Remote development teams are an established practice and no longer just a trend. As businesses scour the globe to attract the best minds, they've turned to remote teams as a solution.
However, getting remote teams to collaborative effectively is hard—and sometimes takes years to master with a trial-and-error approach. Some even fail to ever make it work, restricting themselves to local expertise, rigid approaches, high salaries and wasted recruitment fees.
Knowing how to empower remote development teams to become more productive, collaborative and knowledgeable, can lead to superior business results. Think lower costs, high quality deliverables, higher first-time-right ratios and more. More importantly, happy teams that are far more willing to work hard for an ultimate cause.
In this post, we share some our secrets of how we helped clients shortcut years of experimentation to establish effective remote development teams and create winning teams.
Software development is inherently complex, with communication serving as its anchor.
Central to the development process are stages ranging from conceptualization to testing. Each stage necessitates clear instructions, constant feedback, and tight coordination among the team. The challenge becomes particularly pronounced in cross-functional teams, where diverse expertise and backgrounds converge. In such setups, effective communication mechanisms are vital to ensure error reduction and efficiency.
Consider the potential pitfalls of miscommunication:
A business owner might inadequately convey a customer's concern to a UX designer, leading to an off-mark design solution.
A developer might make assumptions based on a vague user story, dedicating days to a feature that ultimately misses the mark.
Such discrepancies can be exorbitantly costly, leading not only to wasted effort but also misallocated resources. Recognizing the gravity of clear communication in software development is the first step. Implementing robust communication tools and fostering an environment that encourages open dialogue can pave the way for success.
Recommendations to solve the problem
Training & Workshops: Regular workshops on effective communication tailored to software development can help teams understand and overcome common communication barriers.
Robust Communication Tools: Tools like Slack, JIRA, and Confluence can facilitate clear documentation and ongoing dialogue.
Regular Check-ins: Daily stand-ups or weekly meetings can ensure everyone is aligned and any issues are addressed promptly.
Clear Documentation: Encourage teams to maintain thorough documentation of requirements, decisions, and feedback.
Feedback Loops: Implement mechanisms for constant feedback at every stage of the development process.
Diverse Team Integration: Organize team-building activities and interdisciplinary sessions to foster understanding and rapport among cross-functional team members.
Remote teams have to deal with physical, time and cultural barriers - hence the importance of communication becomes even more pronounced.
Physical cues: In face-to-face meetings, a lot can be gauged from non-verbal cues like body language or facial expressions. Unfortunately, remote teams don’t have this luxury, so the verbal and written communication needs to be even more explicit.
Cultural context: Remote teams often span across different geographies and cultures. What's clear and straightforward in one culture might be ambiguous in another. Hence, explicit and clear communication becomes vital to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Time zone differences: With members scattered across various time zones, there’s a narrow window when everyone is available. Clear communication ensures that maximum productivity is derived from these limited overlapping hours.
The most effective companies try to get the most out of their team's time overlap and plan ahead to ensure a streamlined process. In case the overlap is limited, team members may be requested to start their day a few hours earlier of later. In some cases, it's even more beneficial to have teams working in shifts around the clock.
Screenshot from timeanddate.com
While clear communication forms the backbone of any software development project, its importance is magnified manifold in the context of remote teams. Investing in communication tools and fostering a culture of open dialogue is not just desirable but essential for the success of remote software development.
Setting clear objectives and expectations plays a critical role in guiding remote teams. As teams are geographically dispersed, often working asynchronously on tasks, enhanced focus on clarity is needed- especially on focus and direction. Here are some good reasons why to focus on this aspect in particular,
A unified vision: Without a shared office space to reinforce a collective goal, there's a risk that team members might drift in disparate directions. Clear objectives act as the team's North Star, ensuring everyone is navigating toward the same destination.
Accountability: In a remote setting, it can be challenging to gauge individual contributions at a glance. By setting clear expectations, responsibilities become well-defined, fostering a sense of accountability among team members.
Reduced ambiguity: Remote communication, though effective, can sometimes leave room for misinterpretations. By having explicit objectives and expectations, the room for ambiguity diminishes, ensuring that all team members have a coherent understanding of their tasks.
Motivation and morale: Knowing the 'why' and 'what' of their tasks provides team members with a sense of purpose. This clarity can boost motivation, as individuals understand the value of their contributions and see how their efforts fit into the bigger picture.
Large-scale virtual gatherings can be an ideal space for leaders to share the company's broader goals and how the team's objectives fit into that vision. There are many ways to clarify the vision while making the session interactive, valuable and fun for attendees.
