers outside of their location are geographically distributed. If you're a manager or team leader for a geographically distributed team, learning more about potential challenges and how to overcome them can be beneficial. In this article, we explain what a geographically distributed team is, list six challenges they may face, provide solutions and offer helpful management tips.

Related: How To Be Successful as a Virtual Team Manager

What does it mean to manage a geographically distributed team?

A geographically distributed team has members who live and work in different areas. This can often mean many of the members of the team work remotely or from home. Some geographically distributed teams have offices and remote workers, while others conduct their work entirely with remote workers and no base office. These are some of the benefits of geographically distributed teams:

  • Gain multiple work perspectives: By hiring people from different states or countries, you can create a more diverse team and gain the advantage of multiple perspectives. For example, someone with experience from a different location may offer insight on marketing or outreach in that area.

  • Pursue talent not based on location: Working with remote team members offers you the opportunity to find talent outside of the geographic office location. The benefit of remote work and a wide range of hiring opportunities can make it easier to hire for roles.

  • Improve customer service coverage: When you have team members from different time zones, they can overlap and help you provide more consistent customer service coverage.

  • Lower costs for office and operation: By hiring remote workers, you can use a smaller office and decrease expenses. If the geographically diverse team you manage is completely remote, it can totally eliminate office expenses.

Related: How To Search for Remote Work on Indeed

6 challenges in managing a geographically distributed team

Remote work has many benefits for both teams and management, and can often increase team member satisfaction and work-life balance. Depending on the team and the company, there may also be obstacles to productivity and engagement in geographically distributed teams. Here are some common challenges you may face when managing a geographically distributed team, along with the solutions you can use to overcome them:

1. Less engagement than in-person teams

Engagement is a term that refers to how invested a team member is in their team and company, and how likely they are to contribute additional energy for its success. When team members don't physically see one another each day and interact with office culture, it can make it more difficult for them to have high engagement rates. When engagement falls, team members may be less likely to take on new projects, focus on career advancement and offer to help with large workloads.

Solution: To help boost team member engagement in remote or geographically diverse teams, you can focus on scheduling and holding team-building exercises and events. Consider the events a normal, in-person office may hold, like holiday parties and trivia events. By scheduling these events and encouraging team members to attend, you offer them opportunities to get to know their colleagues and invest in team and company success.

Related: Shifting To Remote Work: 11 Tips for Successful Project Management

2. Difficulty developing relationships

For many careers and in many industries, networking is an important part of career advancement. When you manage a geographically distributed team, it can be more difficult to ensure the team can develop professional relationships. Without physical proximity, the staff on your team likely only speak with colleagues who work directly with them, rather than socializing with people from other departments or teams.

Solution: To help your team create strong professional relationships with one another, there are several strategies you can choose. You may develop a mentorship program in which new team members or those with less experience can speak with mentors regularly. A system in which new hires can have phone or video calls with their colleagues to learn more about the team member experience can also be helpful. Consider allowing team members to create groups in which they can interact with one another and discuss hobbies and interests.

3. Unproductive work environments

When many of your team members work in a location outside of an office, it can make it difficult to find productive work environments. Many remote workers work from home, using a laptop or personal desktop to complete their work, but other responsibilities like pets, children and household tasks can distract them from their professional responsibilities.

Solution: There are many things you can do to help your team members create and use more productive work environments. You may provide a stipend for home office supplies like desks, computers, chairs and noise-canceling headphones. Another strategy can be to offer memberships for co-working spaces near the team member in which they can find a focused and productive space.

Related: Everything You Should Know About Working From Home

4. Opportunity for miscommunication

When some or all of your team members work remotely, most communication likely happens through emails or direct messaging. This can create the opportunity for miscommunications because written communication rarely allows for the same intonation and body language as verbal communication. When communicating with team members using messaging or email, you may accidentally convey a tone other than what you mean.

Solution: To avoid miscommunication, consider holding a daily video conference in which each person on the team can update others and share information. Video calls can be great tools because they allow team members to see facial expressions and interpret the body language their colleagues use. When staff members connect with one another through video calls, it can help to reduce miscommunication.

5. Culture and language differences

Depending on your team and company, you may work with people from around the country or the world who have varying cultures, languages and dialects. Sometimes, differences in culture and behavior can make it difficult for team members to operate as efficiently as possible together. Variances in language and dialect can also create the opportunity for miscommunication. For example, a word or phrase can mean different things depending on where someone lives, which may create miscommunication.

Solution: To avoid language differences, you can ask team members to avoid using idioms or confusing language that some may not understand for professional correspondence. You can help staff learn about each other's cultures by asking questions and encouraging healthy discussions. One way to show you value each team member's background and differences is ensuring you offer time off for each person's cultural holidays.

6. Diverse time zones for different staff

As your team becomes more diverse geographically, that can make it more difficult for them to communicate through time zone differences. While this can be beneficial for clients or customers who may have more opportunities to communicate with your team members, it can make scheduling meetings challenging. This can be especially true when only a few team members live in a time zone, as it may not be enough to form a location-based team.

Solution: You can make scheduling meetings more efficient by using a calendar system that allows each team member to choose the time that works best for them. By doing this, you can choose days and times that allow more of your team to attend the meeting. You may also consider recording a video call and sharing materials like slideshows or documents following the meeting so those who can't attend can still read through the information. You can also communicate with team members and inform them that they can contact you outside of normal work hours to accommodate time differences.

Related: 16 Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Tips for effective distributed team management

These are some tips you can use to improve your leadership and manage your team more effectively:

  • Communicate defined expectations. Explaining your expectations to remote team members after hiring them is an important way to ensure they understand their role. This can include detailing when you expect them to be online, how long responses can take and the work you expect them to complete.

  • Use a recorded communication method. While phone and video calls can be useful for making connections, it's also important to support them with recorded communication methods. This can include emailing or direct messaging to have a record of the information you conveyed.

  • Take advantage of business technology. There are many remote workplace programs and systems you can use to help your team collaborate more effectively. Consider reviewing the options and choosing those specialized for your team's focus.

  • Avoid over managing remote staff. If it's your first time working with remote staff members, you may want to offer them more support and guidance than in-office team members. It's important to assess your management techniques and ensure you're not over-managing geographically diverse staff.

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