Distributed teams and why they work

15 Oct 2013

We are not the first team to leave our offices behind. Some of the highest-performing software companies, such as 37signals and Buffer, have been built by distributed teams and hasn’t prevented them from turning over multiple millions per year.

So why are distributed teams successful?

1. You work asynchronously.

When working as part of a distributed team, you can often be within a different timezone than your colleagues. This can make it tough to communicate – leading to the perception that distributed teams are less efficient.

Actually, distributed teams are often more productive than traditional teams because of the drastic decrease in the amount of interruptions. Zach Holman from GitHub discusses this when he talks about How GitHub Works and Being Asynchronous.

2. Hiring talent for culture, independent of location.

The best people for a team are not contained within a single location. In order to have a good culture and the best talent possible, you cannot base your entire operation from a single location. By removing your dependency upon location, you can hire the best people for the job and ensure they are a good fit with the rest of your team.

Company culture is often discussed within our industry. At large companies such as Google and Facebook, it can be defined as table tennis, free food and even crazy ideas like shoots between floors and sleep pods. Distributed teams don’t define culture in this way, for example Buffer outline their culture as several values such as "defaulting to transparency" and "a focus on self improvement".

3. Better, and over-communication

Communication is simply better within distributed teams because a deliberate effort is put into it. Teams working within a traditional office often take communication for granted. They assume everyone is on the same page without putting in as much effort than if they were working remotely.

Experienced developers know that there is a balance to strike when communicating. When you are freed from hiring based on location, you hire based on cultural fit allowing a team to be built that shares the same ideals and values about communication. This turns what could be considered an inefficiency into a true strength.