Distributed Team Tip #7 – Know each others availability

The reality of modern business is that many of our teams are spread across locations and time zones. In some cases, this is because of where we we live and work, other times it is due to flexible work arrangements which help us balance our lives. This series covers the trade-offs we make to build active, efficient and engaged teams across the divide of location and time.

Imagine working in a team but not knowing who else was in your team or when they worked

I have consulted to and worked with people who are unclear who is in their team, when they work and how to get in touch with them. Sometimes this may be a result of management not confirming organisational structure, however often it is due to remote or flexible working – people may be names on a page and nothing more.

The result of not knowing your team

There is confusion, low output and everyone is unhappy. Being unable to answer the question, “have we got everyone” results in unrest. People hold back from committing to the team if they feel the team is incomplete or unprepared. They can be stuck in a perpetual team “Forming” stage, not willing or able to risk the conflict required to progress to “Storming” without understanding the future structure of the team. Trust is delayed.. This results in:

  • Misalignment amongst individuals who are working towards different goals and priorities – fragmented output
  • Solutions and output is delivered focused on individual skill and knowledge – no innovation through cross skilling
  • People do not see their work integrating across the organisation delivering customers value – low morale

What can you do?

There are simple things that can be done to increase the sense that the team is complete. This includes people who work remotely or different hours.

  • Create a chart of when each person is available – this can be on a whiteboard, website or a regular email update and allows the team to plan catch ups individual and as a group
  • Agree some time slots which team members keep clear for team catch-ups – this is particularly useful when teams cross time zones and the overlap periods are frequently booked out
  • Use a tool which shows availability – many chat tools show a person’s status such as away, on holiday or online, enabling people in different locations to see when you are free to be contacted

Why bother?

Communication is hard. People hesitate, procrastinate and even avoid reaching out if they don’t expect their contact to be welcomed. Effective practices to build a shared understanding across the team of when each member is likely to be available removes one of the hurdles.

Frequent communication leads to good collaboration
Infrequent communication makes collaboration harder
  • The more frequently team members interact, the more comfortable they will be with each other
  • As people become more comfortable with each other, communication becomes more active, leading to better professional and social outcomes
  • Teams which deliver excellent results and enjoy doing so have greater employee engagement