The COVID-19 pandemic has put millions of workers in remote mode. And, although we currently have an abundance of support from cloud technology that assists us with telework, many companies around the globe found themselves unprepared for this transition.
As the world progresses in transitioning toward telework, more and more similar jobs will appear on the market.
For instance, a software developer is currently within the top 5 remote jobs, the demand for which was expected to grow by 24% by 2026. The current pandemic, however, will likely boost demand even further.
As we see more and more companies switching to remote mode, they will soon hire entire remote development teams, thus completely outsourcing programming jobs.
But are these companies prepared to manage these teams? From what we can tell from the current situation, managing remote teams of developers will be quite a challenge, as many companies lack the methodology to do it well.
As the Bizcatalyst 360 magazine explains, the most popular reasons are that businesses struggle to find an effective way to communicate with their remote employees, or are simply not ready to switch from the traditional 9-to-5 working hours.
However, there are also quite a few companies that continue to thrive even today, as they started outsourcing work to remote teams a long time ago. And the most popular jobs they outsource to remote workers are related to programming.
If you browse through online platforms like FlexJobs or Glassdoor for job openings from fully remote companies, you’ll notice that the better half of these jobs are related to programming—Ruby on Rails engineers, Java developers, Python developers, Kentico developers, etc.
So let’s take a look at a few examples of companies and their approach to managing remote teams of developers. Understanding how to effectively manage your remote team can be the key difference between you and the competition, between staying relevant and struggling.
Zapier’s Approach to Communication
Zapier switched to full remote work in 2011. Back then, this move wasn’t perceived seriously, as Bryan Helmig—the co-founder and CTO of the company—said in an interview, sharing Zapier’s experience of going through this transition.
At that time, Zapier had remote teams of developers in different cities. When the company moved to San Francisco, its management decided not to hire a new in-house team of developers; instead they created a remote team of colleagues out of the people they already worked with.
During the transition, Helmig said that they made many mistakes. They fixed those issues by doubling down on communication, something they still do today.
Over-communication may certainly be perceived as an obstacle for productive cooperation. However, there is a difference between over-communication and micromanagement.
Both are variations in management style and are often compared. “Micromanagement is associated with over-communication, indicating the lack of freedom in the workplace,” says Martin Harris, an HR manager at Alltopreviews.com.
And yet, over-communication doesn’t necessarily mean stripping your team of their freedom. Micromanagement means that a manager takes full control over team members without considering their opinion.
However, over-communication can be applied not only by a team manager but by team members, as well. Coworkers can use different channels to share solutions for an issue in different ways.
As Helmig underlined, a thing worth saying is worth repeating a dozen times. So there is no shame in over-communicating with your remote dev team, as long as all team members understand the necessity of it.
10up and Remote Work Guidelines
So a new member just joined your remote team of developers. How should you deal with the change in a way that makes it easier for everyone?
Jake Goldman and Zach Brown, the creators of 10up—a web development and design company—shared their experience of managing remote dev teams during an episode of the PressNomics podcast.
Both company managers admit that not every developer they hire is cut out for remote work. They mean that people usually don’t have the coping mechanism to help them manage their work and communicate with other team members remotely.
To ease the newcomers into the process of remote work, the company developed a guide. Roughly describing the guide that new developers have to follow, Goldman listed the following points:
- Start your day by letting your team know about your plans. Goldman explains that disclosing what you are about to do is not an issue of control, but rather of necessity. Frequently, there are two or three developers writing the same code, and each of them needs regular updates on the status of work to be able to finish their part of the task.
- Every communication channel is used for different kinds of messages. Goldman means that the guidelines teach new developers what they should use Slack, email, and video call for. For instance, if a Slack thread discussing a coding issue is too long, it is advised to switch to a video call to resolve it.
- Work with an “onboarding buddy.” Goldman says that to help new dev team members adjust better to remote work, the company assigns an onboarding buddy to each of them. The task of these people is to answer even the simplest questions and help the newcomers build connections within a team.
On top of that, Goldman mentions that they copy Zapier’s over-communication approach in how they manage their remote dev teams. According to him, over-communication in 10up is encouraged from the early stages of employment.
Companies that rely on remote dev teams, like Grammarly and Grabmyessay, have all their programmers go through a virtual onboarding program, similar to 10up’s guidelines. This program finishes with a short test and an individual conversation with someone from top management, where team members can get answers to their questions.
Such guides would differ from company to company, depending on the product the company is developing and the number of team members that will work remotely. But having a remote work onboarding guide can help establish a strong foundation for productive cooperation between remote dev team members in the future.
Dell and Building Remote Corporate Culture
Outsourcing work to a remote team of developers or running your company in a full remote mode doesn’t mean that you are freed from creating corporate culture.
Corporate culture concerns every business that has at least two employees working for it, as it determines how the company’s employees and management communicate with each other. Corporate culture also contributes to creating a social and psychological environment in a company, as well as to establishing practices that the company members have to follow to mitigate the downsides of remote work and resolve conflicts.
But what about remote corporate culture?
There are a few specificities.
Back in 2013, Dell made its first attempts to build a remote corporate culture, after deciding to transition half of its workforce to remote work by 2020.
The company recognized that corporate culture is often built during everyday communications, such as water cooler chats. That’s why they encouraged their remote dev teams to have Slack conversations and video calls to discuss topics outside work more frequently.
In a conversation with Forbes, Jennifer Newbill, the Director of University Relations and Recruitment at Dell, shares that the company initiated online chat rooms, where developers could join other teams to discuss Dell’s volunteering opportunities.
According to Newbill, this approach works to both support the values of the company and to bring together employees—from the same team as well as from different departments—to establish trust and create an atmosphere of support.
Indeed, if you have only one dev team operating remotely, they might feel left out from the life of the company. Initiatives like online chat rooms can help your remote dev team build connections with other teams for more productive cooperation and have a feeling of belonging to the corporate culture in general.
Summarizing the Principles of Productive Remote Work
When several authors write a book together, it is expected that they should all be equally acknowledged by the reader.
The same applies to remote work. Helmig, the CTO of Zapier, says that switching to remote work back in 2011 was a team effort rather than the sole initiative of the co-founders. Now, as their efforts to successfully transition to remote work have proven to be effective, he acknowledges the equal contribution of all team members.
So let’s list out the steps to set up an effective remote team:
- Over-communicate. Create guidelines and help your team to follow them. Focus on building a strong remote culture that will give your employees a sense of community.
- If you manage a remote dev team, make sure that each team member equally understands their role in the project and the company. This way, they will work better as a team.
- Keep your team members posted about your current progress in the project and make sure everyone understands the nature of their contribution. Inspire them to have a feeling of being part of the company.
If you do all that, your team won’t require too much effort for them to work together productively. It’s a matter of creating solid foundations and building good habits. The rest will fall into place!