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Long-Distance Leadership: 5 Steps to Scaling Product Teams Remotely

Managing remote teams without any hassle

Have you ever seen your rockstar software engineer become your weakest one? Have you watched your key team players get continually sidetracked by important yet disruptive tasks? Have you ever collaborated with workers that were kicking ass without bringing any success?

All of these questions have one thing in common: they come to each remote product team manager at least once in a lifetime.

Working with remote teams may seem overwhelming. Sometimes everything appears to be on fire. And no matter how hard you try to put that fire out, you find yourself in the following situation.

Well, let’s get it clear: this is NOT fine.

If managing distributed teams turns into a challenge, this article will help you understand how to identify, locate, and manage sources of the fires.

Before you take your first steps to scaling product teams remotely, there are a few roadblocks to overcome:

These problems are huge, but not the un-solvable ones.

Let us walk you through some strategies to help you bridge the distance between product teams distributed across the globe.

I. Asynchronous communication between remote teams

Good software architecture is only possible with modular design put in place. You should think the same way about your product team structure.

Every office, be it a virtual or a physical one, should be self-sufficient in terms of software, technology, and tools needed to communicate properly.

This will minimize the amount of time needed to synchronize between teams located in different time zones. If your development teams are not co-located, code reviews should be given special attention. Since teammates are online at different times, distributing code knowledge between your virtual offices makes code support and maintenance much easier.

Whenever a production issue crops up and the core team is not online, another development team steps in to fix bugs. Thanks to this know-how approach, cross-location or cross-team code reviews become possible.

II. Building rapport when everyone is not working side by side

While it’s crucial for every team, having solid rapport is especially important for distributed agile teams. Personal attachment helps you to build trust, reduce missed expectations, simplify self-organization, and boost corporate morale.

Take time to get to know EVERY member of your remote product team. Just because they are not less important than people working with you side by side.

The stronger the bond between you and your co-workers becomes, the greater the chance of seeing these colleagues with you for a long time.

Above all, nothing can replace the experience of meeting face-to-face. Video conferencing can bridge the gap between teammates, especially if we talk about distributed agile teams.

Karin Hurt and David Dye of Let’s Grow Leaders believe:

“When it comes to managing remote teams, think relationships first, tools second.” 

However, teams relying on video conferencing alone should still be aware of certain issues that may disrupt video meetings as a whole. Here we talk about connection problems, poor visibility, and low quality of sound. All of these are actually depicted in this conference from hell video below.

To mitigate any video conferencing problems, encourage remote teammates to have regular1:1 video chat meetings.

In-person face time will help your remote colleagues get to know each other better, which, in turn, helps remote workers stay happy and engaged for longer.

III. Minimum time overlap between remote teammates 

Every photographer is aware of ‘the golden hours’ definition — the period of time just before and after the sunset or sunrise. This time is the most suitable for taking great landscape shots.

For distributed product teams, golden hours are when both the remote and local teams are working at the same time.

When everyone is working side by side, this is the most suitable time for sync-up meetings, process reviews, and standups.

For distributed teams that synchronize between various time zones, stand-up is a great opportunity to identify loopholes in the working process, raise questions, and get remote co-workers up to speed, so that everyone is off and running once the video-conference is done.

Some offices may be located so far that synchronizing between time zones may be a real pain in the neck for the one team.

Going to bed at 3 am for the stand-up meeting with the other team?

Umm, no, thank you. It does not look like a good idea.  

Consider different time slots for meetings. Rotate meeting time regularly to make it a shared burden instead of continuously subjecting the remote team to the odd schedule. Keep a close watch on a team’s overall engagement at stand-up meetings.

If there’s any sign of undue strain, team members are very likely to disengage. Ignoring that is a sure-fire way to destroy your corporate morale.

Remember that convenience is the most reliable way to make synchronization between office and remote teams truly effective. A stand-up doesn’t necessarily have to be a morning or daily meeting. Meet with the office and remote teams a few times per week and use one day for a sync-up.

Remember that whatever time of day is the most suitable for everyone is the best time of day.

IV. Building the right culture within your remote team

There are a few simple ways of making your remote co-workers perform great across different geographies.

Over-communication is a must

While it may take some time to get your remote team to understand that, results won’t be long in coming. When ANY decision is made, it needs to be communicated. Though sounds like a no-brainer, it is very easy to miss out on, especially when working with remote teams.

Plus, many small decisions are deemed unimportant, meaning that the members of your distributed team should not be aware of them.

Communicate literally everything with your distributed team members to make sure both virtual and physical offices find a healthy groove.

Delays caused by hitting roadblocks, working with non-relevant data, and then raising questions may cost the company more time and money than setting everything up properly.

Don’t use email to keep your remote colleagues up to date — too many important messages get lost in there. Instead, use a content management system which you can update regularly.

Consistent development process

When each member of your remote product team is on the same page, it is much easier to establish goals and track down progress.

Dedicate time to creating a handy ‘Get started’ guide for new members of your development team.

It will significantly reduce first-day friction and optimize the development process as much as possible.

The things ‘done’ are not done

When working between several locations, clear standards around the definition of completed tasks make it much easier to build communication across teams.

The definition of what is done, what is on hold, and what is on review should be firm to prevent any ambiguity in the working process.

Make sure you set up clear definitions of what it means to complete a task: whether a code is written, reviewed, tested or all of the above.

5 steps to driving your next wave of growth

1. Build your big product

Your next big breakthrough is most probably right in front of you. You can find it by watching what competitors do.

Ask yourself: what expectations most of your customers have? Which could your next big product solve well?

2. Keep finding your product market fit

Finding a product market fit is not a result, it’s a process. The one you should continually be focused on to find it over and over again.

For every set of potential clients you go after, for every new product you want to build, and for everything that you’ve already created.

3. Expand your target market

Figure out the ways your product can help your customers solve the problems it originally solved, but think of a broader target market.

If you start by meeting the needs of smaller customers, the reliable way to expand a set of your customers is to do one step forward at a time.

4. Decide your product play

Today’s world is deeply interconnected. You will never win customers’ trust if you play all alone. Your clients don’t want to you go alone.

Instead, they want you to coordinate with all possible big things and trends out there. As your product gets bigger the reverse is also true: your customers want all other things they use to integrate with your app/website. Think about that.

5. Build a strong team

There’s nothing you can do all yourself. That’s why you should dedicate efforts and time to making smart hires and taking your product to the next level.

If you are looking for a position you are not well familiar with, you should learn and benchmark in advance. Only after that, you can kick off the hiring process and put the most talented people in their roles.

Over to you

Now that you know how to build a long-distance leadership, you are all set to hiring and guiding your distributed product team to success.

Don’t know what to start with? Request a free consultation today and our expert team will cherry-pick the best candidates available on the market.

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Mary Atamaniuk

Mary Atamaniuk is a digital content strategist at YouTeam — a curated b2b tech talent marketplace that matches businesses with dedicated development teams from pre-vetted software outsourcing agencies.

Mary's areas of interest include digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship, and influencer blogging.

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