Managing distributed teams: 3 tips for practicing inclusive communication
May 10th, 2021
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One of the best parts of my job is how diverse my team is. As the Head of Revenue Marketing at Asana, the people I work with are spread across the globe and timezones. Even when everyone returns to the office, I’ll still have a distributed team with team members in the US, Asia, Europe, and Australia.
Given the makeup of my team, I had a lot of experience managing a distributed team even before the world suddenly shifted to remote work. With that experience, many people come to me for advice on how to navigate our current world since everyone is distributed at the moment.
One topic that comes up often is communication. When your team is distributed across the globe, how do you ensure seamless communication with everyone, no matter where they’re working? (As we’ve all experienced by now, that can be easier said than done.) So how do I make sure everyone on my team feels included and has the same information? Here are three tips I rely on as a leader of a distributed team:
1. Get comfortable with written communications
One of the biggest challenges with distributed or remote teams is that they experience information asymmetry. People who are working in satellite offices (or outside the office with the most team members) want insight into what’s happening in other offices, particularly at headquarters. If people aren’t aware of what’s happening in other offices, they’ll feel out of the loop and have trouble engaging with the team.
To remedy that asymmetry, set clear standards about written communications and be deliberate about what and when you communicate to your team. Avoid impromptu meetings or water cooler conversations with just part of your team. If you do make decisions or share information ad hoc, make sure to document and communicate that information with team members who aren’t in the same office as you. In addition to establishing inclusive communication practices for yourself as a leader, make sure that the rest of your team follows suit by codifying conversations in writing and sharing them with all relevant team members regardless of location.
2. Send weekly updates to your entire team
Even if you’re very good about sending written communications to everyone who needs to be included on a given task or conversation, it’s helpful to send weekly updates to the entire team. This ensures that nothing—and no one—falls through the cracks.
In my weekly update to the Regional Marketing team, I usually share:
- What I’ve been working on that week (including anything I’m struggling with)
- Information I hear from Sales, who are our key partners
- Relevant information from discussions with marketing and business leaders
- Key wins or learnings from other team members
- Reminders about our team values and culture
My weekly update may not always be groundbreaking, but it ensures that everyone on my team is working from the same baseline of information to do their jobs well. The update often prompts more conversation within the team, which I love.
3. Hold fewer team meetings
Because of the timezone challenges that come with a distributed team, I generally hold fewer meetings (another reason frequent and consistent written communication is so important). That said, even when everything is written down and communicated asynchronously, meetings are still important. They’re a good way to establish (and maintain) team culture and, at the end of the day, some conversations are easier to have face to face. Two key meetings on my team are:
- Bi-weekly meetings with my team leads. Due to timezone differences, these meetings, which happen every other week, are at very painful times for at least two of my leads. It’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. If your team has some incompatible time zones, make sure you’re respectful and appreciative that a few individuals are getting up way too early or staying up way too late for these calls. Keep them as short and impactful as possible and go into each one with a clear agenda.
- Monthly all hands with the whole team. For these meetings, I rotate the time to make them EMEA- and APAC-friendly. I also record them so that anyone who misses a meeting can catch up on their own time. These meetings are a mix of team bonding and work. Every month I choose one person on the team to give a five minute introduction of themselves in PechaKucha format—it’s a fun way to get to know people even if you don’t work directly with them. Then I’ll have one or two people talk about a recent project. I’ll wrap up with a chat about my vision for the team, our culture, our values, and what’s going well.
Know your team’s impact
Although there will inevitably be miscommunication or misunderstandings on a distributed team—this would happen even if everyone worked from the same conference room day in and day out—I find that these three tips make a world of difference.
A big part of my job is making sure that people feel comfortable, heard, and creating a sense of belonging on the team. If I succeed in doing that, then when miscommunications do happen, we’re able to resolve them quickly. More importantly, no one feels left out because they already know their impact on the team.
Looking for more tips and best practices on hybrid teamwork in a distributed world? Read more posts from our Managing distributed teams series.