The Three Types of Remote Teams

written by Kevin Eikenberry

To call any team where not everyone works in the same location a remote or virtual team, is descriptive, but not overly helpful.  It would be like saying you are looking at is a snake; that tells you something, but there are many types of snakes, some poisonous, some not, some want to squeeze you if angry, others want to bite you to make you their lunch. (No, I’m not saying your team members are snakes, I’m just making, a hopefully interesting, analogy). For our purpose here, I believe there are three distinct and unique types of remote teams.

As the co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute http://RemoteLeadershipInstitute.com) and co-author of the forthcoming book The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership (http://LongDistanceLeaderBook.com), I have worked with a wide variety of leaders and organizations with remote teams. That experience, plus being a leader of a remote team myself, shows me that thinking about the type of team you lead is important.

My goal here is two-fold: to provide some nomenclature, so that those who care have some more tangible ways to think about and understand their unique teams, and to use that description to lead their specific team more successfully.

The Types

Fully Remote Teams – Everyone on the team works in different locations; whether from home, or a separate office.  In a fully remote team each member is separated, as is the leader themselves.  If you as a leader share office space or a location with one or more of your team, this isn’t your team.  Read on.

Hybrid Teams – In a hybrid teams, some people are centralized, while others are remote – working at a distance from each other.  Most commonly, hybrid teams exist when the leader and part of the team are co-located, and the rest are not.  A subset of hybrid teams occurs if part of your team is in one office, and some others are co-located in other offices in different locations.  Hybrid teams have some characteristics and considerations of a remote team, but not everyone is remote.

Flex Teams – This is the third type of remote team – perhaps the type growing most rapidly. In a flex team people are co-located part or some of the time, but also work remotely.  This could include work groups where people do a lot of business travel, but more specifically a flex team exists when people work from home (tele-work) one or two days a week, or come to the office one or two days a week.

With these quick descriptions, clearly, like snakes, not all remote teams are created equally.

While that might be enlightening, the big point here is, as a leader, what do you do with that information?

The Leaders Next Steps

We don’t have space for all the nuances here, but I can give you several steps that may immediately help you lead a remote team more successfully.

  1. Diagnose.  Think about your team situation.  Which type of team do you have?
  2. Look backward.  Has the situation with your team changed? For example: perhaps you used to be co-located, but now some people are teleworking. Congratulations – you have a Flex Team now.  If this has changed and you haven’t changed your approaches, now is the time to think more about that. The next three suggestions will really help you.
  3. Think about the challenges your team is experiencing. Does the type of team you have shed light on why the conflicts, miscommunications or missed handoffs are happening?  If so, it isn’t just about the people, it is about the processes in place.  Think about the real nature of the work as you address the challenges and frustrations.
  4. Consider your focus. This is especially important if you have a hybrid or flex team. Is your focus on those always remote, or do you tend to spend more time with, give more coaching and opportunities to those who are in the office all (or some) of the time?  Even if you feel you have a balance in your focus, what does the team think?
  5. Consider everyone’s needs. Think about work processes like meetings, social gathering and more.  Are you meeting the unique needs of everyone on the team in these regards?

There is more you can consider, yet these five suggestions, when implemented, will help your team become more successful, and help you be less stressed and more productive.

If you would like to learn more about leading your remote teams more successfully, please visit RemoteLeadershipInstitute.com for more advice and insight.

HRDQ-U and Kevin Eikenberry hosted a free webinar you can Watch here! 

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