Full Guide on Managing Remote Development Teams
Today, many companies have no choice but to build a good remote team. But doing this isn’t as easy as it seems. A lot of businesses have found themselves in the need of help, and we’re happy to provide it.
We have great experience in managing remote workers and communicating with partners and clients online, and we're willing to share our experience with you. We'll give you a couple of useful tips and explain to you the best way to put them into practice.
Are you ready to start? Then it’s high time to see how to manage employees in remote locations.
What are the main challenges of managing remote teams?
When working with a remote team online, any company faces a number of certain challenges. Let’s briefly list them so that we could understand what we'll have to deal with.
More complicated team building. The task is becoming really challenging, especially if company executives haven’t worked with remote team members before. Experience plays a huge role in these kinds of things.
Difficulties with project management. It's about the assignment of tasks, monitoring their implementation, and assessing the quality of work. That's why it's crucial to establish effective collaboration systems (which we'll discuss in detail later).
The difference in time. Such a problem is being faced only by companies whose employees are located in several parts of the world. Different time zones significantly complicate the coordination of joint collaboration and remote team management.
The challenges of teamwork. Employees who have to work from home don't always see the big picture and therefore cannot understand the general strategy of the company. However, our further remote team management tips will help you solve this particular problem.
The difficulty of hiring new remote team members. It takes a lot of time to test the competencies of employees online.
Later we’ll figure out how to cope with all of the above difficulties and improve collaboration with a remote team. But right now, let's discuss the benefits distributed teams provide us with.
Benefits of distributed teams
Saving money. Working with distributed software teams, we thereby reduce the cost of office rental, depreciation of equipment, and the like.
Expansion of the geography of employees. You can hire high-class professionals from different cities and even countries. You’re freer in your choice. In addition, if an employee changes his place of residence, he'll have no reason to quit.
Flexibility. Managing remote teams can be difficult and even challenging, but you become more flexible. You have more options to offer, which means your employees will be satisfied with the cooperation with your company.
How to approach the process of managing remote employees?
Now we have to discuss specific tips for managing a remote team. And they all really work, with the right approach.
Tip 1. Make your process transparent
In listing development team management difficulties, we've mentioned that employees don't always see the big picture. So, the best way to avoid this is to stay in touch with your collaborators and ensure transparency of all processes. Each staff member must have an understanding of who is doing what and why. It helps to bridge the gap between teams.
By the way, successful company executives with experience in working with a remote team online emphasize the importance of informing co-workers about key corporate priorities. A good example: Katherine Berry, the leader of Allocadia, admits that they use Slack to notify employees about various news and events. In addition, they post videos of corporate meetings and presentations, which means members outside the office don't miss anything.
Tip 2. Organize formal and informal communication
One of the main rules for creating an effective remote team is to provide full communication between its members. In the end, a person is a social being, and lack of companionship can adversely affect the quality of his work. And we’re talking about both professional and friendly (informal) intercourse.
As to the first point, we'll consider it further in the article. Now we want to give a couple of ideas regarding informal communication between the team members of your remote offices. Believe us, it's quite possible to come up with a lot of interesting things.
For example, think of creating a culture of using video chat to arrange friendly gatherings (of course, virtual ones). Just chat, share news, discuss your hobbies... It’d be a cool, fun, and very unusual pastime! And most importantly, such a technique causes a huge amount of positive emotions. And it does matter when you're working at home.
Tip 3. Set up daily and weekly meetings
Now let's recall the professional aspect of your remote-team communication strategy. After all, it is a regular professional communication that will make the developer more productive. And by the by, it’d be smart of you to use two tools for remote team collaboration:
Skype or any other instant messenger;
Video conferencing platforms.
We advise holding short daily meetings to briefly discuss the processes taking place in the company and make sure each employee knows what he needs to do. It is also helpful to start organizing longer weekly video calls on important topics. It creates the necessary working rhythm of the distributed software teams.
Tip 4. Find appropriate tools for remote teams
And now we’ll consider various means aimed at development, communication, video conferencing, and other company's needs. In other words, we're going to describe the most significant team management tools.
The main rule here is the use of cloud services. They’ll help to establish a full-fledged workflow in the conditions of remote cooperation.
Tools for remote team collaboration you may need:
Corporate email, a useful tool needed to implement quick interaction with all team members. By the way, the Google platform offers an excellent solution of the sort.
Messengers, the so-called team communication tools. Among them are such solutions as Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, and others. And you’re likely to need both a personal connection with each employee and general group calls.
