How do you make a distributed team work?

We have a team of four, all working in different parts of the US. I’m not going to lie, it really sucks. I really want working remote as a team to work, but I’m not sure it’s possible.

We’ve tried several things to help with communication, but it’s clear that not working together is starting to cause serious issues. Active/continual communication seems to be our biggest obstacle.

Those of you that have succeeded at making this work, what’s your secret?

  • You can make a distributed team work. But you have to work at it.

    I see three keys to successful distributed teams:

    Excellent communication: both real-time and asynchronous

    Trust: You have to trust your colleagues with a great deal of responsibility and autonomy. There’s no tool or service to make this happen. You have to have faith in your colleagues.

    Communication: Decide on a real-time chat client that offers searchable archives, an open API (to extend functionality), filesharing, and a mobile app. I recommend HipChat or Slack. Use GitHub (or similar) to conduct code reviews. Use or similar collaboration/project mgmt system. Read all the blog posts by 37signals and GitHub and others about making distributed teams work.

    Transparency: Don’t ever silo information. Make sure all information – bugs, feature requests, customer support, KPIs, meeting notes, etc – are easily accessible to all. This is important with a colocated team, and 10x as important with a distributed one.

  • We are trying it in my startup. We are 5, with 3 people distributed throught the world and 2 who remained on our home town. Honestly, not only is it challenging, and harder to make sure everyone is doing their part, but it is by far the most boring working experience I’ve ever had.

    It is slow, not dynamic, discussing ideas over a hangout or on slack is not as easy, nor as compelling. I really hate working like this and, while I believe in the project I’m working on, I’m on the verge of signing off.

    37Signals can say whatever they want, but to me it only works for short periods of time or when you have a well established company. Otherwise, it is plain boring.

  • Depends on the people and their duties. I’ve built several companies with people from around the world, some of whom I have never actually met in person. The success was predicated on each individual’s skills and capabilities, not location.

    Maybe you have the wrong people?

  • We have managed hundreds of online workers and the keys to us are:

    Open and maintain channels of communication
    Strengthen motivation and trust within the work team.
    Strengthen autonomy and empowerment in the team
    Be clear with expectations and goals
    Conduct a feedback process to build on and improve the work of everyone
    Implement positive work conditions
    Hold virtual meetings and events as much as you can.

    You can find more information in this link:

    or contact me at for more info.

    Good luck!

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