How to Properly Scale a Distributed Team | Aircall Blog

How to Properly Scale a Distributed Team

Understanding how to properly scale your distributed teams will better allow you to excel business growth.
by
Nicholas Price

If your company made the leap to develop distributed teams in recent years, you’re surely realizing the benefits of using the distributed team model. Once distributed teams are in place, you may find that your workflows are more efficient, your business is growing, and it’s time to scale. Whether it’s the right time to scale up or down, distributed teams can give you distinct advantages.

Making the decision to scale your distributed teams is an easy one. The question of how to scale distributed teams is a little more complicated. The right tools will make the process of scaling your distributed teams faster and easier. That’s important because by optimizing distributed teams, you’ll get the maximum benefit from your call center.  

Why You Use a Distributed Team Model 

With the distributed team model, you’ll have employees working in various geographical locations. The obvious question is why you might want to use a distributed team over asking all team members to work at your facility every day. If you’re able to find and retain employees who have the skills you need, this might not be the right time to implement a distributed team model. However, there may come a point in the future when your business demands certain skills from your employees and the talent you need is located geographically distant from your facilities. When that’s the case, the distributed team model can be your answer to hiring the most talented individuals. 

While the terms distributed teams and remote teams are often used in the same context, there is a distinct difference in their definitions. Members of distributed teams work in various geographical locations. Those locations might be in their own home, at one of your regional facilities, or somewhere else. One or more team members may even work at the same location.

On the other hand, remote teams are defined differently. Remote team members may also be working at home or in another geographical location. With remote teams, there’s usually a central office where some team members work. Remote workers may work at the office at various times. 

Now that we have a clearer definition of the terms, let’s explore some of the reasons why businesses might opt to use a distributed team model. 

1) It’s cost-effective

The expense of renting commercial office space and the other associated costs are often necessary, but they don’t give you a direct return on your investment. By eliminating these costs, you’ll have reduced operating costs that you can reinvest in your company.

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2) Acquiring better talent

A distributed team model allows you to find the best talent regardless of where they live or where they move to.  

3) Employees enjoy a better work-life balance

Employees who can work at or near their homes avoid long commutes, which gives them more time to spend with their families and do things they enjoy.

4) Reduced turnover

Happy employees are inclined to stay longer. You’ll have more time to invest in their skills and alleviate the costs associated with rehiring.

5) Remote workers are often more productive

Research by OWLLabs shows that remote workers are more likely to increase their sense of employee ownership and work harder than if they were working in an office.   

How to Start a Distributed Team

If it sounds like a distributed team might work for your business, it’s important to get the right infrastructure in place before you start hiring and ensure that your distributed team members have everything they need to get started working efficiently. 

With regard to equipment and software applications, you’ll need the following:

Your distributed team members will need: 

  • A computer
  • Access to the internet
  • A headset (it’s not necessary, but it’s helpful)

These are the essentials for setting up a distributed team. You’ll also need to locate and hire highly talented workers and invest time in onboarding them.

Once all the right software, equipment, and people are in place, you’ll need to set up appropriate workflows so your virtual team can work as efficiently as possible. Communication is another element of distributed teams that shouldn’t go unchecked. The most successful distributed teams have a process whereby they can communicate regularly with their superiors as well as with their peers. 

Be careful not to overlook one of the most important components of setting up a distributed workforce—call center software with analytics. A cloud-based phone system that offers analytics gives you greater visibility on how your teams are doing. Analytics also provides the means for you to set up metrics and KPIs to gauge your team’s productivity and inform your decisions about scaling your teams.

Creating a Plan for Scaling a Distributed Team

The decisions that you made when your company was smaller don’t necessarily work as well as your business begins to scale up or down. By moving too slowly to make changes in your people and processes, you’ll encounter several new challenges. Over time, your workflows will break down, causing inefficiency that will ultimately affect your bottom line. Your employees will begin to feel underworked, overworked, or undervalued, which could lead to burnout or breed general discontentment. 

To prevent the problem of having to scramble to scale your distributed workforce, it helps to have a plan. Your plan should factor in your current needs as well as your short- and long-term needs. Build some flexibility into your plan for remote teams so that you can modify it as your business needs change.

One of your priorities should be to have a quality onboarding program in place. New employees need to understand your company culture, goals, and objectives. Many companies have found that it’s a good strategy to assign a buddy to new employees, so they have someone to ask questions in addition to their manager.

Consistency is another highly important element of creating distributed teams. Consistent processes will tell you if you’re growing too slowly or too fast, and whether you have too many people or not enough.

Most Important Elements of a Distributed Team 

Everyone plays a role in a well-functioning distributed team. Managers of distributed teams have many important responsibilities to ensure that each team member is productive and performing well, and that they have the right tools to do their jobs responsibly. Team members are individual in their skills and personalities. At the same time, managers must ensure that all team members are working toward the same goals. To accomplish this, it’s important to use call metrics and KPIs and continually monitor a process for efficiency. Beyond that, all employees have a responsibility to communicate well and to be accountable.

Here is a list of 5 of the most important elements of a distributed team: 

1) Analytics

Call metrics will help you track processes and KPIs will tell you whether you’re hitting your targets. A cloud-based phone system that offers a robust analytics program will give you greater insight into call volume, the average time spent on calls, and much more so that you can target areas for improvement. A truly optimized call center will ensure that you’re not just hiring people to fill seats, but you’re ensuring that they’re productive and happy.

2) Monitoring

You’ll need different tools when you have 5 people on a distributed team, as opposed to 25 people. As you scale, you’ll need to continue monitoring how well your tools are working and make some adjustments in your software tools.   

