Remote & Async Work 14 min

What are distributed teams? (+10 tips for managing them)

Written by Barbara Matthews
April 24, 2024
Barbara Matthews


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Distributed teams give you access to a wide talent pool filled with expertise, localized insights, and top industry knowledge. Working with distributed teams gives you that competitive edge to outperform your competitors.

In this article, we break down what distributed teams are, explain how they can benefit your company, and run through some challenges you might face in doing so. We also provide 10 tips for supporting a distributed team.

What is a distributed team?

A distributed team is made up of team members based in different locations — and even different time zones. 

The exact definition of a distributed team is a loose one. There’s no strict boundary on how many locations the team has to occupy before it “counts” as a distributed team. 

For instance, you could have a distributed team consisting of 20 remote employees working from 20 different countries. Or you could have a distributed team of seven employees working from one location and two remote employees working from another. All that’s required to meet the definition is that the team doesn’t work from a single location.

why distributed team, purple world map

When you build a distributed team, you open the doors to all the benefits of becoming a global-first company. This includes increased competitiveness and access to a broader market. 

Being global-first means shifting your thinking from a local to an international scale. It means creating a multinational team to access top talent, taking advantage of diverse market insights, and enjoying the flexibility that a global team affords. 

Distributed teams hold a wealth of knowledge, but they come with unique challenges. For example, it can take time to find a way to effectively communicate and collaborate with distributed teams as team members are rarely, if ever, in the same place at the same time. 

The good news? With the right tools and change of perspective, distributed teams can function even better than centralized teams.

What’s the difference between distributed teams, remote teams, and hybrid teams?

The difference between distributed, remote, and hybrid teams can be confusing to business owners looking to build a global workforce. Let's take a look at what they mean.

Distributed teams

In a distributed team, team members are spread throughout multiple geographical locations and perhaps ‌across time zones. They can work remotely or from different offices. Distributed teams are often global-first, but they may be distributed within the same country. 

Remote teams

In a remote team, all members perform their duties remotely. They aren’t necessarily based in different cities — they just don’t have a central office space. 

Hybrid teams

In hybrid teams, people work both remotely and from a central office, often on certain days of the week. Usually, team members live close to one another because they commute to the same office on in-person days.

However, you can have a global hybrid team. For instance, you might have offices in different countries with team members who work both at home and in different offices. 

Benefits of using a distributed work model

Adopting a distributed work model can unlock lasting success for businesses looking to expand their reach and insights.

The benefits of using a distributed work model include the following:

Access to a larger talent pool

Your company can hire talent from anywhere in the world since it’s not limited by location or time zone. 

The global talent pool is filled with brilliant minds, eager people, and thought leaders ready to take your market by storm. 

You can attract top international talent with flexible work schedules, competitive salaries, and the opportunity to work with kindred spirits. Don't forget to use international platforms like Remote Talent to find the best candidates across the world.

Insights into diverse markets 

With team members based in various locations, your company gains insight into the culture and customers’ priorities in these areas. This means you have a better understanding of markets in these countries, and a better chance to expand your brand.

Improved access to local customers

The more widespread your team, the more your working hours can expand. If you have employees working from different time zones, you have the potential to set your company’s business hours to 24/7. 

If you’re looking to align your working hours with a specific target market, you can intentionally hire employees from a nearby location to focus on that market. 

Increased affordability

Distributed teams can financially benefit both employees and employers. Employees enjoy reduced commuting costs if they work remotely, and employers have lower overhead costs. 

On top of these savings, employers can hire more affordably when they’re building a distributed workforce. For example, you can hire a candidate from a specific location for much less than someone with the same qualifications and skills based elsewhere.  Use Remote’s Employee Cost Calculator to work out how much it might cost your business to hire from a specific location.

Increased schedule flexibility

When a company knows it’s going to adopt a distributed work model, it accommodates flexible schedules. Companies with distributed teams will actually see better collaboration and communication when they have a relaxed approach to employees’ work hours.  

Flexible schedules also have a positive effect on employees’ wellness. When employees are free to set their own hours, they avoid burnout and fatigue while enjoying a better work-life balance.

schedule with atypical working hours

Improved teamwork

While communicating across time zones can be challenging, people can actually collaborate better when they’re not working in the same room. 

