The 6 categories of remote teams

The 6 categories of remote teams

Not all remote teams are created equal.

Teams vary on two key metrics:

  • Remoteness
    - Fully remote - no one works in the same space
    - Hybrid - some in-office
    - Multi-office - everyone is in an office, but not the same office
  • Working hour overlap
    - Global - <3 hrs overlap
    - Continental - >3 hrs overlap
    Note that a team where all members are on the same continent may act like a global team (allow people to work whenever) or a team across continents may act like a continental team (require people to work in roughly the same time zone). A team's category is defined by working hour overlap, not literal time zone overlap.

Here's a quick overview of the different remote teams:

I cover each of these below

One of the key ways in which these teams vary is in the way they treat hiring and people.

In this post, I highlight the unique strengths and challenges of each type of remote team and summarize keys for success with each one.

Continental remote team

Continental remote teams are possibly the easiest form of remote to make a success. They do come with certain drawbacks though.

Strengths

  • Fairness: everyone is equally remote in a fully remote team. All teams can struggle with information asymmetry, but fully remote teams naturally gravitate towards fairer systems
  • Scheduling: continental teams benefit from a high time zone overlap, making scheduling meetings considerably easier

Some Work

  • Speed: continental teams benefit from fast, synchronous communication, but the lack of an office means that this frequently happens through lower fidelity mediums like Slack or email
  • Talent Pool: benefit from the entire continent's labor market, not just one region's. However, they are limited to one continent.
  • Cost: no office = $$$. Also, continental remote teams can hire anywhere in their continent, a major perk for workers (for which they may trade in some salary). However, they can't benefit from cheaper overseas labor.
  • Flexibility: while giving people enormous flexibility in where they work, continental remote teams don't provide as much flexibility on hours

Challenges

  • Closeness: synchronous communication builds some closeness, but not nearly as much as physical co-location

Keys

  • Face time: promote work conversations from Slack and other forms of text communication to video conferencing to improve speed and build closeness

Global remote team

Globally remote teams have some enormous benefits and equally enormous challenges. The biggest advantage: employees can work anywhere at whatever hours they want.

Strengths

  • Talent Pool: hire anywhere! Not just in major metros either; these teams can have people in SF, New Delhi, rural Germany, literally anywhere
  • Fairness: everyone is equal in a fully remote team. All teams can struggle with information asymmetry, but fully remote teams naturally gravitate towards fairer systems
  • Cost: no office saves money, and global talent markets can be considerably cheaper than domestic. Fully remote work is a major perk, and some workers will value it in place of some salary.
  • Flexibility: global remote teams can work anywhere at any time

Challenges

  • Scheduling: any time could be off-hours for someone, so scheduling requires careful consideration
  • Speed: communication is almost entirely asynchronous. If an employee is blocked on another, they may end up waiting a long time for a response.
  • Closeness: fully remote teams will all struggle since there are no natural breaks (water-cooler, lunch, etc) to build closeness when fully remote. Global remote teams struggle even more, since synchronous communication builds some closeness.

Keys

  • Less meetings: since the cost of scheduling a meeting is so high, see if you can get away without one. There are tools for asynchronous meetings (including just using a Slack channel).
  • Threads: use threads instead of synchronous text chat. Some tools, like Twist and Threads, naturally lend themselves to this. Slack doesn't, but it can if you re-enforce correct usage culturally.
  • Some face time: to build closeness, schedule some virtual face time with your teammates. This can be as frequent as a couple hours a day or as little as a couple hours every other week.

Continental hybrid team

Someone needs to work from home for a personal reason, and the company wants to retain them. Suddenly, the team morphs from single office to continental hybrid.

Just because they occur naturally doesn't mean they work well naturally. Hybrid teams, by default, come with more challenges than remote teams due to the inherent unfairness of the situation.

