6 Tips on How to Effectively Manage a Remote Development Team

Remote-Development

Can you imagine a corporation that remotely employs more than 2,000 employees located in 99 countries and speaking 124 languages? Such a distributed company exists – it is a well-known creator of WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Jetpack and other Automattic platforms. For more than 17 years, this unique company has been able to unite developers from different parts of the world into project teams and create high-quality products. Do you also want to? Then you need to learn how to manage a remote development team. Here are some tips on how to master this skill.

Statistics of remote work in IT and other areas

In the pre-pandemic time, remote work was considered an exception. The home office was a kind of luxury. But in the context of social distancing and quarantine measures provoked by the coronavirus, employers had to reconsider their views. Forced to transfer the entire staff of employees to “home mode”, managers realized the advantages of remote work and began to actively support it after the weakening of pandemic restrictions.

According to Statista, if 16% of IT professionals worked from home before Covid-19, then in 2022 this figure increased by 29%. Moreover, 29% of IT specialists hope that they will “settle down” in the home office forever. Also, 29% of employees work on a hybrid model, and 36% of them plan to continue partial visits to the office.

Taking into account such employee attitudes, managers invest in technologies and tools that support a virtual workspace. Managers see how the home office environment has a positive effect on efficiency, so they try to provide employees with the proper level of productivity and security.

Employees like remote and hybrid work formats because they can freely plan their personal schedule, choose a workplace, spend less time on the way to the office and spend more hours with their family. For 48% of specialists, the possibility of remote work becomes one of the priority points for employment.

Top custom software development companies have previously practiced remote cooperation with customers from other countries. With the pandemic, the proportion of remote workers has increased. Firms not only allow full-time specialists to work from home, but also offer a Remote Development Team for external projects.

It turns out that the teams are distributed not only by country, but also by home and corporate offices within their state. Manage a remote development team to meet customer requirements on time and within budget is the ultimate skill. IT firms that have managed to grasp the art of management and debug remote collaboration processes are becoming leaders in their business niche.

Managing-Teams

6 tips for managing remote development teams 

To skillfully organize a remote software development team, it is worth following the general practices formed by experienced managers. Here are the six main methods of work:

Eliminate problems at the start: Prescribe the requirements of the project and assemble the right team

In order for a remote development team to consistently interact even at a distance, it must have clearly formulated project instructions. Therefore, it is important to determine the software requirements, the scope of the project and its goals. Try to describe the final product in detail so that the software development partner chooses the necessary team. And also calculated how many specialists and in what roles will be required to implement the project in full and on time.

Such a tactic is reasonable. After all, if there are enough personnel for all tasks, there is no need to waste time searching for missing specialists. Or vice versa, to overpay employees whose presence on the project is optional.

Turn the difference in time zones into an advantage 

In search of more budget-friendly software development options, customers often turn to outsourcing IT services abroad. Financially profitable in this regard are developers from Eastern Europe and Asia. No matter in which region you find a software development partner, it is important to take into account the difference in time zones.

For example, if the customer is located in Washington (USA), and remote software developers are partly in India and in Britain, then the time difference is from 5 to 10.5 hours. How to organize cooperation when the customer is just “waking up”, part of the team is already in the middle of the working day, and the rest of the employees are finishing work?

To optimize collaboration, it is worth planning meetings, assigning tasks and calculating team performance taking into account the time difference. You need to do the following:

  • find intersecting working hours for all employees;
  • shift schedules to increase collaboration time;
  • implement a flexible software development methodology for which the time difference is not an obstacle;
  • use a universal KPI for the number of completed tasks, not hours worked;
  • if possible, set up round-the-clock development, when programmers from one time zone pass the baton at the end of the day to developers from another time zone, whose working day is just beginning.

By rationally planning meetings, briefings, task setting and group assessments, you will achieve the same level of productivity as when working in internal teams.

How to Manage Remote Developers: Set clear work instructions

To avoid chaotic situations and confusion on a software development project, it is worth establishing clear working rules. Remote employees will be able to use these algorithms when the manager is unavailable. The regulations should explain to developers what to do if they encounter any problem.

The rules should also introduce the corporate culture and company values that remote employees should follow. So that they avoid disagreements and conflicts on the project. And they also knew the sequence of actions in emergency situations: for example, when the server crashes or a critical error occurs in the application. It’s not a bad idea to note small details, up to how long an employee should respond to emails if he/she is at the workplace.

The project manager should promptly respond to emails and transmit project information to the team. But if the PM is in a different time zone, clear work instructions can save the situation until the manager gets in touch.

Communication is oxygen for a distributed team

Lack of communication is one of the 10 reasons for the failure of software development projects. Documentation and correspondence via e-mail and messengers should be complemented by active video communication. This is important to make sure that each team member understands the essence of the upcoming tasks, the goals of the project and is on the same wavelength with colleagues.

Therefore, it is worth planning regular meetings and online conferences in order to maintain active communication with each member of the team. It is necessary to understand the level of involvement of team members, to see the progress of each of them, and also to take into account concerns about individual tasks. This will allow you to subtly feel the mood of the team and stimulate the activity of employees.