Members of distributed teams are more likely to contribute equally to discussions through asynchronous communication. This happens because everyone has an equal opportunity to share without interruptions. For example, a quiet employee can feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts on their own time.

Plus, employees have a paper trail of thoughts and discussions to refer to for clarity with good documentation.

Potential challenges of using a distributed work model 

Adopting a distributed work model can be difficult at first. If you’re interested in building a distributed team, keep the following potential challenges in mind: 

  • Difficulty scheduling meetings. Distributed teams often work from multiple time zones and have flexible working hours. Don't stress on finding a meeting slot that everyone can join. Instead, record meetings for team members unable to attend or share meeting notes for offline team members.

  • Delayed collaboration and meetings. If your team works from multiple time zones, collaborative work can’t always happen instantaneously. To avoid delays in group projects, adopt asynchronous workflows for distributed teams to collaborate effectively.  

  • Remote isolation. Remote employees can feel isolated from colleagues and the organization. Create a culture that brings distributed team members together, like offering online team bonding events. 

  • Cultural differences. Employees in distributed teams often come from different cultural backgrounds, speak different languages, and are accustomed to different social norms. Educate your team members to be understanding of cultural differences to avoid miscommunication and conflict.

What is distributed team management?

Distributed team management is the act of managing team members who work in different locations. If your distributed team is remote, they may work from different countries across several time zones.

The responsibilities of a distributed team manager include the following: 

  • Coordinating meeting schedules 

  • Mediating disputes between employees 

  • Sharing information on company goals and operations

  • Facilitating collaboration among employees 

  • Delegating tasks to maximize efficiency 

A distributed team manager should lead their team in a way that facilitates collaboration, encourages teamwork, and guarantees the same employee experience for remote, in-office, and hybrid employees.

10 tips for managing distributed teams

Incorporate the following tips to create a strong distributed team:

1. Hire the right people 

Even the best team manager will struggle to coordinate a team that does not fit company culture.

When hiring employees for your distributed team, make sure you take on people with the required skills and character for each position. Some individuals are better suited for remote work than others. Similarly, some people are collaborative pros, while others thrive on solo projects. 

A good candidate for a distributed team has the following qualities: 

  • A collaborative and inclusive mindset 

  • Solid communication skills 

  • Enthusiasm about sharing ideas and knowledge 

  • Willingness to compromise 

Related reading: Guide to hiring international employees

2. Adopt asynchronous workflows

Asynchronous work helps team members collaborate on their own schedules while preventing delays in group work. Working async is vital for distributed teams because team members are unlikely to work at the same time.

Don't forget that successful asynchronous workflows rely on thorough planning and clear communication.  Related reading: Why you should be working asynchronously

3. Upgrade your onboarding process 

The best way to onboard distributed teams is to tailor every bit of information and instruction to an online setting.  It's easy to forget that new joiners can get overwhelmed, especially in a remote setting. So be mindful to offer distributed team members a thorough introduction to the company and team members.

When onboarding new hires, you want them to become familiar with the following standard procedures: 

  • The chain of command they should follow if they have questions or problems with their payroll, work, or personal life.

  • How to book time off

  • Best practices for dealing with clients or vendors 

Related reading: Introducing faster onboarding with self-enrollment

4. Keep meetings consistent and structured

Distributed teams often have to compromise by attending meetings at irregular hours of the day to accommodate those in different time zones. To prevent unnecessary effort from your team, keep meetings consistent and structured. 

Here’s what we mean:


Sticking to a predictable meeting time every week or month means your team members can plan the rest of their schedule around those meetings. 

Regular meetings also help the team stay connected. Team members can bring up concerns before they grow into bigger problems, as well as update their colleagues on their progress in a project.

Pro tip: If you’re working across many time zones, consider holding meetings at different times of day for a few months at a time. This setup means meeting times are stable enough to be predictable, but they don’t rely on one group of employees to constantly compromise on their working hours.


While it’s important for employees to connect during meetings, don’t allow your meetings to get sidelined by irrelevant topics. Keep the team focused on the matter at hand, and if the conversion veers off the main topic, gently steer it back. 