Strengths

  • Scheduling: continental teams benefit from a high time zone overlap, making scheduling meetings considerably easier

Some Work

  • Speed: continental teams benefit from fast, synchronous communication, but to include remote teammates, communication frequently happens through lower fidelity mediums like Slack or email.
    In-office teammates may discuss things in person, improving speed when used judiciously, but causing friction when important information is not surfaced to remote teammates.
  • Talent Pool: benefit from the entire continent's labor market, not just one region's. However, not quite as good as global.
  • Cost: smaller office = $. Also, continental remote teams can hire anywhere in their continent, a major perk for workers - however, they can't benefit from cheaper overseas labor.
  • Closeness: evolves naturally for in-office teammates, but often happens at the exclusion of remote co-workers
  • Flexibility: remote employees benefit from more flexible work than in-office employees

Challenges

  • Fairness: in-office teammates have water-cooler chats, lunches, etc. without including their remote peers, resulting in two tiers of closeness. Without careful guardrails, work communication also happens via exclusively in-office channels, leaving remote workers in the dark. This can cause major feelings of resentment or exclusion.

Keys

  • "Remote-first" mentality: design your communication systems for your remote employees rather than your in-office team, as remote communication still works in-office, but the reverse is not true.
    Also, ask in-office employees to work remotely some times to build empathy with their remote colleagues.
  • Team-wide face time: either fly in the remote teammates or do video calls frequently to break down walls between the two tiers of teammates

Global hybrid team

Global hybrid teams make the divide between remote and in-office more extreme, so they require even more effort to succeed.

Strengths

  • Talent pool: hire anywhere! Not just in major metros either - these teams can have people in SF, New Delhi, out-of-town Germany, literally anywhere

Some Work

  • Cost: smaller office = $. Also, global remote teams can hire anywhere in their continent, a major perk for workers. However, some of the team is still in-office and domestic.
  • Closeness: evolves naturally for in-office teammates, but often happens at the exclusion of remote co-workers
  • Speed: in-office teammates benefit from fast, synchronous communication; however, in-office communication causes friction when important information is not surfaced to remote teammates. The global context amplifies friction as the remote member cannot easily just "ping" the office to catch up.
  • Flexibility: remote employees benefit from more flexibility than in-office employees

Challenges

  • Fairness: in-office teammates have water-cooler chats, lunches, etc. without including their remote peers, resulting in two tiers of closeness.
    Without careful guardrails, work communication also happens via exclusively in-office channels, leaving remote workers in the dark. This can cause major feelings of resentment or exclusion.
    In a global hybrid team, even with a remote-first communication system, in-office teammates will respond synchronously and faster, adding pressure to just move forwards with a decision without input from remote teammates.
  • Scheduling: any time could be off-hours for someone, so scheduling requires careful consideration

Keys

  • "Remote-first" mentality: design your communication systems for your remote employees rather than your in-office team, as remote communication still works in-office, but the reverse is not true. Communication must be primarily asynchronous to accommodate time differences.
    Also, ask in-office employees to work remotely some times to build empathy with their remote colleagues.
  • Threads: use threads instead of synchronous text chat. Some tools, like Twist and Threads, naturally lend themselves to this. Slack doesn't but can if you re-enforce correct usage culturally.
  • Some face time: to build closeness, schedule some virtual face time with your teammates. This can as frequent as a couple hours a day or as little as a couple hours every other week.

Continental and global multi-office teams

Multi-office teams vary significantly from remote or hybrid teams. Obviously, they have the downsides of a more limited talent pool (to cities near the offices) and increased cost.

Communication success is largely dependent on organizational structure. The key: have people in the same office do tight-knit units of work, so that significant communication isn't required between the offices.

Once you've done this, the only difference between single-office and multi-office office teams is a sense of company culture that transcends offices. There's a number of strategies for this, from webinar-style all-hands presentations to whole-company retreats; I'll save these for another article.

Plug for Pragli

No matter what form of remote you choose, your team needs some face time to build closeness. Consider using Pragli.

  • If your team is continental, make Pragli your virtual office, spending all of your online time in it to quickly communicate synchronously.
  • If your team is global, use Pragli for team hang out sessions periodically (e.g. virtual office hours) alongside a threaded, asynchronous tool.

Pragli is free in beta; learn more here.

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