Remote employees are a secret weapon for a startup nowadays. Instead of relying only on talents of the local (and often the most expensive) market, perhaps you should think about the best specialists from around the world.
Source: Buffer/State of Remote Report/2019
As you can see from the graph above, some companies generally prefer the the entire staff to work remotely, which also causes some difficulties. Other companies have both office and remote employees. And it may seem that everyone is happy, but from time to time, various kinds of problems arise and they are mainly associated with management and a lack of understanding. How to act in this situation and get the most out of managing a remote team? How not to get apple milkshake instead of apple pie? We will try to answer these questions in this article.
What should you do?
.1 Compensate for difference in distance by attention to each employee
One of the main reasons why virtual teams may not succeed is because they do not compensate for the distance between employees. They seem to forget about the other members of the team who live quietly in their own world and cooperate as much as they are required to.
In a virtual environment, it is necessary to create an opportunity among remote team members for “direct” formal and informal communication. Some effective options include online chats, project management platforms, and video conferencing.
.2 Keep the chat open all the time
Communication is the key to success. Take care of creating chats for internal communication between team members. It is very important that these chats remain “alive”, but not distracting. It is enough to have constant communication, and discuss some important issues so that everyone feels part of one remote team. Alternatively, you can create an entertaining chat for the entire company that is not directly related to work. This creates a chill-out effect where team members can talk about whatever they want. Team members may experience a sense of detachment when working remotely from home, and chat helps to maintain a sense of social connection.
.3 Use screen sharing tools
There are tools that give you visual access to your desktop so that the other person can see exactly what you are doing. Some of these tools allow you to remotely control another computer. Many of these tools are free to use in small groups. These include TeamViewer and Join.me. Skype also has the ability to share the screen, but without the ability to remotely control another computer.
.4 Keep track of time and other key performance indicators
If your pay is per hour based, then naturally you should keep track of how many hours each person works and keep a clear record of time.
When managing remote team, it can be difficult to understand what exactly is happening, how long and what each team member has been working on. There are a minority of people who are motivated enough and do not need to be closely monitored. At the same time, the majority needs a certain level of discipline, especially when working at home. Moreover, it will help you correctly predict the workload and task distribution.
First, create a database where you will record the workload of team members in advance. Plan who will be loaded, how and how much. So you can understand what resources you have.
Secondly, use special services to manage tasks, such as Jira. In general, there are a lot of them and we will talk in more detail about some of them below. The main thing is not to forget, that managing remote teams is a relatively new phenomenon and it’s better to manage it with the help of no less relevant solutions.
.5 Organize a time synchronization system for communication in different time zones
If your remote team members work in different time zones, make sure that you have a period of synchronized time when all members of your team work. Hold virtual meetings at this time. If the remote team is ok with it, they can schedule a communication session outside of business hours, or you can do your best and get up an hour and a half earlier (after all, it’s in your interests to know how the work on the project proceeds), this eliminates the problem, when your working hours do not overlap at all.
.6 Meet in person
It is difficult to develop true friendship with the team during remote management of employees. Meet in person, several times a year or whenever possible. This is the best method to strengthen internal connections. Meetings in real life can be useful when managing larger and more important projects and reduce the risk of misunderstanding by e-mail, phone or by message. Constant interaction will help remote workers to “break the ice” and feel like part of the project to the fullest, as well as strengthen relationships at the personal level. Just remember that some developers may consciously choose remote work, as they don't feel comfortable about communicating directly.
.7 Use startup checklist
In order to succeed, especially working remote, you need to keep everything organized. Startup checklist will help you work with maximum efficiency through every stage and round. It’s not only a few tips on how to do it right, it’s your personal helper that guides you to success.
Some useful tools
Here are a few tools to help you manage your remote team. Of course, the list is incomplete, but it’s enough for a good start.
.1 Project management systems
Systems containing many different management tools in one place can be extremely useful for managing a remote team.
- AceProject is a project tracking web application that helps you manage projects from start to finish. This is a comprehensive project management solution for individuals, groups and enterprises who need to control their important management processes. AceProject provides tools to keep your projects on time and on budget thanks to its time and cost tracking features. Entering time is very simple, automated and convenient.
