Distributed vs Remote Teams: Understanding the Differences | Aircall Blog

Distributed vs Remote Teams: Understanding the Differences

Understand the main pros and cons of remote teams and distributed teams
by
Nicholas Price

What’s the difference between distributed teams and remote teams? If they’re both virtual teams, doesn’t that make them the same? In a word, no. Distributed teams and remote teams are different by definition. However, they do share some important pros and cons.

Advancements in technology have given businesses the ability to set up distributed teams, remote teams, or both. From a practical sense, either the distributed team model or the remote team model could be right for your company.

A common dialogue among U.S. business leaders centers around the increasing challenge of how to find employees that have the various skills they need and how to retain them for the long term. There is a great demand for employees with certain job-related skill sets. The best and most innovative companies consider how distributed and remote teams can benefit their bottom line.

Defining Distributed Teams

According to McKinsey, attracting and retaining quality talent is a top issue. Many of them are realizing the benefit of forming distributed teams to overcome this barrier.  

Tech businesses and businesses in almost every industry have been increasingly implementing distributed teams to reap the rewards of this model. Just exactly what are distributed teams? If you consider the root word distribute, which means to share or spread out, it gives you a clue of the main characteristics of distributed teams. Distributed teams are teams where individuals work in separate geographical locations from one another.

An example of a distributed team is a group of technical experts that work in various different locations, but were each hired because of a specific skill set or knowledge base. Using cloud-based software, they help customers from wherever they are. Call center software solutions and cloud-based phone systems allow distributed team members to share information in real-time and stay connected with each other across the miles. With distributed teams, there might not be a main HQ at all.

The distributed team model is considered beneficial for some businesses because it allows them to tap into the most skilled employees wherever they live. Distributed team members can work anywhere in the country, or even in the world, and still be part of a cohesive, connected team that’s working toward the same goals and objectives.

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With distributed teams, team members aren’t required to go into their headquarters location or a regional office. The nature of this “office” is 100% virtual.

Understanding Remote Teams

In some ways, remote teams are very similar distributed teams. Like distributed teams, remote team members sometimes work in various different geographical locations.

Unlike distributed teams, remote teams generally have a central or regional facility where one or more employees can go into the office to work on a full-time or part-time basis. Businesses have many options on how they set up remote teams for call centers, sales teams, or support operations.

For example:

  • Most of the team works on-site while some team members work remotely.
  • One or more employees work on-site while the rest of the team works at home.
  • Most of the team works on-site and some team members are set up for remote work all or part of the time.

Regardless of whether team members are working onsite or somewhere else, all team members work for the same manager at the same company. Some companies may choose to use remote teams when physical space in an office is at a premium or the nature of the work inherently requires sales or support personnel to work in the field most of the time.

The vast majority of employees want or need some type of flexibility in their workweek, but currently, most of them don’t get that benefit. The millennial generation is particularly interested in flexibility in the workplace — so much so that they’d be willing to take a pay cut if they could have greater flexibility. More recent generations find value in saving the time and expense of commuting because it frees up time and expense that they could spend with their friends and family members.

In addition to the benefits that your company gets when using remote teams, it offers a chance to show that you’re being employee-centric, and employees appreciate this effort.

Pros and Cons of a Distributed Team 

Not too long ago, the only way to set up teams was to require in person attendance. Managers had the benefit of controlling many of the aspects of running their teams by monitoring them in person. With technology, managers still have the control they need to lead their teams to success without the need for weekly (or daily)  face-to-face meetings. It was also once believed that only large companies could take advantage of the benefits of using distributed teams. The reality is that distributed teams work well for companies of every size, even smaller companies. 

Here’s a snapshot of the pros and cons of using distributed teams:

Pros

  • Reduces in-house costs.
  • Businesses can grow without incurring major new costs.
  • Can hire the best talent without being limited by geography.
  • Allows you to retain employees even if they move out of the area.
  • Enables easier communication and collaboration across regions.
  • Opens up sales or customer service for customers over a greater number of hours in the day.
  • Offers the benefit of one team member being able to pass off a project to another team member that’s working on the upcoming shift.
  • If you’re entering into a new market, you can tap into the knowledge and expertise of employees that have been working in that area for a long time.
  • Reduces or eliminates office leasing fees and costs for utilities and equipment.

