How to Start Working With a Distributed Team

August 12, 2019

What options do you have when your office or budget has limited capacities but your project requires growth? You have at least three options: hire a freelancer, find someone to outsource, or сreate your own distributed team that you can completely rely on. This article is your guide on how to build a solid team, communicate effectively, and be satisfied with their outputs.

A distributed or dedicated team is fully integrated into all corporate processes and treated as an in-house one. The team may not work from your office, but it is devoted, solely, to your projects. 

A dedicated team occurs when a service provider gives a team of software development experts to the client on a long-term basis.  

Opposingly, freelance and outsourcing teams are hired for a specific project but do not integrate specialists into the project.

You're probably more aware of the word "out-staffing" for this kind of cooperation. For me, it removes focus from individuals and the ambition of integrating them with the in-house team. 

"Dedicated team" on the other hand is a more people-centered term.

If you’re building a big complicated software product, working on a perspective startup, or looking for long-lasting cooperation, a dedicated team can be a reasonable option.

Distributed team perks
A dedicated team model has a variety of benefits including more control over the project and higher quality than potentially outsourcing the project could have. 

Form Dedicated Teams

HR will search for proper specialists for your project so you don’t need to spend that much time on the recruitment process. This recruitment process has three steps:

1. Look for Talent

The client lists the required specialists for the project along with the tech and soft skills for the candidates.

From my experience, clients don’t always have a full picture of what the market can offer or what stack of technologies can cover the project’s needs. 

To find the perfect match, HR should learn about the project first and then advise changes on the requirement list.

Client’s requirement list and our proposal.
The image demonstrates the average time it takes to find a teammate and the ideal process. Hiring a new employee can be time-consuming, so it is important to have a plan on how you should proceed. 

2. Search for Candidates

During the next 6-8 weeks, HR will look for matching specialists.

High-level candidates are assets. Good middle or senior level specialists communicate directly. If the candidate is interested and available for long-term work, we arrange an interview. 

The meeting’s main goal is to validate the CV and portfolio, as well as to think about how this candidate will fit into the team as a person and as a specialist.

One massive pain-point here is if the client decides to work with different out-staffing companies at the same time. 

When it comes to the available middle or senior specialists, the market is a bit smaller than you might have imagined, which means the same people are receiving offers from both out-staffing companies. 

As such, potential candidates can get confused about what they are applying to and then turn down both offers. 

3. Picking the Best Candidates

This is one of the biggest competitive advantages and benefits of a dedicated team model. You can choose developers to work with from a list of specialists that have already passed the HR-interview stage. 

The CTO, other senior developers, or the owner can review resumes for a series of interviews and test tasks instead of wasting time searching for completely unknown recruits. 

Sending job offers (or declines) is the next step. Sometimes clients delay the final decision or even put a perfect candidate on hold. 

In most cases, they are satisfied with who they are offering the position to, but still curious if someone better could surpass their expectations.

This delay can become a missed opportunity as the candidate may be offered another position and then reject yours.  

Ensure Enough Time for the Recruiting Process

The time required for finding, interviewing, and testing the candidate depends on the client’s responsiveness as well as HR’s. 

For example, we once sent a candidate application to the client for approval and he sent back a message, saying: “Sorry, don't have time for it now. Reach out to me in three weeks!”

If you are a client, looking for a distributed team, you should be ready to devote some time to reviewing CVs and interviewing candidates. 

If you are overloaded, find an in-house trustee who can help you with the process.  

The example below demonstrates how clients often ask for the quickest turn-around, but then do not have the time to actually do the work required. 

Be ready to devote some time when start looking for distributed teams.

Don't lose great hires because of miscommunication. Ensure that you and the clients have an agreed-upon timeline so that your clients can receive the help they need and the potential hire is informed. 

Introduce the Project

After a month or two of searching, reviewing, interviewing, and testing you finally have a dedicated team of specialists for your service. What’s next?

Start with an introduction: You can introduce newcomers to the rest of the team during a weekly meeting or do even better – place his/her picture and a brief introduction on your website or add this info to your internal email. 

This effort will make newbies feel welcome during their first days at work and let the rest know about the changes. 

For example, Beetroot’s Founder and CEO, Andreas Flodström, sends a welcome letter to newcomers to ensure that they all feel valued and comfortable. 

During your first team meeting, make an overview of the project, share document listing contacts and areas of responsibilities.

It is important to voice your expectations during the probationary period. Give the hires a first, easy task to help jumpstart the project. Clear goals will help you both to move in the right direction.

Become a Real Team

Making a team out of strangers takes time. There are 4 stages of group development: Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing. 

Your in-house and dedicated teams will go through the 4 stages each time you onboard a newbie. To make it comfortable for both teams, try to onboard all newcomers in one period.

From my experience, the third stage, or Norming, when people feel comfortable enough working together, comes in 3-6 months. 

Stages of group development

To facilitate the adaptation process, you’ll have a dedicated team-side. We track the workflow, help to build efficient communications inside the team, and identify hidden conflicts.

Give Feedback 

Feedback is the voicing of issues of the team’s or a particular person’s work as well as the voicing of their achievements. 

Feedback is vital, as it’s hard to understand if you are doing what you were meant to when working remotely.

A dedicated team needs to give and receive feedback more often than an in-house one. 

When on probation it’s better to have short weekly feedback sessions to talk through what has been done and what comes next.

At least once a month, arrange one-on-ones: 20-30 minutes talk to review the overall workflow. 

Twice a year, make a thorough review session to analyze what has been done in the past six months and if both sides are happy with the results. 

If you are not, give honest and constructive feedback right away. Do not wait until someone recognizes a problem. 

Evaluate Your Results

You can start tracking the first results during the probation period – on weekly and monthly review sessions. 

Track estimates: If a newcomer failed one or two, be sure to talk about reasons and consequences. Be aware that they’ll need at least one month to get into the workflow and 3 to 6 months to show what they are really capable of.

Starting to work with distributed teams may seem difficult, but you don’t have to know everything (you’ll have an HR or PM for that). 

Basic principles: Be there to communicate and cooperate, be patient and wait 3 to 6 months to see valuable results and trust us to do the rest.