Many organisations still carry out their projects with the requirement of co-location (a team working at a single location). They are gradually realising that this involves significant risk. Let us look at how to avoid this risk and make geographical distance an asset.
Co-location: the traditional working method
There is no denying that it is easy to find good reasons to ask teams to work at the same geographical location, such as system complexity, data security and control. However, in most cases, these reasons are rather excuses used to avoid leaving a comfort zone established by the company’s working habits.
Even certain agile practices, such as visual management, are used as arguments to avoid change and justify the need for a co-located team.
Today, performance requirements affect both business teams and IT departments. They are such that we need to understand the pitfalls we face by imposing this working method and begin the necessary transformation.
What are the challenges of a co-located team?
The main risk is related to the skills involved in digital projects. These projects require people with talents, working methods and expectations that are varied and sometimes rare, making sourcing tricky. Even at a single location, remote working, at least partial, is becoming increasingly common. Elsewhere, certain studies demonstrate the productivity of remote working.
As a result, organisations that are unable to orchestrate geographically distributed skills quite simply run the risk of limiting themselves to an average skills level because they are restricted by location, and seeing themselves outdone in terms of efficiency and value creation.
A second challenge is related to the requirement for communication between the team and stakeholders throughout the project life cycle, particularly in agile methods. Stakeholders are, however, frequently based in different geographical locations. Knowing how to continuously maintain a link between the business teams and project team, regardless of distance, is a key success factor. Once again, companies that know how to operate in this way do not hesitate to mobilise employees with dispersed skills.
This point is all the more important in view of the fact that international growth is a key strategic aim for many organisations. Therefore, the inability of a team in Europe to integrate stakeholders based in Asia, the USA or South America in its project will be an obstacle to the company’s strategy.
How to remove barriers to projects conducted remotely?
Once organisations are aware, the switch to a performance-oriented model can be done with various approaches, such as:
- Fully outsourcing the project to a remote team that offers the required expertise;
- Integrating remote resources into a local team.
Whatever the model chosen, running projects with remote teams involves expertise that is important to acquire. Let us take two key success factors as examples:
- Bringing teams together
It may seem paradoxical that one of the key success factors is ensuring face time. However, working remotely does not mean avoiding all contact. On the contrary, trips at certain key moments make it possible to create the proximity needed to ensure smooth communication throughout the project. For example, at the project launch, the launch of a release, or debriefing. It also provides opportunities to turn occasional trips into fun occasions and strengthen cohesion.
Particularly in tense situations, which are likely to occur in any project, solutions will be found more readily by teams that regularly meet up.
- Continuously improving the team formed
The success of transitioning to remote teams depends on an ability to maintain an improvement-focussed frame of mind at all times. Difficulties are a part of any project, but they are amplified by distance. Each obstacle encountered can be an occasion to decide that the model does not work. The prerequisite for success is therefore knowing how to continuously adapt and adjust the team formed.
One way to maximise the leverage created by teams formed, while combining them with the benefits of co-location, is to put together feature teams: small teams that focus on a specific aspect of the project. By using the location of the best resources (in terms of the cost-skills-proximity balance) as a basis, and bringing together people with complementary skills, efficiency and value creation are amplified.
Physical presence of the client is also an asset. If the client is located near part of the team, it will be in their interest to get involved in the project, therefore promoting direct communication, instead of communicating only via collaboration or incident reporting tools. With a structure that is spread out but organised into feature teams, it is possible to have your cake and eat it too.