Nowadays, working with remote teams is often a necessity and although it is a great option to access talented engineers from all around the world, many leaders are scared to take the full advantage of such a solution. The lack of knowledge on how to manage those collaborations is what discourages them and ultimately stops from working with remote teams. In this article, I will present essential tips on how to work and manage remote teams.
1. Set clear expectations and explain the process
Before you start the development it is crucial to set clear expectations and explain the full product vision. The developers you hire should be aware of the final goal and the direction towards they will be heading. This will ensure your team knows what success looks like to you and rule out most of the misunderstandings.
It is important to have the process you follow well-documented and send out during onboarding. It should include your expectations for availability, tools they will be working with as well as work expectations. General words like ‘well’, ‘qucikly’ or ‘done’ can be ambiguous and misleading, so keep in mind to express yourself clearly and precisely.
Set core values and distribute goals into smaller time frames eg. present monthly or quarterly goal expectations to keep the team on track and allow further adjustments.
2. Communicate often
The most important factor of a successful remote collaboration is communication. Since the team you are working with is not physically present in your office, you do not have the opportunity to talk face-to-face on a daily basis. This is why a regular, often scheduled communication is crucial to outsourcing success. Plan short daily standups, weekly plannings, and scrum, team building, meetings.
Your responsibility is to respond to messages as quickly as possible to avoid breaks in production. Be accessible and open to feedback. Value your and other’s time.
Make use of various channels to communicate: use chat and video. A written form of communication will ensure that everything discussed is documented and available for future reference while video helps to build a more intimate relationship.\ Do not be afraid to use emoticons or gifs to strengthen your reaction and introduce a more relaxed atmosphere - non-verbal communication is as important as verbal communication.
Try not to overlook company-wide communication. Provide frequent updates to the on-site team, so they also know how the work is going.
When communicating, take time to get to know your remote team. Do not forget about small talks, ask about their hobbies or families. This will demonstrate you care about them and their well being, which will have a positive influence on your relationship.
3. Make time for one-on-one and face-to-face meetings
When working with remote teams it is important to make time for one-on-one meetings, preferably through a video chat. This will give you an opportunity to have an honest conversation with each team member which will further influence the overall level of happiness. Frequent chats will ensure you stay on top of things.
Try to arrange at least once a year an in-person meeting with the entire team - fly them over or, if possible, visit their offices. This will give you the opportunity to spend time together outside the work environment.
4. Choose the right tools
Ensuring that your team is working with the same tools as you are is an inherent step. At the very beginning of the project, you should choose the tools which you will be using to communicate, document progress, track time etc.
Project management tools like Trello or Jira will help to organize work and distribute tasks. By using that, everybody on the team will know who is currently working on which task, which ones were finished or need to be reviewed. Weekly plannings and reviews based on those ticketing systems will give you information on the progress, which tasks need more time to be completed or which ones you can get rid off. Trello and Jira are also a great place to document ideas and future functions.
Slack is probably one of the most popular chat and video solutions. It allows sending private messages, making calls, creating public or private channels dedicated to various topics eg. a channel with important company-wide announcements or one for the off-shore team only. It supports emoji and gifs as well as file sharing.
Google also gives you a great variety of tools that you can make use. Google Calendar will help you schedule calls and meetings while keeping you up-to-date with time zone differences and possible public holidays. Google Drive is a great cloud environment to store all the important files on. It gives you the ability to create and share documents, presentations, spreadsheets as well as keep your documentation or framework guides handy.
5. Balance schedule
Timezones are tricky. Especially if you and your team are on the complete opposite sides of the world. This, however, does not make the collaboration impossible, just trickier. When planning meetings it is important to take into consideration the time differences, national holidays etc. Aim to find a time that works for both of the sides, but if that is impossible be the side who wakes up earlier or stays up late in order to take the inconvenience off of your partners. Here, make use of already mentioned Google Calendar - it will ensure everybody knows the schedule, send notifications when before a meeting and help to overcome time differences.
6. Track performance
When handling remote teams it is important to keep track of the progress they are making. Make use of productivity tracking software in order to ensure your employees stay focused and on the right track. Those tools can also aid in performance reviews and help to set clear objectives within specified time frames. There are many goal tracking and OKR tools you can use.
Before implementing such tools remember to properly introduce the technology to the entire team. They should understand it is not a way of controlling them, just helping them to manage their time, fight distractions and improve concentration.
Those tools will also come in handy when calculating payrolls.
A well managed remote team is what stands behind a successful outsourced project. \ Clear expectations, good communication and proper tools are the key elements of an amazing collaboration.