4 common mistakes that affect distributed team efficiency

We explore common mistakes and how you can avoid them.

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The future of work is distributed. 73% of companies will be distributed by 2028, according to the Upwork Future Workforce Report. On top of that, 6 out of 7 managers believe that distributed workforces will be the future norm.

Companies are challenging the traditional way of working, with plenty of benefits. Consider how flexible working patterns are contributing to happier employees who are motivated, engaged, more productive, and satisfied with their jobs. All this, of course, is leading to more successful businesses.

But while distributed working comes with many benefits, it also comes with its share of difficulties. One of the challenges is decreased efficiency. A lot of distributed teams commit some common mistakes that reduce their efficiency, which, in turn, reduces their work quality and overall productivity.

You can mitigate distributed team efficiency issues, however—you just need to know what to look out for. What follows are four common mistakes that can affect your team’s efficiency, plus how you can avoid them.

4 mistakes that affect distributed team efficiency

Not creating space for informal conversations

In a co-located workplace, you can catch up with colleagues over lunch, share updates across cubicles, walk past someone’s desk on your way to grab a cup of coffee, or pop your head into a colleague’s office to clarify something.

All this may seem trivial, but it’s what helps teammates to connect, plus it holds the team together and keeps it running efficiently. But things are different for distributed teams.

Working remotely in various locations tends to minimize interaction as there’s no physical proximity. This can cause feelings of isolation among team members, leading to a significant loss in morale, productivity, and ultimately, efficiency.

You can counter this by:

  • Reserving time for daily or weekly one-on-one meets to see how each team member is doing and where they need support. Pay attention to people’s concerns, questions, and challenges, and work together to find solutions. Also, keep in mind that check-in meetings are meant to be brief and specific, so keep the agenda narrowly focused. 
  • Create a dedicated space for regular “watercooler” conversations on your company’s communication channel (for example Slack, WhatsApp, or Discord). Here, your team can have informal conversations that are not related to work, giving people the opportunity to get to know each other better. Your watercooler space may even help teammates to understand each other’s personalities and build collaboration.
  • Schedule a regular time primarily to catch up on each other’s lives, celebrate successes and milestones, and have general social chats.

When creating space for informal conversations, make sure to keep everything balanced. Too many check-ins and some people may end up feeling micromanaged and overwhelmed. On the other hand, too few check-ins can leave some team members feeling detached from the team.

Nonetheless, whatever frequency you choose, remember the goal of your conversations—to connect with team members and build relationships.

Not giving clear directions and setting clear expectations

As manager, you may be clear on what needs to be done, but that doesn’t automatically mean everyone is on the same page.

A lack of clarity is a problem for many companies. In fact, business leaders have highlighted that each week their teams lose an equivalent of nearly an entire workday to poor or unclear communications, according to Grammarly’s State of Business Communication survey.  

While there can be a lack of clarity and miscommunication at any company, the probability of these problems occurring is higher among distributed teams. Without face-to-face interactions, it’s easier for information to get lost in translation or for people to miss vital cues. Your team can also lose clarity when directions are hard to understand, have multiple meanings, or lack sufficient details.

This miscommunication and lack of clarity can be very costly. The Grammarly survey estimated that businesses lose $1.2 trillion to poor communication each year in the U.S. alone. That’s some seriously inefficient use of resources. 

Business lose $1.2 trillion to poor communication in the US per year

You can counter this by:

Ensuring that everyone on your team knows what they are supposed to do before tackling tasks. Some examples of information you need to provide to let your team know exactly what you’re looking for include:

  • Weekly projects that must be completed, and where to find the project information
  • Each project’s tasks, sub-tasks, and internal deadlines
  •  Precise instructions for each task
  •  The rough number of hours that a project will take to complete
  •  A contact tree with all team members and their contact information, such as emails or IDs for communication channels like Slack or Skype
  • Where team members should submit deliverables upon the completion of each task
  • Monthly and quarterly goals to surpass

Communicating directions and expectations well will help your team do their best work. For example, clear expectations can help offset the natural communication challenges of a distributed team, thereby improving productivity and efficiency across the board.

Not including remote employees in hybrid meetings

In in-person meetings, it’s easy for employees to chime in whenever they want to add to a conversation. This gets trickier in a hybrid setting. Remote employees may feel uneasy stepping into conversations, or they may be overlooked as the conversations focus on those team members who are physically present.

43% of remote workers say that they don’t feel included in hybrid meetings, according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index report. What’s more, only 27% of companies have put in place hybrid meeting measures to ensure that all employees feel included and engaged.

Over time, not being part of the conversation may leave team members with low morale, which will decrease their efficiency.

You can counter this by:

Spending a few minutes to pause and specifically ask for input from remote employees. This can go a long way in bringing more productive insights into the conversation and making the team function more efficiently.

Not setting clear work hours

A common assumption about remote work is that employees get away with not doing as much work as people working in an office, and so they must compensate for their laziness. In reality, a lot of distributed teams become vulnerable to burnout due to unclear work boundaries.

The 2021 Owl Labs State of Remote Work report showed that 55% of respondents worked more hours remotely than at the physical office. 

Remote employees work 16.8 more days every year

When working from home, the line between work and home is blurred. People will often not only find it difficult to switch off, but they will also stay in the work mindset indefinitely. Many employees will end up overworking, which will likely cause their productivity and efficiency to decrease over time.

You can counter this by:

  • Ensuring that your entire team is clear about their daily and weekly work hours
  • Encouraging team members to take regular breaks
  • Creating balanced distributed working policies that prioritize a good work-life balance and help employees to enforce boundaries
  •  Asking the team to switch off devices after work hours

Building distributed team efficiency the right way

Being efficient will help you get the most out of your business resources, allowing you to stay competitive and grow.

Granted, getting your distributed team’s efficiency up will require some work, but applying the tips outlined in this article will make things much easier. And remember that you can always increase your team’s efficiency by setting up your team correctly right from the start.

Oyster helps companies to thrive from anywhere. Whether you’re building, paying, or caring for your distributed team (thus helping them to increase their efficiency), Oyster can simplify everything.

Learn about how Oyster can help you grow and manage your distributed team

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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