Organise virtual townhalls
Share vision / roadmap
Conduct surveys / polls
Screenshot: Using Kahoot to increase audience engagement
Collaboration tools are the lifeline of remote teams. When chosen and utilized effectively, they can seamlessly replicate the efficiency of an in-person office environment and even offer additional benefits that transcend geographical barriers.
From GitHub for code management to Trello for task tracking, the right tools simplify remote work. Invest time in training the team on these tools to maximize efficiency.
While their are plenty of tools you can invest in, make sure that your remote team's workflow and tools provide a seamless experience for collaboration. See below an example of the type of tools we like to invest in to empower our remote software development teams.
These tools are a must for every team to send emails, manage calendars and create / share documents
These tools provide teams multi-modal ways to collaborate and communicate (sync and async)
These tools provide a way to keep track of tasks that the team is working on, and their level of completion
These tools provide developers specialized workflows that allow them to be more efficient
These tools provide UX/UI and graphics designers specialized workflows to collaborate
Team culture serves as the invisible glue that binds remote teams together. It plays a pivotal role in fostering connections, helping individuals view their teammates not just as colleagues but as a part of a larger family, even if they've never met in person.
A positive and inclusive team culture boosts morale and motivation, leading team members to take initiatives and give their best, feeling that they're contributing to something greater than just their tasks.
Employees are also more likely to stay with an organization where they feel valued, understood, and connected, significantly reducing turnover rates.
Software development teams, given their specialized nature of work and frequent collaboration, have unique challenges and needs. Here are three tailored tips for fostering a robust team culture specifically for remotely distributed development teams:
Regular code review and pair programming
- Why: Development teams thrive on shared knowledge, continuous learning, and collective problem-solving. Code reviews and pair programming not only enhance code quality but also foster team bonding and shared ownership of the product.
- Use tools like GitHub, Bitbucket, or GitLab for streamlined code review processes, allowing team members to comment, suggest, and discuss changes.
- Leverage platforms like Visual Studio Live Share or Tuple for remote pair programming, allowing developers to collaboratively code in real-time.
- Schedule regular sessions, but also allow for spontaneity where developers can spontaneously pair up to tackle challenging problems or brainstorm solutions.
Technical show-and-tell sessions
- Why: Developers often work on specific modules or parts of a project, which can sometimes create silos. Sharing technical achievements or learnings can build appreciation for each other’s work and increase the collective knowledge base.
- Dedicate a specific time, say once a month, for these sessions.
- Encourage team members to showcase a challenging problem they solved, a new tool or technology they explored, or even a failure they learned from.
- Ensure an environment of appreciation, curiosity, and constructive feedback, making these sessions a safe space for learning and sharing.
Dedicated channels for technical Challenges and brain teasers
- Why: Development teams often enjoy problem-solving and technical puzzles. Engaging in such activities can act as both a fun break and an opportunity for team bonding.
- On collaboration platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams, create a dedicated channel for sharing coding challenges, technical riddles, or brain teasers.
- Encourage team members to share challenges they come across and participate in solving ones shared by others.
- Occasionally, turn this into a friendly competition, maybe with a small prize for motivation. It's less about the reward and more about the collaborative spirit and the joy of problem-solving.
While remote work offers various advantages, there's an undeniable value in face-to-face interactions that digital tools can't replicate entirely. Co-location, even if temporary, can be especially beneficial for building and strengthening relationships within distributed development teams.
Meeting in person allows team members to connect on a more profound level. Sharing meals, engaging in casual chats, or just being in the same room can build camaraderie, trust, and mutual understanding.
For global teams, co-location can provide team members a firsthand experience of the diverse cultures within the team. This immersion can lead to better appreciation, understanding, and respect for cultural nuances.
Co-locating allows for real-time brainstorming sessions, whiteboard discussions, and spontaneous problem-solving. Such interactive sessions can lead to breakthrough ideas and solutions.
While spontaneity is valuable, having a clear agenda ensures that the co-location period is productive. Outline key meetings, workshops, and activities in advance.
Balance intensive work sessions with leisure activities. This balance can rejuvenate the team and foster bonding. Use this opportunity to gather feedback about remote work challenges, team dynamics, and areas of improvement.
Once the co-location period ends and team members return to their remote setups, have a follow-up meeting to discuss the outcomes, learnings, and future action points from the co-location.
In summary, while remote work is the way forward for many organizations, the human touch, the personal connections, and the tangible interactions of co-location have their unique and irreplaceable value. Embracing temporary co-location at intervals can offer the perfect blend of flexibility from remote work and the connection benefits of in-person interactions.