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6 Steps To Build A Great Remote Team

8 October, 2019 | 5 min read

You usually hear about remote work from the employees perspective. There are tons of tips and guides out there about how to get a remote job and what to expect from one. On the other hand, it’s rare to hear about remote teams from an employers point of view and what goes into setting up a great remote team.

Deciding to create a remote team as an employer can be difficult because there are so many factors out of your control that you wouldn’t have to deal with when people are in the office. Taking that leap of faith can be stressful, but the benefits are well worth it if you implement a solid structure for your remote team. One of the most important benefits you get are skilled developers that are happy and more than willing to put in the time to make sure all of your projects are successful. Here are a few things I learned from setting up a remote team from an employer’s perspective.

Choose the right tools

Your team will be as good as the tools you give them. Make sure that you define a set of tools your team can use for asynchronous communication, handling version control, creating builds for deploys, and checking on what tasks everyone is working on. Don’t be afraid to invest in software that will make all of this easier for you because you want things to flow smoothly during development cycles.

The tools you choose can be things like Slack, Zoom, Jira, GitHub, Azure DevOps, or any of the many others out there. A few things you want to evaluate when selecting from all of the options include how easy it is for new team members to learn how to use the software, how much it will cost, and how well supported it is. The specific metrics you base your decisions on come down to the business needs because each tool is stronger in certain areas than others. Go over the options with your existing team, whether that is management or your current developers, and see which ones come out on top.

Have guidelines for communication between team members

You don’t have to create a long list of strictly enforced rules, but you do need some kind of structure in place. If your team consists of people working all over the world, make sure you set a minimum response time for emails or messages between team members. In many cases, communication will not happen in real-time so you have to be prepared to handle time zone differences and conflicting schedules.

Some things you might include in your guidelines are daily stand-ups that get everyone up to speed on what their teammates are doing, a standard time that code should be checked in and ready for review at the end of the day or week, a specific way for people to ask questions or get help, and specific ways for people to signal what phase they are in for a given task. This is where you will set your team up for success because they won’t spend all of their time trying to answer these questions. Guidelines take a lot of simple questions out of the process because everyone is following the same format for getting their work done. Once you have those guidelines in place, don’t be afraid to change them to meet the needs of your team.

Trust the people you hire

If you don’t trust your team to get stuff finished on time, then why did you hire them? When you let people know that the task list has been updated and you don’t hear from anyone directly, don’t worry. They know about it and they are working on it. One of the worst things you can do with your remote team is try to micromanage them.

That is one reason why most remote teams are made up of developers that already have at least 3 years of experience. They know the routine, they understand how sprints work, and they know how to get answers to questions when they need to. Trust your people and they will deliver great work. When they aren’t trying to answer the dozens of emails you send to get status updates, they are making real progress on their tasks. They will let you know when they are finished and they will be done on time.

Be transparent with the business side of the team This can be harder with a remote team because they don’t interact with all parts of the company on a regular basis. Keep them in the loop about any business decisions that have been made or are in the process of being made. If you get a new client, let everyone know. It’s important that you keep your team up to date so that they trust you.

Sometimes remote teams feel isolated, like they’ve been put in a corner just to write code. Think of it as you sending them status updates the same way you expect them to send you updates. You don’t get the same personal interaction with a remote as you do when you’re in the office so you have to make a conscious effort to keep an informal line of communication open. If you and the other managers have made some random decision, like coming up with team mascots or something more important, let them know!

Always be willing to help

There will be times that even your senior developers will need help and they need to know you’re available. Unless you’re in the middle of something extremely urgent, take the time to hop on a quick video call and help work through problems. This is a way you can really get to know the people on your team and figure out where everyone’s strengths and places for improvement are. As a manager, you still have to make sure that each person on your team is still growing.

That means you should be keeping your technical skills up to date as well so that you can help out with those really hard problems. It also means you should remember to be empathetic as well. Your team will only take care of you to the extent that you take care of them. Always be approachable and you’ll notice a lot more work gets done and it gets done faster by happier people.

Host events that bring the team together in real life

You can spend some of the money the company is saving on office space to bring everyone together at least once a year. Make it a cool trip where they can bring their families and get to know each other as co-workers. This is the equivalent of an office Christmas party and everyone will enjoy it. Taking the time to do this builds comradery among the team and you’ll start to notice people working together better.

Since this might be the only time you see each other all year, make it as comfortable for everyone as possible. There’s something extra you get when you meet the people behind the screen in real life. You listen to each others stories through the chat platforms, but there’s nothing like putting a real person with those stories. If you can host an event like this more than once a year it would be great!

The success of your remote team depends on how organized you are when you start it. There shouldn’t be any confusion on how people are going to get tasks accomplished because you’ve thought about it all. Great remote teams take structure and patience to build, but the return you’ll get is worth the effort. So before you make the decision to jump into a remote structure, take the time to really map out what that will look like.

Originally published on hackmd.io

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