That being said, to help employees connect with each other and form healthy professional relationships, set time aside at the end of each meeting for members to stay online and chat informally if they’d like to.  

Record and share all company meetings. This way, those who can’t attend the meeting in real time won’t miss out, and employees can easily refer to the recording to clarify any confusion.

video library recorded meetings

Related reading: How to run remote meetings

5. Structure each team with collaboration in mind

If you need to divide your employees into groups, one idea is to group them according to time zones. This makes collaborative work smoother and faster because team members are much more likely to have overlapping working hours.

You can also host collaborative meetings where teams in different time zones interact to prevent silos from forming. But of course, plan out asynchronous work first so all teams can collaborate regardless of their location.

6. Use the right software 

The right software is the foundation of a successful distributed team. Along with an asynchronous communication platform and virtual meeting tools (which we’ll discuss shortly), you need an employee management system that can fulfill the needs of a distributed workforce. 

A global HR platform makes it easy to manage and support remote employees, no matter where they live. Custom-built to help global companies, Remote Global HR streamlines the entire employee lifecycle by simplifying the hiring, onboarding, managing, and offboarding processes. 

team members across world map

7. Communicate on multiple platforms 

Distributed teams are better served by multiple communication channels. This is because different forms of communication work better for different types of correspondence or work. 

Instead of limiting your employees to one communication platform, consider the following: 

  • Video calls work best for personal conversations and collaborative work

  • Email is best for ongoing discussions

  • Instant messaging is best for quick solutions and chats

When using multiple platforms, establish a centralized source of truth so that there’s no confusion regarding final decisions or any doubt about employees’ responsibilities. 

Document the process to the decision as well, so team members can share their progress, findings, and expertise. This prevents repetitive conversations increases the entire team’s knowledge base. 

8. Understand and respect boundaries 

Too often, remote work can blur boundaries between employees’ work and personal lives. 

Give your employees space for a healthy work-life balance. For example, an employee might set a boundary where they won’t reply to work emails or messages during blocked times.

It’s important that team members respect these boundaries and adjust when needed. Educate your team members that they cannot expect an immediate response from remote team mates, and everyone has their own work schedule in a remote setting.

9. Set and communicate clear goals

You need to make an extra effort to make sure your distributed team members are on the same page.

Having clear goals (and clear steps you want the team to take to achieve them) helps to direct everyone’s attention in the right way. 

Document company goals in an easy-to-access place, and encourage team members to refer to them often.  

Once you’ve communicated your team’s goals, resist the temptation to micromanage. Allow your employees to figure out their own schedules and ways of collaborating. Trusting your team members will help them meet their goals and produce high-quality work.

Related reading: How to avoid micromanaging your remote workers

10. Build a united company culture

Members of distributed teams sometimes struggle to keep up with company events. To make sure team members feel included and are on the same page, try the following:

  • Communicate decisions across multiple communication channels to ensure everyone shares the same goals

  • Define end goals clearly so that each team member knows when a project is considered finished. 

  • Creating clear troubleshooting guidelines that describe what employees must do if they encounter a problem with a fellow colleague, a client, or a work task.

team members smiling

How Global HR helps you manage a distributed team

A Global HR like Remote is the ultimate platform for managing your end-to-end employee lifecycle, no matter where your employees are based. With a global HR partner, you can streamline your HR process all in one place.  

employee lifecycle onboarding offboarding

With Remote, you can hire, pay, and manage all your distributed team members from one central platform. Plus, you have full visibility of employment data, payroll, leave management, benefits, equity incentives, and more. 

Your global employees can easily access Remote’s platform to update leave requests, log their time and attendance, or clarify payroll specifics, Our platform is custom-built to serve global teams as efficiently and intuitively as possible. This helps you focus on providing top-quality service for your customers and growing your business. 

Manage your distributed teams with Remote

At Remote, we have first-hand experience in managing a distributed team successfully. Our Global HR platform helps your business grow internationally while managing your distributed teams with ease.  

For more information on distributed teams, check out our Remote Workforce Report or chat with us today.

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