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Why distributed teams are more effective

Written by Justin on January 16, 2013

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Apparently, venture capitalist Mark Suster doesn’t like remote teams:

I believe distributed teams…are suboptimal and less productive in the long run.

The biggest anti-thesis to his opinion is 37signals. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson built Basecamp while David was in Denmark and Jason was in Chicago. The product is now almost 10 years old and has millions of (paying) customers.

Is 37signals an outlier?

Mark might suggest that 37signals is an outlier. But the truth is, many of the products we use and love have been built with remote teams: WordPress (Automattic), GitHubWildbit (half the team is remote), Treehouse (half the team is in Florida, the other half in Portland). Also, don’t forget: most open-source projects are distributed.

Josh Cramer, of CramerDev, has an excellent post on the advantages of remote teams. Here are a few of my observations:

It’s the people, not the location, that matters

If you have excellent people committed to a common goal, it doesn’t really matter where they’re located: they’re going to get it done. The big advantage that distributed teams have is they can attract the best people, no matter where they live. Bringing 10 people from different countries to San Francisco is a nightmare; why not save all that time and just let them telecommute?

Less distractions

When a remote worker is in her home office, she doesn’t have to worry about the normal workday distractions. Interruptions from people tapping on the shoulder, office gossip and drama: these are all absent from her life. With a reasonable amount of discipline, the employee can focus primarily on the tasks at hand.

In-person meetings are richer, and more valuable

The nice thing about working virtually is that when the company does get-together (face to face) those meetings are taken seriously. The team uses every moment purposefully; there is no time to waste! Anecdotally, this seems to be the experience at Wildbit, 37signals, and Automattic.