Office solutions: document storage and teamwork services. Platforms such as Google Disk, Dropbox, G Suite, Office 365 are in the lead here.
Video conferencing. We suggest paying attention to Skype, Zoom, Hangouts or Slack.
Project management system. We've already discussed the difficulties associated with assigning and monitoring the tasks, and it's time to tell you which tools are able to help solve the problem. These are JIRA, Asana, Trello, Bitrix, Redmine, Youtrack, and so on.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems: AmoCRM, SalesForce, etc. You may also need a content management system (if you have a website or application with enough information).
Automation and simplification of HR tasks. Services like BambooHR, Hurma System, or Workday will come to your aid.
Employee feedback systems (Yva.ai, Qualtrics, Glint) and instant gratitude services (say, Karma Bot).
Corporate social network. All market leaders have their pages on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You should follow their lead.
Screen sharing. These tools can come in handy if you need to work together on some task, and do it remotely (do take advantage of TeamViewer or Join.me).
Individual solutions. The list can be supplemented with other solutions depending on the specifics of your company. Say, since we have to manage the remote team of developers, we're actively using GitHub, the largest platform targeted at the joint development of IT projects.
Of course, it's up to you to decide which team management tools are right for your company.
Tip 5. Give in-time feedback
Another way of improving communication in remote teams is to remember to provide in-time feedback to your employees.
If collaborators don’t receive a timely response, they start feeling forgotten, as if they’re “offside”. This can lead to their frustration, a sense of their own uselessness. Therefore, make sure each co-worker is in constant contact with his team leader.
Tip 6. Discuss and set goals
Best practices of managing remote teams also include the ability to discuss and set goals correctly.
What should be taken into account in this regard? Here are some simple tips:
Creating short-term plans to achieve long-term goals. That is, break down a plan focused on achieving your big goal into several simpler steps.
Setting up deadlines. Each task should have a clear planned deadline - otherwise, your employees will have no idea of how much time they have to complete their work.
Weekly strategy adjustment. Remember to stay flexible. If you’ve made up a plan, it doesn't mean it should remain unchanged. So constantly adjust your strategy to meet new circumstances.
Tip 7. Keep track of distributed teams' productivity
The next advice follows logically from the previous one. Its essence is that it’s much more reasonable to replace the concept of a traditional working day with KPI (key performance indicators).
Surely, each company has its own key performance indicators but we’re ready to give some universal tips to help you analyze the KPI of members of your remote offices:
First of all, the regular assignment of tasks to each employee is required. One of the project management platforms mentioned above would come in handy here.
The second important aspect involves the activity of the employee himself, who should mark his progress using the project management system: more specifically, he has to indicate the phase of his task implementation (in progress, completed, postponed, closed, etc.).
The final stage of work on KPI is the analysis of the productivity of a particular employee at the end of a certain period (once a week, month, quarter, or year). After such an analysis, the manager or team leader can conclude how effective each participant in the project is.
Tip 8. Use retrospectives
Conducting retrospectives helps distributed agile teams to effectively solve inevitable problems. In fact, we're talking about regular meetings of all project participants, and the purpose of such a meeting is to discuss the work process and determine if any changes are needed. What's more, the heads of departments are by no means the only ones included in the process, everyone is free to pass an opinion on the matter.
Why is using retrospectives important?
Offering ready-made solutions to employees often leads to the Not Invented Here effect. To be precise, even if team members understand that they’ve been offered an effective solution, they're less responsible towards it than towards the one formed with their own participation.
In addition, the experience of the project participants also plays a role, because each of them is able to contribute in a practical manner.
Tip 9. Reward your remote team members
A person working at home may feel lonely and divorced from the rest of his team. Therefore, be lavish of praise and give small rewards to those employees who have proven themselves well. It’ll help to unite the participants of your project even more.
Tip 10. Build a united development culture
And finally, our list of remote team management tips ends with a recommendation to build a united development culture and form corporate values. Even if employees are forced to work from home for one reason or another, they still miss the feeling of community. They want to be part of a whole.
We'd like to name a couple of options to create a common developer culture:
Video conferencing as a way to inspire your remote team members and convey the idea of your company's culture (say, your vision and mission).
Keeping your team informed on how things are going in the company (see our tip #1).
Creating occasions to initiate informal, non-work-related communication (see our tip #2).
Congratulations to employees on birthdays and special occasions. You can also send them significant gifts or small souvenirs, whatever suits you.
In other words, do your best to make people feel part of your team and company.
Now let's summarize what is important when managing remote workers. Take a look at the infographics below! It perfectly illustrates and adds up all of the above.