Cons 

  • Need to set up processes for regular communication and collaboration.
  • May not be possible or practical to meet in person.
  • Need to work at virtual team building and a unified business/team culture.
  • Team members may be working in different time zones, making it difficult to find a convenient time for all to meet online.
  • In-person meetings may have a stronger dynamic in some cases.
  • Need to set up payment tools and processes to pay employees—could be challenging for distributed teams with a global presence.
  • Companies may not be willing to put the time into developing the tools and processes to make the distributed team model highly successful.
  • Need the proper tools so team members have customer insights in real-time.
  • Communication may not be clear because of the inability to detect things like body language, facial expressions, and non-verbal cues during audio or video meetings.
  • Unless the manager arranges for times for personal relationship building or socializing, team members only get to see the professional side of them—team members get better context from others when they have an opportunity to learn more about them.

Pros and Cons of a Remote Team 

Remote teams have many of the same pros and cons as distributed teams. What makes things a bit different is that some employees may be working in an onsite call center at various times. Remote teams offer flexibility for businesses and call center agents which can improve employee morale.

Pros

  • Gives call center agents flexibility so they enjoy better work/life balance.
  • Call center agents are happier, so they’re more productive.
  • Less cost per employee.
  • You don’t have to add business space to scale your call center up.
  • Save on things like the water cooler, snacks, meals out, etc.
  • Workers not distracted by in-office noise or social interactions.
  • Employees become more self-sufficient.

Cons

  • Some employees may be less responsive, returning calls or chats when they choose to.
  • Noise and interruptions such as pets, children, outside noises like traffic can interfere with calls.
  • Call agents need access to the internet.
  • May be difficult to schedule meetings even if people are in the same time zone, they may not be working the same hours or shifts.
  • Need to have a process for remote hiring and onboarding.
  • May be more difficult for call center managers to keep a pulse on employee morale and energy levels in the call center.
  • Need to implement cloud-based tools and the right software integrations to ensure productivity.

How to Choose Between Distributed Teams or Remote Teams 

To help you make a decision about setting up distributed teams or remote teams, let’s get back to the definition of each term. Distributed teams are teams with members that are spread out in various different places. On the other hand, remote teams are sort of a blend of onsite and distributed teams. With remote teams, one or more team members are working at an onsite facility, and team members have the ability to work remotely. Distributed team members rarely, if ever, meet in person, and they might work in an office building rather than a home-based office.

After weighing the pros and cons of distributed teams and remote teams, here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re trying to decide whether to establish a virtual team:

  • Do you have a physical office site?
  • How often do you need your team to gather in person? Weekly, monthly, quarterly?
  • Do you need a central place where teams can get together in person?
  • Is the right talent available within the geographical area near your onsite location?
  • Do you need an onsite location?
  • Are any of your long-term employees considering a move out of the area?
  • Do you have the right equipment and software solutions to set up distributed or remote teams?

The answers to these questions should point you in the direction of your next steps.

How to Effectively Build Virtual Teams Based on Need

When setting up any type of call center, you’ll need to set up a cloud-based phone system so call agents can use software programs and the internet to log into your system. These tools create a seamless environment for your call agents to work together and share information in real-time regardless of their physical location. 

Aircall offers customizable calling features to help your call center agents deliver a good customer experience. With Aircall, you can reduce customer waiting times, ensure that customers reach the most appropriate person right away, and analyze the productivity of your call center. Out-of-the-box phone system features are pre-installed that don’t meet a larger business purpose. 

In addition to weighing the pros and cons of setting up distributed teams or remote teams, it’s important to consider the purpose of your call center.

  • Are you getting high call volume due to the need for technical support?
  • Do you need to set up a call center dedicated to sales?
  • Are your customers calling in with lots of customer service questions?

These are important questions to answer because the right software integrations will support your call center’s needs. Take a look at how Aircall works together to enhance the capability and functionality of your call center based on your needs: 

Sales

Customer support 

Customer service

This is just a small sampling of how software integrations work with your cloud-based phone system to set up distributed teams or remote teams for a well-functioning call center. Quality VoIP integrations enhance the customer experience and improve your bottom line. 

Take some time to explore Aircall’s App Marketplace for the software solutions that will meet your needs the best.

Advancements and innovations in the tech world make it possible to establish a virtual team inexpensively and with very little effort. What’s more, is that tech companies continue to innovate great software programs to support distributed and remote call centers. What does the future hold for virtual teams? It’s possible that more people will be working remotely than those that aren’t over the next four years.

As the pros for distributed and remote teams begin to outweigh the cons, it’s entirely possible for virtual teams to become the norm in every industry. What’s certain is that companies of every size will likely increasingly be depending on a cloud-based phone system as a staple of their call centers.

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