Managing remote teams is not a new thing in the software development world. The pandemic has forced the tech industry to admit what some have known for years: software development can be done remotely by managing remote teams wisely and be as productive as in-house development.
Even before the pandemic, software developers valued the opportunity to work remotely. When asked where they prefer to work, 33 percent say they prefer being remote, while 35 percent say the option to work remotely is an important job priority. This is the reason why Twitter decided to give up office work altogether, telling most of their employees they can just work remotely forever.
So if some or all of your developers are remote, it is time to implement a few formulas to ensure your remote team is productive under your guiding hand.
Managing Remote Teams: Stats
- Before the pandemic, 44% of companies around the world didn’t allow remote work at all. (Owl Labs)
- 16% of global companies exclusively hire remote workers. (Owl Labs)
- Only 3% of respondents feel they are actually less productive being remote. (FlexJobs)
- 32% don’t notice any significant difference between office and remote work. (FlexJobs)
- 49% of people surveyed say that they prefer to work remotely when they really need something to be done. (FlexJobs)
- 86% of workers prefer to work alone to achieve maximum productivity. (FlexJobs)
- For 61% of respondents, loud colleagues are a major distraction in the office, while 40% really dislike impromptu meetings. (SurePayroll)
- Companies that allow remote work permanently have 25% lower employee turnover than those that don’t. (Owl Labs)
Getting Started With Managing Remote Teams
Managing remote teams takes some real trust. Your remote software developers may be out of sight, but that does not mean that no work is getting done or that you will lose control of the process. Moreover, for ensuring that your message is conveyed effectively to all teams, you might need professional localization services for your content like training modules and documents. Especially if your remote teams are belonging to different cultures, it’s important to localize the message for desired outcomes. You can reach out to any professional localization partner like Mars Translation for the best results.
You should also be aware of the challenges as well as the best tools and practices to establish a smooth remote collaboration.
The Challenges of Managing a Remote Team
1. Undermined level of engagement and satisfaction
Loneliness and a lack of engagement is a problem for 19% of remote workers. As a team lead, you should schedule regular (every half a year) Performance Appraisal and Job Satisfaction meetings with each of your remote team members to see if the level of their engagement and satisfaction is still high.
2. Slower technical knowledge sharing
Some team members, mainly junior developers, absorb technical skills much faster when paired in-person with senior developers. Organizing this remotely will likely require a lot of effort and resources.
Try establishing mentoring relationships between senior and junior developers. A mentor and a mentee should have regular online meetings and dedicated time for knowledge sharing.
3. Unplugging after work
According to Buffer, the biggest problem for 22% of remote workers is unplugging after work. The flexibility of remote work sometimes makes it difficult to shut off from a never-ending list of tasks and make use of free time.
Therefore, in order to manage a remote team successfully, you should prevent burnout by checking whether your remote team members pay attention to their work-life balance.
4. Strategic planning and brainstorming
According to Owl Labs, brainstorming is the most challenging type of meeting when it comes to remote work. Strategic planning meetings come second.
Ask your teammates to prepare in advance for brainstorming and strategic planning sessions. Create a shared document where all ideas can be put down beforehand and then discussed during a video conference.
5. Mixed office and remote teams problems
When your entire team is working remotely, in the long run, you will naturally sort out the best practices for managing a virtual team. However, when you have half of the team in the office and the other half working remotely, problems may occur. While sharing information with your office-based team members is usually a no-brainer, your remote team can end up lacking the latest updates, which may in turn result in poor performance.
Keep all updates and other information to yourself till the next sync-up where all team members (in-house and remote) will be present. If the update is urgent, write an email to the whole team or set up an appointment to discuss it.
15 Tips for Managing a Remote Team
Whether you are a managing partner, a team lead, or a project manager with a few years of experience under your belt, you have most likely tried working with and/or managing a remote team. And we are sure you know by now how frustrating it can sometimes be, no matter where your remote colleagues are located — in the same city or some distant country 8 hours ahead of you.
We are in this together. Having 20+ years of experience in building remote teams, we know a thing or two about how to manage virtual teams. We have come up with 15 formulas of successful remote team management and divided them in four categories: productivity, communication, culture, and leadership.
