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  • Rob

Distributed Teams – The New Norm

What can we learn from people who have done this for years?

Like many of you, I have become a bit obsessed about how new organisational structures will play out given that many of us work in and manage distributed teams. Disclaimer from the photo above, I certainly never was close to being a Navy Seal but did serve in the US Navy as a fighter pilot and worked in physically remote areas back in the early 1990s.

There are a lot of people talking about the effects of working from home and how the employees and managers are reacting to these changes. A friend of mine mentioned that he was in the process of (intentionally) building a new team from scratch that will be pretty much 100% distributed, aka no offices!

He mentioned that I should listen to a podcast, hosted by Matt Mullenweg (cofounder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic). Matt manages an organisation with no offices and more than 1,000 employees scattered across 75 countries. I have been working my way through these episodes and have been absolutely amazed at the amount of thought his guests put into setting up fully distributed teams across the globe.

This is not just about whether we use Slack or Teams, the conversations are much deeper and cover EVERY aspect of how the company works. From hiring people, legal and tax considerations, strategy and of course to how you ensure the culture is cascaded across the organisation when you operate in every time zone.

Listening to these experts brought me back to my Navy days. We have an excellent example that I lived through that manages a complex organisation across the globe, the military!

It is not just about tech, although certainly the troops have access to the latest communications gizmos. The clarity of thought around how to ensure strategic intent is cascaded from the government through to the central military commands, down to the battlegroups and ultimately to the 25 year old kid flying an F-14 off an aircraft carrier is incredible.

As well, like Matt's guests, there is a huge infrastructure of 'soft skills' people understanding the cultural issues in every theatre that the military operates. Cultural missteps can cost just as much, or more, than a military operational error.

I think we all are pretty sure that Covid has changed the way we work for good. I would suggest that rather than focus on how we can bring back office life, we need to fast forward and ask the question, "What if there were no offices?". We will land somewhere between old and new but critically thinking about the advantages and challenges of managing a distributed team will put us in a better position to embrace the change coming.

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