Naresh Jain goes further, suggesting that it may not be necessary to have a permanent team leader at all. "Open source projects don't have a central command and control structure," he says. "Leaders emerge and disappear as needed — so with a distributed team you don't have to have a dedicated leader."
Beware of time zones, but take advantage of them, too
"Time zones can be a pain in the butt when dealing with distributed teams," says Mullenweg. "We don't try to put developers in the same place, but we do try to keep teams spread across no more than eight hours."
Time differences greater than that can make working in a closely knit team difficult, he warns. But when you need to keep a team active 24/7/365, then having staff in different time zones around the world can actually be a big benefit, he adds. That's because it's always daytime somewhere, making it easier to fill night shifts in the U.S., and having team members in different countries also ensures that everyone is not off celebrating the same national or religious holiday.
Make remote working the default
Many distributed development teams have a core of developers working in an office as well as talent working remotely. If that's the case, then Vig recommends treating every team member as a remote worker.
"You need to get everyone in the office to use email, instant messaging and other communication tools and discourage office-based developers from walking up to each other and having discussions," he says. If office-based workers ignore group communication tools, then remote workers are excluded from conversations, breaking up the team dynamic, he explains.
Treat all communications as asynchronous
This last piece of advice from Vig is all about getting remote developers used to working by themselves. He says that communication tools can be effective, but somewhat of an adjustment for developers used to face-to-face conversations.
"You have to learn to trust that someone will get back to you if you send them a message. You can't sit there waiting for an answer and feeling left out if you don't get a reply immediately."
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