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Ideas for Setting Up Remote Teams

Organizations are increasingly working with remote teams, and discovering that it can be challenging to establishing a remote team and collaborate effectively with people in remote or distributed teams.

At the No Pants Festival 2015 Janis Janovskis gave a talk about how to set up a great remote team. InfoQ interviewed Janovskis on the challenges that remote teams can have and how they deal with them, working together in different time zones, using hangouts and experiments to establish remote teams and how to find the right people for remote or distributed teams.

InfoQ: What is the difference between remote and distributed teams? Why does it matter?

Janovskis: The difference between remote and distributed teams is as following. Distributed teams employ people that are working for the same business/organisation, but they do not need to be in the same office or even in the same country. Typical example could be a business branch in a different country - a daughter company. Remote teams are completely separate from the main business. A remote team is assumed to have it’s own inventory and workflow management. Communication to main business is usually handled by team leader/project manager. Organisations must understand that a distributed team can be remote, but a remote team can’t be called distributed. I think it is important for organisations to understand this difference in definitions between remote and distributed teams, it matters.

InfoQ: Can you describe some of the challenges that remote teams have?

Janovskis: The main challenges remote teams are facing have to do with less effective communication in Workflow. In case of an innovation this becomes a limitation for a business as such a process requires a lot of real time communication. Teams usually face issues with employee reward system, so they have to come up with something really creative like - "hugs". Some cases report challenges with building trust and the loss of body language. It is quite a challenging task to build trust when you can’t see actual hands working, so lots of teams come up with using various interactive tools, like Skype emotions.

InfoQ: How do they deal with those challenges?

Janovskis: Dealing with these challenges varies from organisation to organisation. The main emphasis is on communication, people are encouraged to let others know that they are in a certain state, for example frustration or anxiety or happiness, etc... Team members are also advised to let others know about their status changes, for instance when they are about to take a lunch or a coffee break. Hence, all those things you can see in the office and are obvious, but with remote teams have to "type" using a set of pre-defined tools.

InfoQ: What about time zones? Any advice on how to deal with teams that are distributed over different time zones?

Janovskis: This is not an easy task. Years ago when I was just a normal employee and did not have my own team I was working for a business in Australia. The way we managed it was a bit trivial but it worked - by setting a specific time for regular calls, I had 10:00 in London, they 19:00 in North East of Australia. This was crucial and I must say the very first thing we agreed on! Another example: Guys from Axelerant have developed a particular role in their organisation - time zone trackers. Main job for these people is to track time zones and support communication between them.

InfoQ: Hangouts, both physical and virtual are important for teams to effectively work together as you stated. Can you share some of your experiences with hangouts?

Janovskis: Firstly physical hangouts or retreat times - teams come together for social events. It can be as simple as Friday nigh at the agreed local pub or restaurant or as great as team retreats somewhere exotic and nice. These things really matter. Regularity depends on the geography your team covers, usually the wider it becomes the less frequent these real events will be, so you have to think on the quality of these and perhaps time as well as you won’t get people coming over for just a night.

Virtual hangouts are limitless, you can schedule them as often as possible. Try not to do it for a dull reason, choose a topic - for example someone on a team can prepare a nice 10-20 minute talk on an interesting subject. There can even be a rota of subjects giving opportunity to speak for everyone.

InfoQ: You talked about doing experiments for establishing remote or distributed teams. Can you give some examples?

Janovskis: You can experiment with the tools you use for recruiting people by testing them, if one does not give you any results try something different. You can also try different communication tools. I wouldn’t directly experiment with teams. As a leader you should have a vision on a kind of people your team can have, stick with that. Use your tools and personality to open up people, build trust and inner respect to each other.

InfoQ: Can you give some suggestion on how to find the right people for remote or distributed teams?

Janovskis: Any way is good. First try personal recommendations, in a digital world this is quite popular. Conferences, seminars, give a talk and socialise, you will spot something. Build up your business reputation, so that your name is known and you will get incoming traffic to your companies recruitment page. You can also try tools like or, this gives you a "test in action" opportunity by executing small and less risky tasks.

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