1. Outline and measure deliverables
Articulate the key indicators of success to each remote developer and ensure they clearly understand what you expect from them. And don’t forget to write everything down. Then make one-to-one sync-ups (at least once a week) to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
2. Establish processes and procedures
In a remote team, each person can be in their own world. Remote developers tend to set their own processes and procedures that aren't always aligned with other team members. Establish a documented, standardized way of working, e.g. an approval chain, timeframes for different tasks, etc. Make sure everyone follows it and add changes if necessary. You will see that your remote developers will gladly follow a clearly outlined process of building, testing, and documentation.
3. Use daily check-ins to stay connected
Teamwork often includes relying on a colleague’s input when trying to get something done, especially in software development. Daily morning check-ins are one of the best practices for managing remote teams. They can help align your remote team on key targets and expectations of each member and ensure smooth task management.
Try asking your remote team members these questions every morning:
- What will you do today?
- Are there any roadblocks in your way?
- Did you accomplish yesterday’s goals?
In addition to daily workload visibility, this morning routine helps you identify roadblocks in advance and know how to manage your remote team every individual day. This is much better than running up against them while being in the middle of a project. However, beware not to fall into the trap of micromanagement.
4. Track working time
Time tracking is easy in an office environment where you can see who is coming in every day even if you are not tracking attendance. However, when managing remote teams, you can’t expect to exercise the same amount of control.
Of course, establishing a trusting relationship from day one and fostering an environment of personal responsibility is always best. If you manage to do that, you won’t need to bother with time tracking. However, if you do feel the need to track work time, there are plenty of virtual time tracking software tools. They allow you to see what tasks your remote team members are working on (in real-time) and which websites or apps they’re using.
5. Allow flexibility
Your remote developers will appreciate some flexibility in working hours and, for sure, you should allow it to some extent. But don’t allow too much freedom either as you will end up having trouble every time you need to gather the whole team for a sync-up call.
Flexibility has another side of the coin — remote workers find it difficult to unplug after a work day is over. We recommend to start working at the time you would usually start work on an average day. And make sure you have a finish time in mind and try to stick to it.
6. Account for time zone differences
Distant time zones can kill communication in a remote team. If some of your remote team members are located offshore, try to organize virtual meetings in an overlapping period when everyone is working.
Software development needs to be highly collaborative and large time zone differences can put the whole team’s productivity at risk. So, if possible, hire remote team members in the same or a close time zone.
7. Create opportunities for everyone to chat
A lack of communication is one of the biggest challenges in managing a virtual team. While being in the office leaves you no other option but to meet and talk to almost all members of the team, a virtual environment doesn’t sustain communication on such a high level. You need to create opportunities for team members to just “chat” both formally and informally.
8. Prevent message overload
When working virtually, teams tend to split communication into tons of emails, chat rooms, video calls, etc. Fish out cases of long email conversations, unnecessary video meetings with ten people invited to discuss low-priority matters, etc. Encourage your team to unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters, eliminate long internal approval chains, and try not to overuse marking emails as ‘urgent’ or ‘high importance.' At the same time, if you are working with external freelancers that don't have a company email, make sure to use an SPF lookup tool, in order to ensure that your email domain is safe and that your message has reached the destination in the first place. These steps will lessen the anxiety and pressure in a remote team.
9. Establish a set of communication channels
Everyone on the team will feel more confident if they know what to expect from each communication channel and how to use them. One of the proven tips for managing a remote team is establishing communication rules and limiting the number of channels to three.
- Emails: for quick interactions, requests, and approvals.
- Chat programs: for instant messages and real-time interaction.
- Video calls: for discussing plans and sharing results.
10. Set up a meeting schedule
Being clear in any work-related aspect is an asset. Meetings are not an exception.
Establish a meeting schedule and stick to it firmly. No cancellations allowed.
- Daily meetings with the entire team
- Weekly one-on-one meetings with each member
- Monthly all-hands meetings with other teams
11. Foster an active team dynamic
Make use of video calls in managing virtual teams. If you care about everyone feeling comfortable working with each other (and you should, as relationships between team members directly influence the quality of their work), it would be smart to try and promote friendships or at least positive attitudes between teammates. If they don’t at least like each other, poor team collaboration and bad results are pretty much inevitable. Ideally, you want to create an occasion for everyone to meet in person at least once a year.
