“Headquarters” and “Remote”: Language Matters

I’ve been working with program teams lately, and some of them have issues when they talk about different teams on their programs when they use words such as “headquarters” and “remote” locations. The headquarters teams tell me the remote teams don’t listen to them and the remote teams tell me the headquarters teams don’t hear them. There’s more to it, but that’s the start.

When program team members,  and especially program team managers and project managers talk about “headquarters” and “remote” teams, they, and the teams, assign a hierarchical and positional meaning to the teams.

When you say “headquarters” and “remote”, the implication is that the people who count are the people at headquarters, and the people who don’t count are remote. The people whose opinion means something are the people at headquarters and the people whose opinion doesn’t mean anything are remote.

I am sure, that for the majority of program teams, this is not their intent. They don’t mean to exclude other people’s opinions or discount their ideas. But they do. Language matters.

I prefer to call the teams by either their feature team names or their locations: Floor 2, Section 27, Bangalore, Dublin, Cambridge, LA, whatever the geographic location is that defines that team. (I like to identify a dispersed team, with a feature.)

However you name your teams, consider avoiding “headquarters” and “remote”. Consider naming teams after their features. That may help your organization move to cross-functional teams in one location.

Whatever you do, avoid the us and them of “headquarters” and “remote”.

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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2 Responses to “Headquarters” and “Remote”: Language Matters

  1. Good concept Johanna, I’ll use it.

  2. subashish says:

    In service orgs, this is very common with ‘onsite’ and ‘offshore’ being the other variation. Also I have heard of ‘client’ team and ‘non-client’ team. And not that the this is unintentional, the power structure is very clear and it is meant to be so. In companies like Accenture, even people more often belong to different sub-organization with different pay and career model – closer to client getting better deals. No wonder, agile implementation in such companies is more often a joke.

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