Have you ever wondered about the effectiveness of in-office employees versus remote workers and distributed teams? If so, Google might have some answers for you: they conducted a two-year study to uncover the upsides, downsides, and best practices of remote teams, published in their report Working Together When We’re Not Together.

With 100,000 Googlers across more than 50 countries, more than 5,000 employees were surveyed about remote work. Let’s learn about their findings regarding cross-collaboration, recommendations, and the question on everyone’s mind: does remote work really affect performance?

High-performing remote teams. What does the data say?

The good

Google’s research shows distributed work in different locations is just as effective as working in the same office as your teammates. In other words, there was no dip in performance for teams with employees located around the world, whether it be in different offices, time zones or working remotely. In today’s global workforce, more and more companies value performance over presence (in the office). Employers who might still be on the fence take note: if a massive corporation like Google can be equally efficient with a distributed team, then so can you!

The bad

One common challenge for global teams is connecting, both on a human level and logistically. Casual conversations that help foster relationships—which happen naturally in the office—are not as impromptu with virtual teams. In addition, coordinating schedules and time zones requires more work; often requiring one geographic location to compromise; a 9 a.m. meeting in San Francisco means a midnight call for those in Singapore.

One thing is clear to humanize the virtual experience, many teams are using video conferencing to connect with distributed teams. 

The better

Not only did Google track performance, but they also measured employee well-being to see if there was a significant difference between in-office Googlers and virtual teams. The findings showed that “well-being standards were uniform across the board.” Remote workers may feel that they work more since their professional and personal lives overlap, however, the report reveals that both virtual employees and their in-office counterparts prioritize their well-being with a healthy work-life balance.  

“Do remote teams perform better or worse than office workers? #Google did a 2-year study, come find out what they learned. #remotework”

Best practices for remote teams

In addition to sharing their findings from two years of research on remote teams, Google also created a Distributed Work Playbooks to share best practices for successful remote teams. Employees, managers, and leaders can learn from the following:

Set expectations

Let your team know when to connect. There are a variety of ways to communicate that go beyond email; pick the tool that works best for you. Schedule weekly calls in advance, and we suggest conducting meetings via video instead of audio only. Some tips for a better virtual video meeting:

  • Ensure you’re visible on the video screen.
  • Make eye contact, give verbal feedback, and express reactions noticeably.
  • Give your undivided attention. Close distracting windows and turn off phone notifications.
remote work and performance
Create a virtual water-cooler

When working as a distributed teams, everyone has to put in a little more effort to get to know one another. Create opportunities to connect. An easy way to do this is to start meetings with open-ended questions, such as, “What did you do this weekend?” You can even create a group chat for a virtual water-cooler effect where coworkers can ask fun and social questions. Build this into your company culture. Managers who make an effort and lead by example help set the tone for employees.

Be considerate

If you work on a global team, it can be challenging to find a meeting time that works for everyone’s schedule. Instead of randomly choosing a meeting time, be conscious of your team’s various time zones and take into consideration their preferred time to connect. A great tip from Google’s playbook: “If you host a recurring meeting, try a rotating schedule to ease the time zone burden.”

Get face-to-face

Meeting in-person isn’t always an option for distributed teams, however, employers should consider bringing employees together in one location as often as they can. It’s important to set a budget and clear travel guidelines so teams know when they can travel to connect.

You, too, can have a high-performing remote team

Google’s two-year study proves that companies don’t have to be afraid of the remote work trend.  When done strategically, distributed teams perform just as well as teams located in an office. It might take more effort to run a remote team, but the benefits of flexibility and tapping into the best talent from around the world are worth it!