As I was thinking of the ways teams become “accidentally” distributed (in other words, not on purpose), I also started thinking about whose responsibility it is to solve problems for distributed teams. For example, if one person in a company starts working remotely a few days per week for personal reasons, that person usually has to work to make their remoteness transparent to their co-workers.
However, when the company makes a change which causes the team members to become distributed, whose responsibility is it to establish adequate processes to ensure that this team works well together?
My (current) company has a Flexible Work program group, which oversees and sets policies on how employees can work from a variety of locations. This includes procedures, policies, and reporting on reserving an office or conference room, temporarily working from another office, reimbursement for things like cell phones, and working from home.
Very few people here sit with their co-workers, even when they do come into the same office every day. Over the fifteen years of this program, teams have wound up with people from all over the world, even though the people themselves haven’t moved around much. The goal is to choose the “right” person for a team, which means they have the right skill mix, and are available for the project. This is almost always a better, faster, and cheaper solution than trying to create a team of appropriate skills from people who happen to be both nearby as well as available.
Although most teams can then contain the correct mix of people, these people may be in several locations. “Face-to-face” or in-person meetings are not feasible, at least not more than once or twice a year. Most people (and managers) think in-person meetings are the most useful and efficient, but what are the other options when you can’t hold your meetings face-to-face?