3) Communication

Communication is difficult even when team members are sitting next to each other. While communication can be challenging, the right tools and processes will help you overcome these challenges even when team members are geographically distant.

4) Compatibility

Team members will need to make an effort to get acquainted remotely. Occasional audio or video meetings can help overcome this barrier. It also helps to give team members a small amount of online time for socialization and team building.  

5) Ownership

Automatic ticketing is one of the tools that will help you document your team’s actions and hold the right team members accountable.   

As long as you maintain reasonable and realistic expectations, by focusing on the right elements of distributed teams, creating and scaling distributed teams will be possible and profitable.

How to Set Clear Expectations

In general, employees want to do a good job for you. Quality training and onboarding are key to maintaining a productive call center. Beyond that, it’s important to communicate clearly to customer support agents what you expect of them.

Here are some tips for how to set clear expectations for distributed teams:

State expectations simply and clearly.

Your cloud phone system should give you analytics to help you set goals for individuals and teams. For example, you could set realistic goals based on the number of calls you expect them to answer and the average amount of time that they should be spending on a call. If an individual fails to meet your expectations, perhaps more training would help.

Communicate the importance of their role.

Distributed team members play a specific role that contributes to the greater good. For example, if you have limited staff to handle calls that require technical assistance or other expertise, inbound call agents should know that their role in first-call resolution helps reduce the number of calls that require a higher level of assistance.

Measure success objectively.

Call center analytics will tell you whether individuals and teams are meeting their goals and give you objective data to share with them. Strong leaders know how to use metrics and KPIs to track team member performance and to gauge customer satisfaction.

Schedule regular check-ins.

Carve time into your schedule, perhaps monthly, to do a quick check-in with each team member. Putting in a little time on the front end on a frequent basis will prevent problems before they get out of control. Frequent short chats keep the lines of communication open and let your employees know you value their service and their position within your company.

Be an active listener.

Give your employees ample time to offer their opinions during check-ins. Give them time to think and put their thoughts together. Do your best to be supportive, encouraging, and understanding. Be willing to be open to any new ideas that have merit.

Additional Things to Consider

As you consider scaling your distributed teams, you might consider other ways that you can optimize your call center.

Distributed teams allow you to set up 24/7/365 coverage for your customers if you wish. You might consider hiring talented individuals in various time zones or countries to work different shifts to make your services available to your customers for expanded hours. That’s one way to improve your customer satisfaction scores without burning out your staff or having to pay too much in overtime.

Also, from the standpoint of risk mitigation, continuous coverage will allow you to identify major issues and common problems and correct them before they become even bigger problems.

 As scalability pertains to staffing, it works both ways. The flexibility that a cloud-based phone system and software solutions provide allow you to scale your call center up or down as the call volume indicates. Proper staffing is efficient and helps save money.

Globalization brings many resources to your fingertips. Innovation brings the right data and the right talent to your call center to make managing distributed teams easy.

Importance of Scaling Distributed Teams Quickly 

Understaffing or overstaffing can cause a host of problems for your business. The right cloud phone system and software integrations for your business will help you be agile and responsive. 

Hereʼs a shortlist of some of the common pitfalls of failing to scale distributed teams quickly:

  • Poor customer service
  • Support agent burnout
  • Abandoned calls
  • Missed sales
  • Increased turnover
  • Longstanding unresolved problems
  • Customer complaints
  • Disgruntled employees
  • Inefficient use of resources
  • Lost revenue

The technology to help you scale distributed teams is available and inexpensive, so why not use it to your advantage?

The Challenges of Scaling a Distributed Team

Anytime you make changes within your company, there are bound to be challenges. Fortunately, the challenges of scaling a distributed team are few and they’re fairly easy to overcome. Three of the biggest issues are developing standards and processes for good communication, shifting to an indirect style of management, and dealing with isolation.  

Let’s take the first one. Communication signals tend to get lost when communication isn’t clear, or noise gets in the way. Fortunately, technology gives us tools like chat, email, and texting so communication can be frequent and clear. The right communication processes alleviate problems with employees becoming disgruntled because they don’t feel heard or they’re dissatisfied for other reasons.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for distributed team managers is making the switch to an indirect style of management. In the traditional co-located office environment, managers get a firsthand account of their teams’ performance. Once again, software solutions come to the rescue by offering visibility into teams’ performance and allowing managers to step in and handle situations swiftly.  

Distributed team members who work alone may not feel much like they’re part of a team. Remote work can be isolating. One of the challenges is how to create a sense of camaraderie and the feeling that they are an important part of a virtual team. This challenge is fairly easy to overcome by taking steps to build relationships, much like you’d do in a traditional office setting. 

Creating a culture of trust is essential when managing distributed teams. Best practices for distributed teams are still evolving and the things you learn in setting up your distributed teams will help to form good practices.  

The Benefits of Scaling a Distributed Team

To wrap things up nicely, here’s a snapshot of the benefits you get by scaling distributed teams:

  • Hire talent that lives outside your geographical area.
  • Build a new team wherever talent lives.
  • Build a distributed team that’s inclusive and diverse.
  • Increase your coverage across multiple time zones and geographical areas.
  • Alleviate the costs associated with understaffing or overstaffing.
  • Improve the work-life balance for your employees.
  • Reduce costs associated with maintaining an office or other facility.
  • Retain valued employees who want to move out of the area.

The benefits of scaling your distributed teams quickly and properly are clear. Aircall’s cloud-based phone system was designed to give you data and insights to help you scale your distributed teams quickly. The Aircall App Marketplace gives you numerous listings of options for software to explore as you scale. A distributed team that’s highly motivated will be productive and perform well. As you develop your teams, they will become a valued asset that will be instrumental in helping you to achieve your overall business goals.

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