Contractor Management 9 min

Global flexible teams: The way of the future

Written by Pedro Barros
December 14, 2023
Pedro Barros


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Whether you're part of a team or managing a team, some challenges come up while working with team members.

You’re always with the same people, focusing on the same things. Granted, if you like the people on your team, you can end up with a great group of friends.

But on the other hand, you get to know each other so well that work can become routine. Predictable. Boring.

That’s why, given the chance, some employees jump at the opportunity to be part of a flexible team, where they work cross-functionally with diverse colleagues from different departments and even outsiders such as independent contractors.

Employers and employees alike are discovering the benefits of this kind of work arrangement. We’ll take an in-depth look and explore why flexible teams — both domestic and international — can have a positive impact on your business.

What is a flexible team? 

A flexible team is a group of individuals with diverse skills and roles who can collaborate seamlessly, quickly adapt to changing circumstances, and efficiently achieve specific organizational goals. 

Flex teams are not the same as flex work. A flexible working arrangement is related to individual work schedules, while a flexible team refers to team characteristics, such as diverse skill sets and roles, agile decision-making, creativity, innovation, and a rich blend of talents.

Flex teams are best suited for projects that demand rapid cycles and swift innovation, such as product development, where cross-functional collaboration and agility are critical. They transcend traditional departmental boundaries and instead use a holistic project approach.

How do flexible teams work? 

Working within a flexible team environment is a dynamic experience that’s different from traditional teams, where roles are more structured and set. 

To thrive in a flex team, employees should possess adaptability, strategic thinking, effective communication abilities, and excellent problem-solving skills. They should also be comfortable in a dynamic, fast-paced environment.

The benefits for workers in flexible teams are substantial. They are often exposed to new perspectives, which stimulates their personal and professional growth. They also have more freedom to experiment and innovate. Plus, they may get to work with top talent they otherwise wouldn’t cross paths with, including international colleagues and contractors.

For employers, this approach yields remarkable advantages, such as a faster response to market shifts and access to a global talent pool. 

A Harvard study found that agile practices and methodologies used by flex teams increase not only productivity and time-to-market but also revenue, with an average increase of 60%

How do you build a flexible team?

Here are some important pointers for building a flex team.

1. Assemble the right skill sets

After determining the spectrum of skills you need for the project at hand, assemble team members with diverse skills, backgrounds, and expertise to match those needs.

In terms of selection criteria, focus on both the right job-related skills and knowledge and relevant soft skills, such as flexibility and strong communication skills.

Begin by pulling from your regular pool of in-office and remote workers. Then, bring in independent contractors to fill in the gaps in your in-house expertise.

2. Set clear team objectives

A flex team needs specific, clearly defined goals and objectives to function well. This keeps everyone aligned and focused on the same outcomes, despite their different job specialties.

3. Provide cross-training

Given the flexible nature of the team, it’s important to avoid rigid job descriptions. Instead, allow team members to take on different roles and responsibilities as needed for specific projects.

It’s also a good idea to promote cross-training among team members so they learn each other’s skills. This will allow them to fill in for one another during peak periods or when specific expertise is required.

4. Empower the team

To make the team feel like it can operate freely, give them a good deal of autonomy to make decisions within their areas of expertise. They are a self-directed work team, so encourage them to take full ownership of their tasks.

8 advantages of global flexible teams 

Building flexible global teams that consist of contractors as well as domestic and international employees comes with huge advantages. Here are some of the biggest benefits:

1. Access to a global talent pool

Incorporating independent contractors and international employees into your flex teams lets you tap into a new talent pool with specialized skills and expertise.

2. Cost efficiency

Using independent contractors allows you to bring in specialized skills on a project-by-project basis, reducing the need for full-time employees and potentially lowering labor costs

3. 24/7 operations around the globe

With team members in different time zones, you can maintain round-the-clock operations (called asynchronous collaboration). This can lead to increased productivity and quicker project turnaround times.

4. More flexibility and scalability

Working with flexible teams allows you to scale your workforce up or down quickly based on market changes or budget constraints.