Short, dynamic and regular meetings establish personal connections between participants, maintain team spirit and enhance the sense of value of each employee.

Use suitable tools for remote collaboration

72% of American executives invest in virtual collaboration tools to improve communication in the remote software development team. As a rule, messengers and video conferencing software that support synchronous communication are the most popular. This means that all employees are available online and instantly answer questions from colleagues.

Since the remote team works in different time zones, it is worth providing it with a set of tools that structure the work of the team. The necessary digital tools consist of the following:

  • email client (Gmail, Outlook, Zimbra);
  • file sharing software (iCloud, Google Диск,  Bit.ai);
  • messenger (Slack, Skype, SocialChorus); 
  • project management platform (Trello, Jira, Twoodo, Wrike);
  • application for online conferences (Zoom, Jitsi, Videomost) and other useful programs. 

These tools will help you track the progress and performance of both an individual employee and a team. They will highlight which specialists have problems with completing tasks so that colleagues can help the “laggard”.

Management-Tools

Do not create emergency situations on the project by hastily hiring self-managed employees

A self–managed specialist is an employee who is able to perform duties efficiently without excessive management. Such an employee independently controls his/her actions, results, KPIs and deadlines. This is a well-organized specialist who is interested in increasing productivity.

To find such a specialist in the labor market, it is worth personally conducting interviews. It will take more time to carefully select candidates, but this minor sacrifice will bring results. Highly organized employees are able to work effectively both independently and in a team. They are stress-resistant and easier to navigate in difficult situations. These are the specialists who support the remote software development team and who ensure the reliability of the IT project.

5 mistakes in managing remote development teams

To ensure that cooperation with a remote team does not differ in quality from working with internal specialists, the following five common management mistakes should be avoided:

1. Inability to share product vision

In order for the team to move in the right direction and not make mistakes at every step, it must be familiar with the vision of the product. It is necessary to prepare project documents that will serve as a guide for remote software developers.

2. Overdo with micromanagement

If the team works remotely, you should not overdo it with total control of employees. Constant “surveillance” creates a stressful atmosphere and affects productivity to a lesser extent. It is better to establish reasonable management: think over KPIs, use the right software tools and trust your staff.

3. Neglect the difference in time zones

When a manager does not take into account the time difference with a remote development team, this generates a number of misunderstandings and conflicts. General disorganization affects the pace and success of the project. Therefore, it is important to take time to plan a joint schedule, taking into account the intersection of working hours. So that the necessary information comes to the right people in time, and the execution of project tasks is not delayed.

4. Limit communication by email or messenger

If the development team is located elsewhere, it means that it needs more attention than internal employees. The practice of “one online meeting a week and correspondence by mail” is not enough for the effective work of the team. Regular video conferences on work tasks and team building are really important. In this case, employees are on the same wavelength, understand the state of affairs on the project and receive constructive feedback from the manager.

5. Ignore tools for remote collaboration

Do not underestimate software solutions for remote collaboration. They have valuable functionality for assigning tasks, tracking progress, and managing a project. They include useful features that managers may not know about, but which significantly optimize work with a remote team.

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Advantages of a remote development team over your own one

Every businessman who plans a software development project faces the question of how to implement it. Should the employer hire staff or turn to outsourcing remote software developers? The answer in this case is influenced by a number of factors:

  • the purpose and complexity of the project;
  • budget;
  • availability of personnel with the necessary skills and knowledge in the local IT market;
  • time limits and so on.

The search and hiring of full-time employees is advisable if the customer has enough time and money to do the following:

  • allocate a place in the office or rent an apartment for the development team;
  • equip workplaces by purchasing equipment, necessary software and furniture;
  • hire employees with relevant work experience, which is difficult to do without a technical background;
  • configure workflows within the team;
  • take on the costs of utilities, office rent and payroll.

In this case, the manager will receive his/her own full-time team, with a common culture, a single time zone and the possibility of personal communication. But this option is economically advantageous for stable companies that regularly launch remote software development projects and who need to constantly work on improving and scaling their own software product.

personal communication

A developing business that needs digitalization of internal processes and temporary projects may not need full-time developers. More often, growing firms have short-term cooperation with specialists who are able to quickly implement a project with lower costs. In this case, the customer applies for outsourcing of a remote team, getting experienced developers for less money.

At the same time, a businessman does not need to deal with organizational issues, spend money on renting premises and purchasing equipment, as well as other overhead costs. It is only necessary to establish cooperation in a remote team so that it works productively, despite the difference in time zones and cultural differences. In other words, skillfully manage a remote development team.

Conclusion

A remote team needs attention no less than full-time employees. The team spirit and success of the project depends on how rationally the process of interaction between the manager and remote specialists is configured. Planning, regular feedback, team building and accounting for time zone differences speed up teamwork. Be genuinely passionate, do not spare detailed feedback, and you will manage a remote development team at the highest level.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.