Remote Team, Part Two: Best Practices of Successful Remote Development Teams

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Olga Demidenko
Author, Geomotiv
Published: Dec 8, 2020

Thanks to rapid technological advancements, many employees can shift to working remotely overnight. We’ve already shared the list of online tools that a virtual team can use every single day in the previous article. However, not all of them have approved of leaving the office as it has affected their productivity. Part of the problem is that many employers have failed to respond to most workers’ abrupt transitions.

Every company tries to find an optimal solution to integrating remote developer teams efficiently. Luckily, it is possible to transfer employees to remote collaboration without harming an established workflow. It is necessary to know how to build a strong culture with a remote team and develop a collaboration system. 

To start, executives or business owners need to understand what makes the remote work format a preferable option. On the other hand, it is necessary to shortlist factors that can produce work outside the traditional office demanding. Let us start by weighing both aspects of remote collaboration.

Pros of Remote Work

  • No commute. Remote teams gain more time for work and their daily lives. Apart from time-saving, employees reduce costs on traveling to work.
  • Optimal workspace. Whether employees want a standing desk or an ergonomic chair, they can set up their home office the way they want it to be.
  • Fewer office expenses. With remote managing, it is easier to maintain the infrastructure of smaller premises. Among other things, business owners eliminate the need for cleaning and food delivery services. While most of the team is working from home, the bills for maintaining the office infrastructure are likely to decline.
  • No set location. Modern digital tools help bring the team virtually even closer than in a traditional office. The remote team can work from anywhere and not depend on physical location or close supervision.
  • Flexible schedule. Remote team members can fit their work around any personal needs or commitments. The control over the schedule helps balance everyday obligations and find the right way to complete the work within deadlines.

Despite all the positive sides of remote work, it also comes with particular challenges for employers. Though they vary for each person or company, there are specific patterns to consider.

Cons of Remote Work

According to Statista, 47 percent of respondents aged 21 years and older have identified home distractions as the primary challenge during the workday. Being unable to collaborate efficiently with colleagues and facing loneliness was the rest of the top three challenges as of mid-2020.

Understanding these struggles could help companies figure out how to support and develop a systematic approach to managing remote teams. What are the other cons for both employees and employers?

  1. Communication hurdles. Some employees find it difficult to move on to discussing work tasks using online tools. Another case is that communication patterns tend to be longer, which can also be overwhelming for the team. For example, Twingate found that almost 40% of employees have experienced mental exhaustion from video calls while working remotely. That’s why managers should spend more time planning regular meetings with the team as effectively as possible.
  2. Increased control.  Without supervision, employees won’t understand what they should focus on each day and hour. Employees are challenged to reach new goals and need direction towards them. That is why managers need to ensure that they control the process and KPI execution, measure productivity and performance. In the majority of cases, the teams can achieve them through more frequent scheduled video meetings.
  3. Lack of remote-savvy skills. When hiring remote employees or transferring them outside the traditional office, it is necessary to pay special attention to their soft and hard skills. Lack of communication, perseverance, self-management, ability to find a common language with the team come to the fore. Also, HR managers need to ensure that the employee is qualified to complete their work tasks.
  4. Difficulty in maintaining team spirit. Lack of frequent collaborating as a tight-knit team can be a tough challenge for many companies. The fear of missing out is almost unavoidable when all communication happens online. Companies need to create conditions for frequent online gatherings with virtual office mates. Besides, the lack of physical presence in an office makes it harder for managers to monitor employees' emotional well-being. That is why it is necessary to encourage constant communication. Managers need to make sure they can detect and avoid the problems of overwork and possible burnout.

It is hard to keep a sense of normality alive amid the remote settings. But companies need to take action to resolve the struggles of managing remote employees.

How to Manage Remote Teams Effectively: Checklist of Requirements

Here’s what employers can do to improve the lives of their staff.

Solve Technical Issues

Provide the necessary equipment that should correspond to employees’ tasks. Do you supply office laptops or ask to use personal equipment? In the latter case, instruct the system administrator to install all the necessary software and the tools that help resolve technical issues remotely.

Check if everyone on the team has good headphones with a mic. If not, buy the missing ones. Sound quality is essential for those who process incoming calls or negotiate with clients from a laptop. Another important thing is to check the continuity and quality of the Internet connection. Moreover, system administrators need to be able to provide any required tech support.

Provide Necessary Software and Tools

The teams can leverage the capabilities of various digital services to set goals, collaborate on documents, communicate, and manage projects. Make sure to have technology tools for managing remote teams and organizing workflows. Implement them as soon as possible.

Approve the List of Requirements and Procedures

Before transferring the employees to remote work, discuss the new conditions of the remote workflow. It is necessary to develop and refine a system in which employees will clearly understand the job roles in remote work. Since it will not be possible to go into the next office and discuss the problem, think over the communication process in detail.

For example, it is an excellent idea to intersect at least 4 hours with the team and schedule a call when it is difficult to resolve via chat or fit a thought into one message instead of a dozen. These rules can vary for different teams, but the management must discuss them with all employees in advance.

Manage the Team Efficiently

How to manage a team remotely? One way is to enable a visual representation of the work done. Time tracking tools and a well-thought reporting system help a lot in this regard.

Another important thing is to enable a flexible KPI system to measure employee performance. Managers should be ready to modify the system periodically to adapt to the changes in the company.

