Managing Remote Team Members The Promet Way
Managing a remote team isn’t remotely easy.
While many people get excited about the perceived freedoms of working at home (no dress code! building your own workspace! unfettered access to the couch!), there are significant challenges as well. The differences in geography and time zones, the reliance on virtual communication, the isolation of being the sole team member in a given city or region...life for the remote team member is not always a walk in the park.
Shared workspaces such as Regus and WeWork offer one solution to combat isolation and introduce some routine to a remote worker's life. But a shared workspace doesn't necessarily solve for the basic challenge of being separated from the rest of your team.
Promet Source has been spinning a web of remote team awesomeness for some time. Over the course of countless Skype calls, Google Hangouts or lighting stuff on fire to send smoke signals, lessons have been learned (one of them is that fire is dangerous, don't play around!).
If your organization struggles with ways to blend the productivity of office-bound work with the autonomy and flexibility of a remote workforce, check out some of the tips we have for getting your team to feel synchronized across any distance.
Tips for Managers
Being the head of a remote team can seem daunting. One of the many questions facing managers in this role is, "How do I strike a balance with my team when it comes to availability and letting them do their own thing?" On the one hand, managers don't want to zoom in too close and constantly ping team members for updates when they're busy working on projects. That can seem like a micromanagement style, definitely something to avoid. On the other hand, being too disconnected can make it seem like your priorities are elsewhere and team members can feel like their voices aren't being heard.
Here are a few tips for finding a happy medium between in-your-face connectivity and "Is there anybody out there?!?" frustration:
- Turn on video chat at least occasionally. It’s nice to remember you’re working with humans and not just words on a screen.
- Communication channels need to be accessible and easy to use, it will be your team’s lifeline! Include at least an IM (chat) application, bonus if it’s also accessible as a mobile app.
- Choose a task management tool that provides proper visualization of work assigned. Have accountability of who owns which task. Prioritization and ability to comment on work in progress is a must.
- Implement processes for code review and peer programming.
- Share knowledge through internal meetups. These can be web conference of best practices for the company, new technologies that are emerging, or just things that people are passionate about.
Staying in touch and replicating a workplace culture demand more tools than just phone or email. While those two avenues of communication will always be a standby, it helps to give your team a place that they can call their own and feel free to express themselves and feel that they're contributing to a team in a significant way.
Some of the tools that we rely on include:
- Skype. The most widely used video chat app for good reason: it's free, and almost everyone you know has used it at some point. Not uncommon to hear, "So, my grandpa and I Skyped the other day..."
- Slack. This has become a more and more ubiquitous tool for client and team communication across any distance, whether the rest of the team is two feet away from your desk or two continents away.
- Google docs. Not everyone is a fan, but Google docs can sort of be used like a whiteboard since multiple people can edit at once. It’s nice for brainstorming sessions.
- Find an app that shows different timezones. Be cognizant of the local time where your team members are working. Are they going online around dinner time, thus explaining some hunger-induced brusqueness or dip in productivity? One tool we've used is a website called http://www.worldtimebuddy.com/ and it serves as a reminder that while it may be a 9-5 workday for some of us, other team members are following a different schedule. Be respectful of the time difference but most importantly just be aware.
Balancing work/life when your team resides in a different city? A different country?
In the software development game, companies tend to go where the talent is, and that often requires spanning a considerable geographical distance to get the kind of talent your organization needs. With such obstacles, how does a team establish a cohesive feel without daily face-to-face contact?
- Try to have on-site for employees as regularly as you can. Monthly meetups are great, but the reality of travel time and costs may restrict them to quarterly or just twice a year. Any time you can stake out for face-to-face interaction is great for morale and totally worth the expense, in our experience at least.
So there you have it! Our approach to balancing work/life for a remote team with the efforts of managers, team members, and the best productivity tools available includes some degree of open-mindedness and extra efforts at times. The payoff comes when you feel that, even though your team might have a time zone or two in between its members, you're working right next to your team. The feeling of easy communication, camaraderie, and trust is an essential mix for delivering the best experience for your remote team members.
Do you have any tips for working with remote teams you'd like to share? Subscribe to Promet's newsletter and stay in touch!