Building and managing remote teams provides access to a larger talent pool, increases diversity and inclusiveness, and supports valuable talent that’s not comfortable working in an office. It allows everyone to work where and how they are most productive.
However, managing remote software engineering teams is often easier said than done. Juggling remote team members’ time zones, keeping project stakeholders on the same page, and maintaining company culture needs attention.
This article shares the ten tactics we’ve seen as most effective when it comes to acquiring, managing, and maintaining healthy, happy, and productive remote software engineering teams.
Solid communication is absolutely essential for a successful remote team, and leading your remote team will require over-communication. Casual chats in the office kitchen can lead to project changes that aren't instantly communicated to remote workers.
This lack of communication and consideration for remote workers can lead to some serious project derailment. You’ll need to embed an over-communication culture into your day-to-day—especially if you’re handling a hybrid remote team.
What’s more, managing remote developers requires an open line of communication if you want your out-of-office talent to remain productive, feel included, and continue to contribute to your departmental goals.
There are a few measures you can take to ensure your communication methods stay productive and accessible for all team members, no matter where they are in the world:
Give all meetings digital access: via video calls, dial-ins, recordings, or digital meeting minutes.
Employ asynchronous communication: to give remote team members time to give feedback and share thoughts from afar.
Build a company wiki: encourage remote team members to use a knowledge hub to store and share information across the organization.
Embed the importance of communication into your onboarding: even 1066 workers or software developer contractors will go through some sort of company onboarding. Ensure you’re stressing the importance of over-communicating from day one.
Don’t be afraid to implement some of the effective communication tools in this article; the process may take time but will be well worth the lift.
Your software development team will be lost without implementing project management tools. Most engineers working remotely have solid knowledge of PM tools. However, it’s up to engineering managers to implement how you’ll use their features for your particular project needs.
The entire team will need to feel comfortable in your project management system, and this only comes from practice, gathering feedback, and amending your workflows accordingly. Select a project management tool that resonates with your company culture—and budget—and build your flows with project stakeholders.
It’s always a good idea to launch your project management system with a fluid ‘user manual’ so new and old team members alike can keep updated on how you’re using the tool. A few project management tools to consider are:
This goes not only for your remote team, but every team member. You’ll need to share team plans, roadmaps, and project updates for everyone in the same way. This typically requires writing a lot and making information discoverable for distributed workers. However, tech is changing that.
There are a few ways you can go about document project updates effectively, both for those in your physical office environment and for those a little further afield.
Keep comms in open apps: if communication starts on Teams conversations or across the lunch table, they need to finish in team-friendly spaces. Ensure all of your comms that affect technical projects are documented so people can find them.
Record and transcribe meetings: if anyone misses a meeting, it doesn’t need to be the end of the world, and they don’t need to book another one to catch up. Record, and even transcribe every meeting, to give missing employees the autonomy to catch up in their own time.
Build an easy-to-nav knowledge base: knowledge bases need to be as user-friendly as your products. Run card sorting tests among your engineering team to understand how they group knowledge and map out your knowledge base in a way that makes searching for information easy and natural.
Accompany project changes with contextual videos: don’t be afraid to let video or voice note contextual fillers step in for where written copy is falling short. Get used to delivering project changes with more contextual insights, so your team understands the why behind the change.
Remote team meetings need video conferencing options if you want them to be effective and for your team to feel connected. Of course, there are huge perks to team video conferencing: they can be recorded and documented easily, digital presentations run smoother, and traffic rarely gets in the way of someone being late!
What’s more, with video conferencing being a preferred communication method for 80% of employees, teams are turning to video calls, whether they’re distributed or not.
There’s no doubt you’ve probably had your fair share of video calls over the years. However, how can you streamline them to make them more efficient and effective for your entire engineering team?
Send an agenda: agendas are often overlooked but can help keep things on track and give your meetings direction. They help keep participants focused.
Taking meeting minutes: highlights are great summaries of meetings for those that missed them or for people to understand takeaways better.
Set communication guidelines: people need to know how they should speak up and when. Some video conferencing tools promote a “raise hand” feature or use emojis to react rather than people needing to come off mute and interrupt each other.
Assign meeting roles and leads: hand over the responsibility of your meeting to various team members. Ensure everyone knows the part of the meeting they are leading and who needs to be sharing their screen. It will make everyone more responsible for a positive meeting outcome and keep every team member engaged.
Promote a “video-on” meeting culture: 90% of employees say that communicating via video helps them better get their point across.
Schedule time for small talk: small talk is so crucial for remote teams. They often don’t get the chance to “catch up” as office employees do, so make sure you schedule some time for small talk and promote time for your team to get to know each other on a more personal level.
Distributed work tools have developed substantially in recent years. Today's tools make remote teams powerful. Remote software engineering teams specifically can benefit from always-connected team rooms and so much more. Let’s explore some of the best remote tools for engineering teams spanning the globe.
Slack or Microsoft Teams: rapid, easy-to-use messenger solutions are great to avoid unnecessary meetings, quick-fire comms, and organizing online conversations.
Calendly: “If it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t exist.” But, how does a remote team get it in the calendar in the first place? A great tool to save the back and forth of finding a time that works for everyone.
Jira or Trello: kanban boards are a common go-to favorite for engineering teams, ensuring everyone has an overview of what’s in the backlog, what’s being worked on, and what’s done.
