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Small Business Tips

How distributed teams can help your business

Lisa Steinmann
business worker at home teleconferencing with co-worker on laptop computer

In many places in the world, advanced technology allows employees to work remotely. Tools like fast broadband, online meeting applications and cloud-based file-sharing make it possible. Using tools available to us today, distributed teams can have a major positive impact on your small business.

What are the different types of distributed teams?

There are many different types of distributed teams. Let’s go over some of the terms and differences between them.

“Colocate” describes the process of working on the same task in the same location. This was the norm historically, so you generally didn’t hear this word too often.

Working “remotely” varies in definition from company to company.

Employees may work at the same central location but are able to work-from-home for some or all of their work. They are in the same general area and can come to the office for meetings and other collaborations.

They work remotely from a central location, but they operate as satellites tied to that location, or sometimes to a time zone or country.

A “distributed team” works in any location around the world. They are not tied to any particular location, country or time zone.  

Their lack of a central location means they can work at any time of the day or night. They can serve customers and clients all over the world. Work can continue 24/7 rolling across time zones.  

Keep in mind, awareness of local holidays and vacation will help set expectations. The United States has a small number of federal holidays compared to many other countries. While other countries have more standard vacation time and holidays that may be unknown to you.

With distributed teams, it’s helpful to try to learn about the cultures of your employees. Be sensitive to their traditions and they will respect you.

When you outsource a project you hire a contractor to do a project for your company. They do not work for your company and you pay them on a project-by-project basis.

Be aware, however, that there are certain legal restrictions in the U.S. regarding contract employees. They can’t work with the same demands as regular employees, or you must pay employment taxes.

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How do these work-location options help my small business?

If some of your employees are able to work remotely you will need less office space. You can lower your overhead.

Some companies work in a building with a conference room they have access to as part of their lease. With this set up they can have meetings with their entire team as needed. Other companies meet up in public places like coffee houses.

Outsourced workers are a strong choice when you need a skill set your on-site team doesn’t have. They are also ideal for one-time or infrequent needs.

For example, if you need a logo, hiring an outside graphic designer is a good choice. It wouldn’t make sense to hire a full-time graphic designer for one small project. Information technology contractors are also often hired on a project-only basis.

Distributed teams benefit small businesses in several ways.

  • 24/7 support. A distributed team allows you to manage and support customers and clients in any time zone. Your business never has to close.
  • Speed. A distributed team means that your company’s workers can pass on a project like a relay team. When the workday ends in the US, the project can move to another part of the world where the day is just beginning. An efficient distributed team could finish a project in 1/3 the time of a centralized team.  
  • Costs. Distributing work without regard to a location means that you can select the most cost-effective location for each project.
  • Talent. If your location is Atlanta, GA and there’s a shortage of bookkeepers in the area, you can find a bookkeeper in a market without a shortage.

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