5. Increased cultural diversity and innovation

Having a mix of domestic and international employees brings a range of new perspectives and ideas into your company, promoting a culture of innovation and creativity.

6. New expertise in remote collaboration

Building and managing global flex teams helps the business gain new experience in remote collaboration skills. This allows the business to excel in a more distributed work environment — giving it a clear advantage over competitors that only operate domestically.

7. Fast project implementation and execution

Flexible teams can be quickly assembled and mobilized for new projects. Plus, a diverse team with varying backgrounds and perspectives can make faster and more informed decisions. This agile decision-making helps the organization respond rapidly to market opportunities and challenges.

8. More knowledge sharing and tapping into local expertise

International employees can contribute local expertise that might otherwise not be available to the company. 

By its nature, flex team collaboration between independent contractors and employees from different cultural and professional backgrounds boosts knowledge sharing and continuous learning within the organization, which can lead to new levels of enthusiasm in your workforce.

In short, building flexible global teams that combine domestic and international employees with independent contractors is a powerful trend that can provide your company with a significant competitive edge. 

How do you manage a flexible team? 

Though flexible teams are more self-directed and autonomous than regular departmental teams, they still need direction and oversight. However, managing a flexible team requires a different approach than traditional hierarchical management. 

Here are six pointers for effectively managing a flex team:

1. Demonstrate trust in the team 

To help the team feel you trust in their abilities, avoid micromanaging. Instead, empower them to make decisions within their areas of expertise. 

2. Encourage open communication and collaboration

Promote open and transparent communication that facilitates real-time collaboration and information sharing among team members as well as with yourself.

In particular, encourage collaboration between team members from different disciplines for creative, cross-functional problem-solving and knowledge-sharing.

3. Promote continuous learning

Since flex teams bring together people from different environments, they tend to become intense learning environments. 

For the best possible outputs, encourage curiosity, innovation, experimentation, and continuous learning to keep team members adaptable and up-to-date with emerging trends and technologies.

4. Offer supportive leadership

A flex team needs to know that leadership has its back as it forges ahead and pioneers better, more agile ways of doing things. Here are some key ways to demonstrate this support:

  • Provide the necessary resources and remove administrative and other obstacles, if needed. Be prepared to reallocate resources and quickly adjust team member roles to respond to changing priorities and requirements.

  • Take a results-oriented approach to team output. Rather than micromanaging the team’s activities, focus on the outcomes and results. Within those parameters, allow the team to determine the best approach to achieve the desired results.

  • Lead by example, embrace flexibility, and challenge yourself. This shows the team that you fully subscribe to the adaptability and flexibility you expect of them.

In addition to those managerial steps, make sure the company provides excellent global HR and employment support. This will prevent your international flex team members from getting bogged down by payment and tax issues that could distract them from the team’s goals.

5. Conduct periodic check-ins and offer regular feedback

Do regular check-ins with your team members to provide support and guidance. Give them constructive feedback on their performance and progress toward their goals.

A good approach is to identify areas for improvement, discuss any challenges the team may be facing, and identify ways to optimize the team’s flexibility and performance together.

6. Recognize and reward great performance

Since flex teams operate more independently than regular teams, it’s important to make them feel included by regularly acknowledging and rewarding individual and team achievements. This will motivate your team members to excel and stay engaged in their projects.

In summary, managing a flexible team requires an ongoing balance between providing guidance and allowing for autonomy. When done effectively, your flex teams have the potential to become some of the most productive units in the company.

Support your international flex teams with global HR 

Flexible teams, and especially global teams, offer tremendous advantages in a competitive global market. But to ensure global flex teams function at their best, they need to be supported by a solid and reliable global HR platform.

Remote’s global HR services are tailored to help you effortlessly hire and manage remote employees and international independent contractors. You can pay and manage all your team members in one place, with full visibility of employment data, leave, expenses, benefits, equity incentives, and more. 

If you’re ready to start hiring internationally, talk to our friendly team and begin your global expansion journey today!

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