How to be a productive team member in a distributed team

This post is a kind of a reply to the mini-lives lifestyle which seems to be now coming into fashion. You can real about what it is here: http://kadavy.net/blog/posts/mini-lives/ .

Suppose you want to live like this, but you are working as part of the team. So this means that if you do it, your local team is now become a distributed one.

Our team is distributed. What it means is that not all of us are working from the same office, sitting in the same room or even subject to the same (or close) time zones. And from this experience, I’ve extracted a few simple rules for myself.

#1. Time zones are your enemy. If you are always not there when people need you, if you are awake when they are asleep and vise versa, this is playing against you. You might feel even more productive – sure, there’s noone to distract you when you are online and typing away on your keyboard! – but the team must feel your presence to pull as a team, especially if you’re in one of the lead roles. So, if different time zone is inevitable, you should at least try to minimize its negative influence by having at least 2-3 hours of intersection with the whole team, a time window that will allow you to stay on top of things and make your presence felt – and make it count.

The rest of the day, you can happily type away while everyone is sleeping.

#2. You are missing out on the team building. No, not that one where HR people make you all wear a corporate t-shirt and run around with the colorful balloons. Those where you go have a drink or lunch together. Those when you feel that you know your teem member a little more than it’s required by your job description.

In the mini-lives article above, there’s a variant of “taking your team with you”. Well that would be great if you could, to be sure!

#3. Be punctual. You know, “Punctuality is the duty of subjects and the politeness of kings”. There are no kings on the team, so obviously it should be a duty for you always. What it means is:

  • if you are going offline, change your online status. Preferably also write to the shared chat if you have one.
  • if this is happening in the middle of your day and you expect to come back, leave the team members in no doubt as to whether you are going to be back and when. Change your status message or write to the chat, it’s not that difficult!
  • no “back in 5” messages. People might not notice when your status changed, so they don’t know when those 5 minutes are up. “Back at 11:00 AM EST” is what you’re aiming for. As a courtesy, you might use a time zone where the most of your team members are staying.

Of course the topic of distributed team productivity is much broader, and I might return to it some other time. For now, these are just a couple of observations.

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About Maryna Cherniavska

I have productively spent 10+ years in IT industry, designing, developing, building and deploying desktop and web applications, designing database structures and otherwise proving that females have a place among software developers. And this is a good place.
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