How businesses are thriving with distributed teams (and what you can learn from them)

Finding and hiring your next employee used to be defined by geography, but in today’s business world, technology allows you to disregard borders. And as a result, distributed teams are becoming one of the most common ways to organize the modern workforce.

How businesses are thriving with distributed teams

To see this in action, look no further than tech giant Google. They recently revealed how their company collaborates across the world:

  • 48% of meetings involve employees working from two or more buildings

  • 39% of meetings involve two or more cities

  • 30% of meetings involve two or more time zones

More importantly, after a two-year study on the impact of a distributed workforce, Google researchers determined that regardless of the distance between colleagues, they have maintained the level of quality expected in the organization. They have noticed little to no difference in workplace effectiveness, performance ratings, or opportunities for promotions.

With distributed workforces, not only are performance standards maintained, but additional research shows that an organization can also realize unique benefits, too.

Working with a larger pool of talent

Gone are the days of limiting your hiring resources to local candidates. For example, if you live in California, but discovered a top candidate in Iowa, technology bridges the gap of distance, and allows you to interview, onboard and continually collaborate with the person as if they were sitting at the next desk over.  

For instance, Help Scout, a help desk software company, has 75 people on their remote team, distributed across more than 50 cities, in over 12 countries.

In a company blog post, Nick Francis, CEO, and co-founder of Help Scout said they strive to make remote work synonymous with their brand. "Remote culture has to be an inalterable part of your company's DNA, which is why it's hard for companies to change once they've chosen a way of working," he said.

By working without regard to geography, Help Scout has been able to focus their efforts on building a diverse workplace. "As a remote team, by way of having a larger talent pool, your opportunity to hire people from underrepresented groups is far greater," Francis said.

Reduced costs on ‘bad hires’

With a vast pool of talent, you can find candidates who are more closely aligned with your position and industry needs. Consider the amount of  'bad hires' your organization has made in the past, perhaps due to lack of talent or urgency to fill a job opening.

How long did that employee last for?

Hiring the wrong people is a common, and expensive mistake. It frequently happens when candidate pools are limited. Jörgen Sundberg, CEO of LinkHumans, found the cost of onboarding an employee amounts to $240,000. When an employee leaves after 30, 60, or even 90 days, an organization can’t recoup those costs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of an employee's first-year earnings.

By widening your talent pool, and having more options for a good hire—one that fits with your job description and company vision—you can start to minimize the costs of frivolous onboarding and high turnover.

Providing around-the-clock service

Imagine this: You have a customer service employee who lives and works in Portland, Oregon, and another located in London. There is an eight-hour time difference between the two employees, which means your organization has eight hours more coverage than single location businesses.  If you have clients in need of customer service, or potential clients interested in your service or product, they now have more hours in their day to reach you. In this case, breaking down borders makes for a convenient and improved client experience — a huge business win that can set you apart from your competitors.

This scenario is a reality for social media platform Buffer. The Buffer team is currently made up of 83 members who work from multiple countries and continents. Having employees across time zones, according to CEO and co-founder Joel Gascoigne, allows team members to respond to customers around the clock.

"We obsessively track the happiness of our customers and our speed to respond to them," Gascoigne wrote. "We have more than a million users and we reply to 80 percent of emails within one hour. We couldn't achieve this level of service without being spread across multiple time zones."

Because their team is distributed globally, customers get service no matter what time it is.

Improving workflows and processes

Workflows and processes are the foundation for workplace productivity. These foundational elements work best when written down and followed religiously. However, structure can easily fall by the wayside when employees collaborate in-person; processes become more fluid.

This might not seem like an issue, however, as employees inevitably leave, reproducing processes can be complicated if changes are made without documentation and widespread communication.

A distributed workforce has reinforced the importance of well-documented processes and proven again how structure improves productivity.

Take, for instance, Two Roads, a bookkeeping and tax firm, that has a total of 22 employees, 19 of who work remotely. To make their dynamic work, their processes and workflows needed improvement. Fortunately, technology by Karbon helped bridge this gap.

"We are now so much more confident in our communication and ability to scale," said Adam Slack, founder and principal of Two Roads. "If one staff member were to leave, I know I can re-assign all their recurring work in Karbon."

And when a new hire comes on board, Two Roads can get them up and running – quickly and efficiently.

"They know exactly what to do, and we can track whether they do it," he said.

How to be effective with distributed teams

Whether you’re building or working in a distributed team, empowering communication across the company should be your primary focus.