Using Remote Teams to Develop Software

How to set your remote team up to succeed

Remote Development Team

Remote is the New Black

We believe in the power of the remote worker and the benefits it can afford the person and the business. When we started Azumo we understood that many of the traditional ways of doing business had changed. For instance, Automattic, Inc, the business behind WordPress, has shown that a company can be successful – and thrive – with remote workers. The company’s 450 employees are the definition of remote. Spread across 45 countries, they have demonstrated that a distributed company is a viable alternative to the traditional brick-and-mortar business model.

While we haven’t cracked the 400 employee mark – yet – there are a number of lessons we have taken from our journey that any business deciding whether to co-locate everyone or offer remote options should consider. To be sure, not every remote company finds success, though; a few elements must be executed correctly in order to ensure your remote development team will work for you.

Hire Right

A distributed company cannot be successful without a team of employees who thrive in a remote environment. As you consider candidates for remote work, gauge whether they have previous experience working outside of an office, whether through consulting, freelancing or working from home. These people are more likely to be self-starters who work well without direct supervision.

For development companies, it is also vital to find new hires who possess strong organizational and communication skills. The minimum requirements are responsiveness and an ability to communicate clearly and concisely. Optimally, new employees will also have previous experience with virtual collaboration tools.

Set Clear Expectations

With those employees in place, the remote work model requires a strong team manager. This team manager needs to possess strong leadership and communication skills; they will be responsible for clearly defining objectives and ensuring that all of the developers understand the company’s vision for the project.

As new employees are brought on board, the team manager should ensure that each one fully understands what is expected of them regarding delivering work, communicating with the team and reporting bugs. On a micro level, the team manager is also responsible for setting goals for each project and making sure each team member stays on track.

You may want to set expectations or make recommendations regarding the environment in which developers should work, such as the technology they are allowed to use. It may also be beneficial to develop communication etiquette, require developers to be available during certain hours and to set specific deadlines for every task.

Choose the Right Organizational Model

The organizational model you choose can make or break your remote development team. The agile methodology may work well, since it encourages frequent communication and splits the work up into several smaller projects. The product can even progress through development cycles at a faster pace if a development team is spread across several time zones and developers are able to work on a project without any interruptions.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Using a virtual collaboration platform for time tracking allows a team manager to see how much time developers spend on each task. However, it is also possible to measure productivity remotely by simply splitting a project up into smaller tasks (or using Agile) with deadlines and having developers submit their finished work regularly. This approach allows for frequent feedback and may result in better workload management in the long term. In addition, it allows you to objectively offer incentives to your remote employees beyond salary and title expectations.

From a measurement perspective, we track everything we can in terms of our team’s daily performance. Tools ranging from Harvest for time tracking, to Jira for project management, Slack for instant communication, and Hangouts for video conferencing all can work to create a seamless well run team. In addition these tools can also work to foster culture for teams.

Last, as you consider remote workers, there are some things that cannot be overcome easily. For one language, issues can never be overlooked and having the ability to communicate in a common language is paramount. Make sure whomever you onboard can effectively communicate in the language important to your business. Two, while we ourselves have workers across the globe, we recognize that it is best to align your teams with the time zones of the customers, partners, colleagues and constituents they work with daily. The greater the divide in terms of hours between people, the more complex everyone’s day becomes. The additional separation in hours of the day can also drag productivity.

When executed well, remote work can be a competitive advantage. Businesses who choose to use this model need to have a great organizational model into which they can plug carefully selected employees supervised by competent project managers. Combined with set expectations and measured productivity, this can increase employee well-being, decrease overhead and help the company make meaningful contributions to each of its stakeholders.

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