- Jira is a powerful online service that allows remote development teams to plan projects, assign task performers, plan sprints and collect tasks in a backlog, set priorities and deadlines.
Everything is simple here. If you need a corporate messenger for communication and planning meetings with integration with more than 100 popular specialized services, it is worth considering Slack. Of course, do not forget about Skype, Telegram and other messengers. These services are the most popular and are the de facto industry standard. The use of these particular means of communication ensures that all participants will be available for communication.
.3 VCS systems and other code tools
The following tools will be useful for remote developers to co-edit code:
- BitBucket. Free if the number of users does not exceed 5 people. The main feature is the ability to create private code repositories in unlimited quantities.
- Github. Easy-to-use version control tool with bug tracking system. The ability to create private repositories is only available in the paid version.
- Cloud9. Allows simultaneous coding in the cloud for several programmers. It makes it possible to get rid of the workplace and work with the code where it will be more convenient for the specialist.
- Hackpad. A good tool for creating public documents with code. Also suitable for working with texts.
.4 Work with documents and other tasks
For managing documents, of course, a great option would be Google Docs. It will allow you to get rid of mutual shipments of docks that may be lost, etc. Here is the whole history of change — at a glance.
Also useful will be:
- World Clock and Figure it Out — allow you to track world time and know what time of day is now in the location of each of your remote team.
- Google Sites is a great option for storing internal corporate documents. Here you can place job descriptions and other docks. Having a link to them, each new or existing team member can open and study the necessary one.
- Confluence is a replicated wiki system for internal use by organizations to create a single knowledge base. It is written in Java.
- ProdPad — for collecting ideas on the project.
- Meldium — allows you to give remote team members access to "password-protected" documents, accounts, etc., without giving a real password.
And this is what you shouldn’t do!
.1 Do not divide team members by degree of approximation
It is a very bad idea while managing remote team to divide employees into the “core" and “remote”. Do not make a difference between them when distributing responsibilities, and trust them equally. The opinion that remote employees are more lazy and freedom-loving than office workers is a myth. If a person is prone to procrastination, he does it in the office as well, right in front of everyone.
.2 Forty juniors are not the same as twenty middle
During the rapid growth of the company, managers tend to actively recruit people. At the same time, sometimes beginner programmers are recruited mainly. A low threshold for passing the competitive selection attracts young specialists, because it is enough to complete a simple task, and if you did it carefully, you are in a team. However, forty juniors are not the same as twenty middles. Each needs to be taught, each needs to be completed, each needs to be given a lot of time. Over time, you still have to expand and hire new employees, but you should not teach people from scratch anyway. These forty juniors will cost the company much more than if you hired five experienced programmers. It is better not to save money on hunting and soberly assess the distribution of time for employees to complete tasks.
.3 Slowly process requests
The remote development team often needs answers to business questions, and in most cases they need these answers right now. If the customer responds to requests slowly, the team can stand idle for 2-3 days, literally burning your time and money. Understand the need to receive answers to questions during the working day and plan your actions based on this fact.
.4 Do not overdo it with total control (just set clear goals)
Let’s imagine a situation. The leader decided that “the team is not working at full strength” and “they are deceiving me somewhere”, and set himself the task of watching and checking every step of the remote team members. In addition to calls and letters on purely working moments like “what stage the employee exactly is at the current state of the task” (statuses are often needed), “how much is left until the end of work”, there are calls during lunch to find out how long the employee goes to lunch and "make it clear to the employee that you need to work more and eat less." At some point, this control becomes so intrusive that many employees in the remote team may begin to think that they probably have not taken root in the team and are trying to survive. The problem of excessive control is often affected by young managers who have seized upon a leading position and now they need to feel like a person with power.
It is not easy to manage remote team that will create a high-quality product and at the same time interact well, but there are more and more opportunities for this every day. New developments and tools appear, employees are becoming more interested in this type of work, and company owners are finding the benefits of such a solution for business. It is not enough to find and organize truly valuable employees, they need to be interested, retained and motivated for the result - and this rule applies to any type of team. However, before starting work, such a team must first be formed. How to do this? Read in our article Perfect Software Development Team for Startup.