How to manage remote software development teams successfully?
Originally published in March 2019, last updated in April 2020.
Remote teams are a great form of cooperation with skilled specialists. This is especially true in the case of software development. Hiring a remote team of development engineers, software architects or project managers is a really efficient path to building great products. In this post, we will explain how to manage them.
Hiring a remote team of engineers, software architects or project managers is a really efficient path to building great products. In this post, we will explain how to manage your software development team.
Why are remote teams gaining popularity?
Discoveries in psychology and business management show that people work most efficiently in small teams of five to twelve people. This group sizes guarantee the highest engagement and efficient project management. There are many explanations for these findings. Some say that this is the result of our evolutionary hunter-gatherer’s mind harking back to the days when we lived and acted in small groups. Notwithstanding the reasons, the researchers agree that a network of teams is the future of cooperation.
In sectors where a high level of expertise is required, team members often have to be spread geographically, naturally drifting towards remote teams. Why is that?
Let us give you an example. Think about scientists. Astrophysicists are always searching for answers to the most complex questions about the known (and unknown) universe. This task requires an immense level of expertise and talent. This is why the elite scientists collaborate with their peers across the continents. They have been doing so for many years.
The same trend has been emerging in software development outsourcing in the last two decades. There are several reasons why this field is embracing remote cooperation and what used to be known just as outsourcing to cut costs, is now the most efficient way to build high-quality software solutions.
- Tech brain drain
The first reason is the scarcity of talent. Although software development is not as complicated as astrophysics and, thanks to the growth in technology, building applications and tools are becoming more sought after, the demand for development services is growing much faster than the supply. Quality software engineers are sought after everywhere, especially if they are using the technology that is on the rise.
This phenomenon is known as a brain drain and is visible in business and tech hubs, such as Silicon Valley, New York, London and Amsterdam, as well as local hubs, such as Warsaw. If you are operating in one of these places you probably have to compete for every single employee.
Brain drain not only makes businesses overpay for talented workers but, also, sometimes may even make it impossible to hire competent specialists.
- New technology for remote teams
Secondly, new technologies – and the culture of openness – make it easier to work remotely. Tools used for communication and team collaboration, such as Slack and video conferencing, are taking over all industries. However, software engineers have been using them for decades, working with technology that’s global.
- New methodologies of software development
The next catalyst of the remote revolution is product development methodology. Businesses around the world have embraced the agile approach where you work in iterations, receiving feedback from the users, customers, and other stakeholders after each stage.
The agile methodology also assumes direct communication not only inside the development team but also among all project stakeholders. This makes every team somehow remote by default since it’s usually very challenging to place all the stakeholders in one office during the duration of a project.
What are the challenges related to managing remote teams?
There’s no denying that managing remote teams may be challenging. First of all, not sharing the physical office removes the human factor of cooperation. It’s easier to get along with your colleagues when you have a chance to interact with them. Small talk during meals cannot be underestimated for building team spirit that transfers to engagement.
That is why experienced remote team managers underline that it’s vital for the people involved in the project to meet in person from time to time.
Once again, technology and methodology come in handy. You can manage work and communication within a remote team using messaging tools, emails, or video calls. It’s also helpful to introduce regular video stand-ups – short meetings where people involved in a project discuss their goals, achievements, and problems they face.
What’s another challenge of remote cooperation? Time differences. If some of the team members work in completely different time zones, communication among them may be difficult – lack of understanding or quarrel that could be resolved in just a few minutes in person can turn into a lag lasting up to a whole day.
Mistakes to avoid
When working in a remote team, it’s crucial for everyone to be on the same page. Transparency, clear division of work, and sense of responsibility are essential to achieve success.
You should also remember that it is very easy to start a conflict among people who don’t know each other. When talking on a phone, we are deprived of the majority of vital signals such as facial expression and body language, we would typically send to each other talking face to face.
Different time zones can often lead to frustration within teams and, it’s a good idea to introduce new working hours to cut down on any time lags between workers.
This hazard is even bigger when instead of voice calls, the communication happens through messaging. Even though it may seem very efficient, it bears the risk of misunderstandings and conflict.
Best strategies for managing a remote team
Remote teams give you access to world-class talent and allow you to scale up depending on your needs. Recruiting an in-house developer, solution architect, or project manager can take up to several months. At the same time, you can double or triple the size of your team in just a few days if you are working with a nearshore software development provider.
However, as already mentioned, remote teams also bring risk to the table. Here some good rules for avoiding them:
1. Focus on clear communication
- choose the best time for team meetings and stick to the communication plan
- be present at the meetings, pay attention and make sure everyone is engaged and focused
- make the meetings and stand up sessions short and to the point
- make the meetings sacred – even if everything goes perfectly well, everyone should be ready to participate
2. Use the tools that your team likes
This is quite easy as the tools are well-known and being actively marketed. The tools themselves can create the right work culture and engage the people in your team. Here’s an example of a remote development team’s stack:
- Slack for team collaboration
- Zoom for video conferencing
- InVision for design and prototyping
- GitHub for software development
- Trello for project management
- Google Drive for documents and spreadsheet collaboration
3. Pay attention to process and procedures
Apart from simple tools, there are also other things that keep the remote teams together. In the traditional working environment, the building, cantina, conference room, shared working hours are the scaffolding for cooperation and knowledge exchange.
While working with a remote team, these should be replaced with procedures and work culture based on shared values and sense of responsibility. Switching to home office requires good preparation and strategy, do remember about time management practices.
4. Don’t neglect the working space
The fact that you are a remote worker doesn’t mean you can work anywhere. A cafe will work for a few days or weeks, but soon it will turn out too unpredictable and distracting. That is why it is a good idea to work in dedicated offices in which will be able to focus on your work.
5. Make sure you’re on the same page
Arrange meetings of all stakeholders. Meet during the planning session or after launching the MVP. Getting to know each other personally makes remote cooperation much easier.
Typically, a client working with a big remote team can benefit from their relations, shared values, and culture. Here, it’s somehow a reversed relation, where you embrace the culture of your remote employees.
6. Keep the engagement high
It’s a good practice for remote team collaborators to be engaged during the whole project. The atmosphere of the team can have a major impact on any project which is why it is vital for your team members to be open, supportive and willing to share their areas of expertise with others.
Things like internal team jokes, trivia, “rituals” are an essential part of a healthy work culture, where people feel appreciated and are happy to engage in the project.
7. Make sure you provide feedback
You need to do it all the time. Find the right balance between positive and negative feedback. Be transparent, talk openly about everything.
The results of every sprint depend on how quickly and eхtensively you provide feedback. Discuss with your project manager what tool you’ll use so that you can inform everyone of the decisions you’ve made and tasks that need to be done.
8. Create a hierarchy of competence
Technical skills shouldn’t be forgotten, so make sure everyone in your team is an expert in their field. It doesn’t mean they are always right but they should have the knowledge necessary to make the right decision.
Listen to your team members and don’t be afraid to ask questions to get a better understanding of the software they are working on, especially if you yourself don’t have any technical background.
9. Hire a full stack team
Hiring a full-stack software company will provide you with all the necessary skills and will speed up the start of the project.
Moreover, an experienced team of engineers, solution architects, business analysts, quality assurance specialists, security engineers etc. that have been already working together on various projects can give you valuable feedback, offering their advice on the best way forward. Hiring dedicated teams will make it much easier to cooperate remotely.
We hope this guide will not only convince you to hire a remote team but also make it easier to manage it efficiently.