Besides, one should not forget to hold daily stand-ups. These are short meetings where participants share what goals they’ve accomplished and what they plan to do next. Such a presentation is usually limited to 2 minutes or so. Apart from that, weekly meetings with the team are also an excellent way to make employees feel accountable for their work.

Provide Opportunities for Social Interaction

Virtual events outside of work help promote a sense of belonging to the team and combat loneliness despite the remoteness. Enable some basic socializing through non-work chats, both for each project team and the whole company. Other activities can include polls, online coffee breaks, virtual parties on Fridays, or brainstorming sessions.

Promote the Culture of Trust

Many executives fear that a lack of face-to-face supervision can hinder productivity. Instead, they need to learn to trust their team and give time to adapt to new conditions. A recent study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that work-from-home employees report a substantial productivity boost. That’s why it is necessary to keep in mind that competent specialists will remain competent without strict supervision.

A 2-year Stanford study shows the astonishing productivity boost of working from home.

Now, let’s dig deeper into working ways to reach everyone across their locations. Read on for tips to be armed with the knowledge from Geomotiv’s experience.

How to Manage a Team Remotely: Geomotiv’s Example

Working remotely is nothing new to our company. One of successful examples of this work format used by Geomotiv is our dedicated development teams. We’ve engaged them on our projects before and know how to build a strong culture with remote specialists. However, the sudden transition to remote work for most of our employees left them little time for preparation.

To ease that situation, we ended up developing specific rules and practices. We also adapted our corporate policy to a remote work format. Here’s what we do to improve the lives of our remote employees:

  1. HR and executives do brief surveys to assess their moral and psychological state. These activities help to generate insights on how to prevent problems with employee well-being. A remote working study also allows us to identify which tools and resources employees are missing to work comfortably at home.
  2. We invite all employees to daily online coffee breaks. Any participant can connect to a video conferencing call, get distracted from work, take a break, drink coffee, and chat with colleagues.
  3. An all-hands channel in Slack provides a weekly digest of executive updates about our company's news, plans, new colleagues, etc. It helps to ensure that everybody is on the same page with what matters most for our business. Our HR team also recommends hosting company-wide weekly podcasts to boost morale and engagement.
  4. It is worth following a set of messaging rules. Apart from that, everybody on the team should share the same expectations for communication. For example, a task can take a lot of time to discuss via chat. Then it is easier to have a video call and record the necessary information.
  5. We trust our remote teams and avoid micromanagement. For example, a team-lead always thinks over the allocation of tasks for their employees in advance. There is no need to control the staff and message them every 5 or 10 minutes. We also establish an effective reporting routine for our teams. A team lead can check the quantity and quality of work done at daily meetings.
  6. We encourage each employee to improve their knowledge. There are more opportunities to request online courses, webinars, or coaching when working from home. As there is no need to commute, our employees can spend time on self-education and improving their skills. We believe that it is the best investment we can make both in traditional and virtual offices.
  7. Another important thing is to make sure their families realize that remote work is still a full-fledged job in new conditions. It is worth informing everybody at home about your schedule if you don’t live alone. A great example of it would be to hang a piece of paper on the door with a schedule on it.
  8. To stay productive when apart, we believe that it is necessary to focus on achieving work-life balance. We encourage our employees to avoid frequent overwork as it can cause them to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Part of our effort is to help our staff to balance their workday. Here are the tips we can share in this regard:
How to Balance Your WorkdayHow to Plan Your Day
Wake up at regular hours by setting the alarm for the morningSchedule only 70% of the time, and the remaining 30% can be spent on unplanned events, communication with colleagues and supervisors
After your usual morning chores, turn on your PC and start workingPrioritize your tasks. Perform more critical tasks first, leave less urgent ones on the second plan
To avoid distractions, create a separate workplaceSet deadlines to remain on track with your progress
Take time for short exercise breaks. Don't forget to stretch and take your eyes off the monitor once in a whileComplete typical tasks at one time. For example, devote separate time for phone calls and then shift to web design at the other time
Finish your work at regular hoursPick a specific end time to your workday. It will give you more energy to return to tasks the next day

In our office, new hires could naturally build relationships with each team member and get to know our team’s culture step by step. However, with virtual communication, this can be a challenge.

Onboarding Principles We Follow

Our company has adapted the onboarding process to the remote work format. We introduce newcomers to the company’s management style and enable seamless communication with the virtual team. In particular, here’s what our HR generalist will do to ease the onboarding process:

  1. Make online calls to introduce them to the company's processes
  2. Introduce the employee to the whole team
  3. Create joint online calls with a team lead and discuss what the new employee understood and did not understand
  4. Develop a detailed guide of the company’s documentation
  5. Hold face-to-face meetings every half a month
  6. Invite them to every online event organized by the company, be it an online meetup or team building event.

Summing Up

The relevance of the remote work format is as high as ever. Along with essential business benefits, it can solve personnel issues and affect employee interaction’s social aspect. However, it is hard to deny that remote work comes with many challenges. It’s a controversial collaboration format, with many peculiarities to take into account.

While most employees are working outside traditional offices, companies need to develop, adapt, and improve special rules for workflow organization. These rules level off the distance between remote teams and help maintain a productive workflow for each specialist. 

Enable necessary conditions for a comfortable work-at-home, make everyone feel involved in a common cause, align them with the company’s goals. Thus, you will avoid the pitfalls of remote work and contribute to the company’s overall success. To determine how to boost employee morale, and maintain a remote team’s psychological health, check out our next article. 

Stay tuned with the updates on our blog!

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