12. Treat your in-house and remote teams the same way
Promote a culture of openness, trust, and transparency. Manage a virtual team by providing each software developer with an opportunity to communicate their thoughts, influence critical decisions, and keep track of the latest product updates.
13. Share your company’s vision, mission, and values
Share your future vision of the company freely. Keep your team updated on how the company is doing. People like to know the full gist of what is going on and to feel that they contribute to the company's success.
14. Lead by example
Managing remote teams can be hard without a true team spirit. Some of your remote developers may not be capable of fitting into every group, especially remotely. Despite all the stumbling blocks along the way, lead by your own example and be positive. Nothing makes a team feel low more than a weak team leader. Address each problem with optimism, but keep your head cool.
15. Recognize achievements
Make sure to set up a reward system to keep your remote team motivated. And remember the golden rule: praise in public, criticize in private.
Collaboration Tools for Remote Teams
A carefully curated list of tools for managing remote teams customized to fit your particular needs is essential for a successful collaboration.
Finding the right collaboration tools for remote teams may have been a challenge some years back, but with the newest tech advancements, there are plenty to choose from:
- Communication tools (Zoom, Slack, Chanty)
- Time tracking apps (TimeDoctor, Tragg)
- Video conferencing (Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams)
- Project management tools (Asana, Trello, Favro, Productboard)
- Documents and spreadsheets (Dropbox, Google Docs, Microsoft Teams)
- Privacy and security tools (1Password)
How to Manage Remote Developers
The first step to knowing how to manage remote developers is figuring out what differences there are between managing remote teams in general and managing remote development teams specifically.
A fair share of aspects, such as communication and task management, are pretty much the same for managing remote teams regardless of their specialization.
When it comes to managing remote development teams in particular, your remote management style, the success of the final product, and team productivity rely on the right choice of the following:
Agile is a proven methodology for managing remote developers. It allows making the development process more efficient by minimizing expenses and lowering risks during implementation.
The most popular frameworks are Agile Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), and Kanban.;
70% of our customers follow Agile methodologies, and if you also choose one of them, we will help you set up the process through our Agile Consulting service.
- Collaboration model
There are plenty of ways to establish collaboration with your remote development team. You should decide whether you want to manage your remote developers directly, control the workload, prioritize their tasks and also take care of remuneration, sick leaves, and other administrative aspects. If you are ready to cover all these roles, you can opt for hiring remote developers as independent contractors or freelancers.
If you already know how to manage remote developers with your own methods and techniques but you don’t want to bother with administrative issues, then you should consider hiring remote developers through an outstaffing service provider. The latter will take care of staff retention, payroll, and pretty much every other administrative issue so that you can focus solely on software development.
Project Management Tools for Remote Developers
Atlassian’s Jira is the most widely used tool for remote developers that use Agile development methods. Project managers prefer it to the rest of remote team collaboration tools because Jira offers highly customizable boards that can be configured to the needs of versatile projects.
- Scrum and Kanban boards for tracking the project status
- A customizable workflow designer for building unique workflows
- About a thousand ready-to-use plugins available on Atlassian Marketplace
About 3 million users choose Basecamp as a tool for remote developers. For many users, Basecamp is a place where they can create to-do lists, assign them, share ideas, and see the history of changes. One of the greatest advantages of the application is that it has its own storage, so you will always have all your documents and materials a few clicks away.
- Message boards to discuss new ideas and projects
- Visualized reporting on project performance
- Separate dashboard for teams and clients
Asana is a great solution for teams that prefer to keep all project-related information in one place. Teams can store files, manage projects, and communicate using nothing else but Asana. Just like Jira, Asana is a perfect tool for remote developers as it allows you to organize your tasks, assign them to your team members, and keep track of milestones, progress, and timelines.
- Notifications for project updates
- Suitable for projects with a simple architecture
- Free for up to 15 members
Our mission is to help your business grow through remote collaboration with remote software developers. Reach out with any questions by contacting us through the form below, and we will get back to you very soon.