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Google's guidelines for successful distributed teams

Aktualisiert: 24. Apr 2020

Google has nearly 100,000 workers spread over 150 cities. On five continents. In more than 50 countries. About 30% of the company’s meetings involve staff in more than two time zones.

To discover the factors that make some distributed teams more successful than others, Google's People Innovation Lab (PiLab) spent two years studying more than 5,000 employees. Google's research included measuring performance, well-being, and connectedness for example. The result of this study are guidelines put together by Google, which, if implemented properly, shall help companies to improve the overall success of their distributed team, even if it is spread out across the globe. Google published these guidelines in a so-called Playbook (PDF).

So what were the key findings?

Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google's People Innovation Lab, states that many who were interviewed said remote work made it "more difficult to establish connections" with their colleagues. It takes extra brain power to schedule across time zones, for example. 

"The technology itself can also be limiting," points out Gilrane. "Glitchy video or faulty sound makes impromptu conversations that help teammates get to know, and trust each other, seem like more trouble than they're worth."

Google's most important insight: colleagues should have the opportunity to get to know each other. Instead of diving straight into the agenda at team meetings, managers should start with an open question. This could, for example, be: "What did you do at the weekend? According to Google, this makes it easy to build relationships between colleagues. Mindless chit chat should be allowed and also encouraged, as it helps employees in differenct locations to build personal bonds.

Furthermore, managers should be flexible about meeting times if they involve employees located in different time zones. Google makes sure that meetings are at different times every week to make the times equally convenient for workers in each time zone. Managers shouldn't make assumptions about their employees' preferred working hours, advises Google. Instead, they should be asked when they want to hold meetings.

Another finding of the study was that managers should be able to give team members the opportunity to meet in person and travel to meetings in other countries. Strengthen virtual relationships between team members and take them to a new personal level.

According to its own statements, Google implements its own tips on a daily basis. The company organizes virtual weekly lunches to make room for conversations between team members. They also send regular emails to set goals for the coming week, for example, or to identify problems in completing work.

On the outset of the study, the research team had the assumption that teams working in different locations might not be as productive as their non-distributed counterparts. The overall findings of Google however can be seen as positive and a validation for the growing remote work movement.

"We were happy to find no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office," writes Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google's People Innovation Lab. "Well-being standards were uniform across the board as well; Googlers or teams who work virtually find ways to prioritize a steady work-life balance by prioritizing important rituals like a healthy night's sleep and exercise just as non-distributed team members do."

The whole playbook including all tips for distributed team management by Google can be found here:

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