How to organize a remote team
Experience of a remote developerAugust 11, 2019
Skilled professionals and companies don’t often live in the same place. Some companies can afford to have people move to their city, but many don’t. And so remote jobs were born.
Working remotely can be fantastic. It requires a different work organization than a team in the same office. Different rules and principles apply to a team spawning different countries and time-zones.
Issues with remote teams
I will illustrate the three main issues I’ve faced the most working as a remote developer.
I’ll assume we are dealing with a half remote team in the next sections. Full remote teams are better at handling many issues since there is no alternative most of the time.
The biggest issue with remote teams is communication
Communication is key in every team, it can make or break a company. Yet it is often overlooked for remote employees.
In an office you can “bump” on your colleagues, meet them for a break or see them looking up from your screen.
This doesn’t happen with a remote team, while you say “I’ll drop him/her a message on slack” you forget most of the times.
Talking is easy, writing is a conscious action that requires focus. This is the biggest issue of remote companies.
The all common quick verbal agreement while on coffee break doesn’t work in a remote team.
Everything has to be written down.
From your daily schedule to decisions and even ideas.
While this might seem time-consuming, it is the only way to include remote employees. Lack of communication is far more taxing on everyone’s time.
Too many times I hear remote developers saying “I didn’t know that” or “When was that decided?“. This makes your colleagues less effective at doing their job. So they get dissatisfied on top of making the company lose money. And when a trained dissatisfied employee leaves, the company loses more money.
See the section below for a list of suggested software to improve communication.
The lack of socialization
Socialization makes teams bond thus increasing productivity and responsibility.
Socialization requires an active effort to include people outside of the office environment.
Its absence hurts your company’s ability to develop cross-team networks and share knowledge.
Perks are a way to attract and retain talent.
Perks centered around activities in the office or after hours are exclusive. They make the job less desirable if they are part of your offer.
If you already have remote employees, your ability to retain them might be lower than you think.
These issues do not appear or are minimized by having everyone in the same office.
To have a successful remote team you will need to actively solve them.
Having a remote team is a high maintenance high reward deal.
It requires an effort to provide an environment equal to or better than an office.
There is no downside in applying these principles to a non-remote team. The aim is increasing team efficiency, quality and happiness.
Handling communication in a remote team
Communication is a kaleidoscopic issue, there is more than one solution to get it right.
Slack is the first step towards an efficient remote team. Scoped channels for every topic, plugins to enhance it. Here the bulk of the communication happens.
Must-have Slack plugins:
- Github inside Slack. Best way to be notified of new commits, pull requests and comments.
- Google Calendar one less tab to have on your browser.
- Trello as with Github, instant feedback on Slack.
- Zoom quickly fire a meeting, generate a link, and save a recording.
- Geekbot daily stand-ups on Slack, no need to lose half an hour on a call no one is interested in.
The trick here is to try and see what works best. Many companies developed their successful approach outside of these plugins.
It’s important to keep the discussion open. Like a tree, it requires constant care to grow.
Socializing in remote teams
Having all employees know each other will create a diverse and healthy environment.
Lack of a shared office space narrows the chances people have to communicate. You need to actively create opportunities for people to socialize.
Pair programming and cross-team collaborations are good ways for people to socialize at work. They should be incentivized until they will become natural and not require external input.
Perks everyone can enjoy
Remote employees have a hard time finding perks they can have access to.
I’ve personally never seen any perks worth mentioning as a remote developer. Compensating with a higher salary does not help retain talent. There is always a company paying more.
Perks I would like to see more often would be:
- Parental leave (EU is definitely better, yet generally contractors are not that protected).
- Equivalent wellness/fitness perks (if the company offers a gym discount, let me have it where I live).
- Tickets to conferences to different cities.
- Minimum vacation requirements.
It is always a good idea to have remote employees visit the headquarters a few times a year. More socialization and teamwork are always welcome.
Remote work allows companies to hire the talent they couldn’t otherwise attract.
This, in turn, requires more active care of employees’ organization and happiness.