Zoom or Webex: take your pick; both of these video conferencing tools work wonders. Zoom has the larger market share, but that’s not to say it’s the best option. Pick the one that works best with your culture, security setup, and budget.
GitHub: built for better developer productivity, easy collaboration, and all-around security, GitHub is a go-to platform for distributed engineering teams.
Accessing top-tier, affordable engineers and developers is one of the top reasons to outsource talent for many emerging tech companies. However, you can’t expect your talent to naturally work together, no matter how many years of experience they have.
It’s down to engineering managers to build collaboration processes that are effective and keep your engineers collaborating efficiently.
Eradicate fear of failing: fail fast and learn faster. When teams aren’t afraid of failing and see it as a learning opportunity, they’re more likely to ask questions that they’d otherwise be scared to ask.
Consider a buddy system for new starters: buddies don’t need to be someone in the same team or with similar work experience, but they help new starters find their way around the company and its processes faster.
Build a roles and responsibilities index: build out your knowledge base to cover what everyone does, their pronouns, their preferred nick names, and preferred lines of communication.
Implement messenger apps’ statuses: encourage your entire team to keep their messenger app status up-to-date on whether someone can reach out to them or not: go beyond “away” and set statuses like: “in deep work,” “emergencies only,” “do not contact.”
Promote cross-team mentoring: mentoring comes up, down, left and right when it comes to tech. Set up mentoring that spans age gaps, knowledge gaps, and even language gaps to upskill or re-skill team members.
Consider parts of the Spotify Squads framework: Spotify squads notoriously didn’t work. However, there are parts of it that other product teams have found useful for cross-functional collaboration, like Tribes and Chapters.
Let your engineers know you value them and their time. This comes by respecting people’s time zones. If you’re operating with a remote working flexible work hours schedule, then you’ll need to find ways to communicate effectively and not to communicate outside of your colleagues' chosen work hours.
Ask your team to share their hours: you’ll never know you’re messaging an engineer out of hours if they don’t tell you. Ask your engineers to inform the team of their preferred contact hours and their time zones.
Schedule messages to be sent during working hours: apps like Slack and Gmail can handle this; it’s a great way of avoiding pinging someone when they’re trying to wind down.
Use timezone management tools: like Timefinder, Boomerang, and Timezone.io can all help you align easily with colleagues.
Work towards cross-over time slots: try to find a few hours each day when your team can cross over with the rest of the team. These are essential for live meetings.
Always specify the timezone you’re referring to: and get into the habit of adding the timezone at the end of every reference. It’s a courteous practice to refer to the person’s time zone that you’re talking to rather than your own.
Agile thinking is no stranger to the development world. However, it still deserves a top spot on our list for managing remote engineering teams. When product teams work with an agile mindset, they’re able to prioritize user needs, prioritize effectively, and collaborate on projects better.
Use Kanban project management boards: they’re simple, they’re efficient, and they’re a work process many engineers are already familiar with.
Work in sprints: break projects down into parts and work on each part as an entire team across the span of two weeks.
Break bigger tasks down: into daily tasks, enabling your team to understand backlogs better, work toward small goals, and celebrate achievements.
Host daily standups: Catch up on what everyone achieved yesterday, what your team is doing today, what they hope to do tomorrow, a great moment to share any blockers with everyone and support.
There’s no shame in a second run: if part of your project is not achieved within a two-week sprint, figure out your blockers, how you can action the project better and introduce your second sprint.
Last on our list is building trust with your remote team. If you're new to managing a remote team then you may have found this is easier said than done. Trust works three ways with remote teams. A manager needs to trust their remote workers, remote workers need to trust their manager, and remote workers need to trust each other.
Let’s take a look at how you can build trust with distributed teams.
Hold people accountable: each member should be held accountable for their work, their projects, and deadlines. Hold people accountable for hitting all of the above.
Let go of micromanagement: micromanagement tactics eliminate trust fast. Let go of trying to micromanage your team and leave them to distribute their time according to the tasks they have on their plate.
Eradicate screen time trackers: nothing says “I don’t trust you” more than a screen tracker.
Distribute responsibility: give responsibility for new project-related tasks, as well as team admin tasks. This will showcase your trust in your team and will encourage them to deliver on your expectations.
Managing remote teams is misunderstood, especially in engineering. Common concerns often include:
Moreover, you can check out how to hire remote developers in 2023 here. This, plus the cost of hiring an engineer, can make building engineering teams seem overwhelming. If this is the case for you, Remotebase will be a perfect fit.
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Engineers usually operate on a day-rate basis, which can be anything from $150 to $600 USD. Usually, if you’re building an entire remote software engineering team and using a recruitment agency, you can expect to pay between 15% and 25% of each engineer’s yearly salary.
Managing remote teams takes functional remote tools and processes, a remote-first culture, trust, an agile mindset, and so much more. See the nine best practices for managing remote engineering teams in this article.
A good team leader for a remote engineering team is someone who has clear communication skills, can delegate responsibilities, has good technical knowledge, can accept feedback, is familiar with remote tools and mindsets, and can lead transparently.
A high-performing remote engineering team is competent, empowered, and working towards a shared goal. A successful team has a clear understanding of the product vision and how they’ll realize that vision. The team trusts each other, uses innovative technologies and works collaboratively.
If you’re on the hunt to build your own engineering team, reach out to Remotebase and hire top-tier developers in a day.
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