Why distributed teams win

Have you heard the phrase “entrepreneurial spirit“? It’s all the rage in job listings these days. Entrepreneural spirit may mean a company is looking for anything from “someone with no email marketing background to grab the reigns” to “an idea person” to “someone who can handle a ton of ambiguity while we sort things out.” Gophering may or may not be involved (and by “may not” I mean “is”).

Whether you’re current career is with a small entrepreneur-ish start-up or with a growing business gaining some momentum, your capacity for two things can help determine whether you ride the wave or get crushed by it. I’m talking about flexibility andaccess to smart tools.

The former is about your capacity to adapt and respond as needed; the latter impacts your effectiveness. And when you’re part of a remote team, you’d better have buckets of both.

Cramer Development:  Distributed teams at work

Josh Cramer, founder and CEO of Cramer Development, a web development company headquartered in Iowa City, IA, discovered the importance of both flexibility and smart tools when he relocated to Iowa City from Des Moines a few years ago. His Des Moines, Iowa IT consulting company was already in place when he relocated to Iowa City. Clients, workspace, the whole shebang. The move forced Cramer to adopt a distributed team style of operations in order to maintain the thriving IT business while running the company (and starting a new one) from another office two and a half hours away.

Right brain flexibility

Cramer felt some of the intrinsic pains brought about by operating in separte geographies. But as his leadership style evolved and some processes were developed, the strategic advantages created by running a location-flexibilityindependent company became obvious. By focusing on the skill set and fit of prospective team members, Cramer is free tohire the right person for the job, rather than the right person within a 25-mile commute radius for the job.

Depending on the project, Cramer Development remote team members may work from Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Colorado, or other corners of the US. Because each employee is in complete control of their personal work environment – Hello, Foo Fighters. Goodbye, gum-smackers – everyone can eliminate the common distractions that lead to loss of productivity while amping up personal comforts (who hasn’t gotten twisted up at work about room temperature at one time or another?).

Left brain logic

Of course, working remotely from peers requires a strong commitment to organization and central access to work products. Someone can’t drop by, point to a section of a wireframe, and start a discussion. Everyone has to be thorough, detailed, and respectful of time tables. With so many pieces in motion – multiple time zones, rolling client feedback, work flow to name a few – creative work like web and application development must take on a certain left brain structure. Yes, chillaxed as a designer may be behind his standing desk, he has to add comments to the project thread and hop on to IMs. Work does not happen in a vacuum.

These tools help CramerDev teams run smoothly:

  • Redmine – project toolkit, wiki, push emails, RSS
  • Google Apps – calendar, documents, email and more
  • Skype – chat, video conference, phone calls
  • GitHub – collaborative environment for web coding

Josh spoke about the advantages of remote teams during SxSW 2011 and during a recent Silicon Prairie News podcast.  ”At the end of the day, people should do what works for them,” said Josh. “For us, being distributed really does work best. We are competing on a national level, so for most clients it doesn’t really matter where our office is located. In fact, I’m hearing from more and more new clients that they also run distributed teams.” Seems Josh and his clients aren’t alone. Nearly 90,000 new jobs involving online work were created in May, according to oDesk.

Tools and Tips for Remote teams

Itching to be part of a remote team, but not sure if it’ll fly? Read an article from the Harvard Business Review blog about how to gain internal support for flexible work. Here at oneforty, we have these tips to add (and are anxious to hear your experiences, if you’re part of a remote team):

Photo courtesy Alaskan Dude on Flickr.

Author’s note:  I first published this post, titled “How to make your remote team a success,” on the Oneforty blog July 1, 2011 as a contributing author. I’m cross-posting here so that Insights & Ingenuity readers might also learn and enjoy.

Disclosure: I’m a contributing author to the Workshifting blog. I receive no compensation or in-kind goods/courtesies for mentioning the Workshifting blog. Not an affiliate link. These are not the droids you are looking for.

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