Best practices for running a remote team
Despite multiple evidence proving the positive effect remote work has on employee performance and overall happiness, workplace productivity is still considered one of the top concerns when hiring remotely.
Plus, working across a number of time zones can lead to misalignment in communication.
Is it possible to have an efficient product team working across the globe? How do you overcome the challenges of remote work? Here are some of the best practices for working remotely from the startups which manage distributed teams.
What are the common challenges when working with remote developers?
Time zones and communication
“The key challenges are:
– Different time zones. If you are based in, say, West Coast and your team is in Europe – you will most likely need to shift the start of your day until early morning while they will need to finish later. If you are a late riser – this may be a challenge.
– Communication. It’s easy to be on the same page with your team when you are always in the same room. With remote communication making sure nothing is lost along the way may become a challenge as well. This is exacerbated by the fact that these small misunderstandings and losses will only reveal themselves further down the road – after you see the result – and in a strange way it is different from what has been expected.
Two rules to avoid these unpleasant surprises are:
1. Over-communication. In my opinion, this is one of the best practices for managing remote employees. If something is important – repeat it several times. Communicate it to all stakeholders – to everyone involved, instead of just the person who is executing the task directly.
2. Putting everything in writing. After your organization becomes distributed – there is little room left for improvisation and ad-hoc decisions. In fact, the same things happen when your organization grows, even if everyone stays in the same building. You simply cannot chat by the cooler with every member of your team during one day when your team becomes 20-strong.”
“Startups that are afraid of hiring remote probably think their development cycles will slow down. Either because they’ll spend a ton of time communicating vs solving problems in person or they’ll end up hiring remote software developers that aren’t as good/dedicated. And finding good people in the first place is difficult.
Founders that do hire remote know that those fears are legitimate but they’re pretty straightforward to overcome once you commit.” Learn more about the secret recipe for working with remote developers in our interview with Craig Cannon.
Newbies to remote work
“Remote work can sometimes sound the best option for the office, but making sure that you are hiring individuals that have worked remotely before is a strong suggestion. The one thing that chief executives could struggle with is a newbie to remote work struggling with remote working situations and not being able to solve them.
Hiring a team that has been exposed to remote work or have been heavily vetted for projects similar to remote work before is so important to bringing quality culture and results to the table.
The other recommendation is to have the right software ready and waiting. The worst thing to do is to have not agreed on the team communication tool, the project management, and task manager that you and the team will use, as this will waste masses of time when it comes to delving into the projects you want to achieve together.
The best way to overcome this is to have an onboarding checklist of all of the resources and make sure you research all of the software in advance of the remote team induction.”
“Make sure that your decision-making process is written down. Remote team members lose a lot because of a lack of documentation. If you’re having water-cooler discussions that turn into decisions, those need to be documented, and remote folks need to have an opportunity to read those docs and comment.
Your communication tools need to be a part of your every-meeting process. Use tools like Zoom and Owl to make sure that everyone has equal weight and a chance to be a part of the conversation.
If you only have a few folks in a meeting, get everyone on their own Zoom. It’s a lot easier for remote folks to jump in with ideas or concerns when they’re not the only ones zooming in. When four people are in a room and one person is on Zoom, that remote employee is spending time figuring out social cues and when to jump in, as much as they are concentrating and contributing. Having everyone on their own Zoom helps alleviate that pain.”
Finding right people
“The biggest challenge is finding people who are going to be self-starters who thrive well in a remote environment. When you’re together in an office you can do much more in-depth training and handholding but a remote team requires people who will speak up when they need help and keep their projects going.
As for how to overcome it, I definitely love to hire people I’ve worked with before and therefore I know they have a proven track record, but that’s not always possible.”
“The most challenging is to build a culture inside your remote team. Managers often forget to treat their remote members as part of the on-site team which might negatively influence the overall performance.
At Product School, we are about 100 people in 15 different locations and we have already over 5000 alumni who are also part of our community. Being distributed, we have to follow a culture-first approach to make people feel like one team. That’s not a single action but a comprehensive strategy adjusting the whole operational processes, HR system, special tools incl. custom chatbots, sync meetings, perks for our employees and offline presence as well.
We want to create more interactions to connect people and get to know each other. This is why we organize different team retreats in one location and provide some special perks like “workation” when our employees can combine work with vacation. For example, if you are based in SF, you can also go for a week to London and work for three days and travel for other two days. And again with a purpose to make them feel part of one team, one company.”
“The biggest challenge is the question whether remote work fits within the values of your companies. If it does, it may require you to think about how it translates into a day to day interactions. How do people interact, what are they rewarded for, how often do they meet?
Once you clear on the definition of success within your team, you’ll have a much better idea of how to hire. It will help you to draft requirements and document what success looks like for everyone. This common definition will help HR, existing colleagues together with people looking at joining your company.”
Moving to the remote workforce is a great way to increase your talent pool and hire faster. For example, the State of Remote Work discovered that fully distributed companies take 33% less time to hire a new employee than other companies.
However, one of the easiest mistakes product companies make when moving to a distributed workforce is a breakdown of communication, specifically by making it unintentionally unequal.
This inequality can be found in many ways, for example by hosting meetings where only the in-room participants have the chance to speak, celebrations where only the office employees can attend, off-the-cuff announcements where only those in earshot can hear, and worse promotion opportunities when only the most “visible” workers are considered. If this is your environment, the new remote workers on your team will pick up that they’re at a disadvantage, and may not stick around.
With that, management needs to take a step back and evaluate how unconscious biases might unintentionally prioritize in-office staff. Once identified, think about how you can pursue the same result in a way that works for all employees, regardless of location.
For example, meetings can all include video tools like the Meeting Owl, celebrations and announcements can be captured using chat tools like Slack, and all promotions are decided by merit and impact — not visibility.”
We’ve heard from the heads of development at several large and successful companies who use 15Five that communication is the biggest challenge when hiring (and managing) a remote development team. Because engineers will not share thoughtful feedback in front of others, you must have internal communication and culture-building software in place before you hire.
Even in-house engineers will likely not be rushing into the CTO’s office to volunteer information, especially bad news like a site crash. But even the quietest of employees will, over time, respond to solicitations for information behind the perceived safety of a layer of technology.
Communication woes begin with the interviews, which for remote employees will likely have to take place over video conferencing software. The hiring manager has a disadvantage because they can’t see the candidate’s body language or listen to the subtle changes in their tone of voice.
While the hiring process for developers is somewhat unique in that you are mainly scoring competency for a technical role, you still have to hire for communication skills and culture-fit. So in addition to your technical interviews, top-grading, and other tactics to determine competency, you should have others on the dev team meet with the candidate to see if there are shared core values and to ensure that communication is fluid.
Having effective communication and collaboration technologies and processes in place is one of the best practices for working remotely. Thus, hiring managers are more likely to find the right fit. Once the right candidate is hired, communication software coupled with proactive management will ensure that communication flows and your culture remain strong.”