So, you decided to work with a software development team remotely. Truth be told, it’s quite a probable and common scenario. Offshore companies offer compelling conditions for cooperation and the prospects of cooperating remotely shouldn’t deter you. Because even your in-house team, if you have or would decide to build one, may switch to working-from-home, as COVID-19 lockdowns have popularized this approach.
Remote work is the new normal, and it definitely has its own advantages. According to some research, it improves employees’ mindsets and reduces stress levels. It also saves time, gives a certain level of flexibility, and improves employee work-life balance. Even from a pragmatic point of view, it also has its perks: for example, there is no need to bear the often ballooning office expenses such as rent, utilities, supplies, equipment, maintenance, etc.
However, as with anything else in life, there are some associated challenges. If you aren’t ready to overcome them, the whole experience may become negative, and your image of cooperating with a remote software team will be poor.
GBKSOFT has been a trusted outsource software development vendor for years, doing work for dozens of companies worldwide, and we’ve always done all of our work with all of our clients with little-to-no problems to show for.
In this article, we’ve prepared the main tips you need to know to successfully manage remote software development teams, and this information is based on real-life experience gathered by our company. So, let’s dive straight in!
The Main Challenges You May Face While Remotely Managing a Software Development Team
Cooperating with a remote team puts you on a totally different ground as compared to when you cooperate with a team that is in the same office as you. Distance makes it harder to build connections between team members, management, and other parties, and this may bring about a number of roadblocks. Here are some of them.
Challenge #1: Keeping all players synchronized
It might be one of the hardest things you need to take care of. Making sure that all members of the team are on the same page may be hard as it is even when everyone is at the office, and with remote work, everything is complicated further due to the distance.
However, one of the answers could be implementing thorough and constant reporting. Through various collaboration tools, your team can log everything that happens: tasks and their completion status, backlog, new ideas, bugs, etc. It’s also a good practice to create knowledge bases and wikis to store all data that can be required and then easily accessible.
We also suggest embracing regular calls where every developer will report their progress, tell about further work plans, discuss difficulties that arose and consult with colleagues. First, it will keep everyone updated on the latest developments. Secondly, it makes team members cooperate with each other, and it helps developers get a second pair of eyes for a different view to help solve issues quicker and easier.
Challenge #2: Ensuring productivity
Every manager dreams about leading an uber-productive team that will get things done like a whirlwind, sweeping everyone off their feet with speedy and high-quality results. So, how can you support or improve the productivity of your team if they are literally out of your reach?
It is important to keep in mind this concern from the moment you decide to hire a certain person. To succeed in remote work, your employees should be self-organized, self-motivated, and result-oriented. In this case, you can trust them to do their work bona fide, follow deadlines and be good team players.
Your task as a manager is to provide excellent conditions for employees to work efficiently. Very often, people become sloppy and unmotivated, when they feel a lack of structure, don’t understand the endpoint of the projects they are working on, are obliged to execute endless seemingly pointless tasks, or their work isn’t valued or doesn’t seem to be appreciated. Employees who have been in a certain field for a while, especially senior developers, may also feel disgruntled when they are told how to do their work.
Hence, you need to find the right balance between actually actively managing the team and granting them independence, that way it’s not forceful but also not “slacky” or lethargic. No one is actually a fan of close monitoring, productivity trackers, and micromanagement, but neglecting basic project management functions like planning or evaluating performance won’t do any good either.
A solution may be found in embracing flexible approaches. We at GBKSOFT work with the Scrum methodology for software development. It helps us stay result-oriented, but grants every team member enough freedom to work comfortably yet steadily. It is also one of the factors that contribute to our capacity to provide faster time-to-market than the average benchmark in the industry.
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Challenge #3: Avoiding miscommunication
How often have you been in a situation when some tasks were forgotten, neglected, or done in the wrong way because an employee misunderstood what was expected of them? Unfortunately, it’s an all too common issue and phenomenon, especially if people aren’t used to asking for details or admitting that they have doubts, uncertainties or if something is unclear — basically asking for help seems to have some stigma surrounding it.
Proactive communication from your side may demolish these unwanted barriers. Regular check-ins and your engagement will show that you are open and available as a manager, and team members will always know that they can approach you with any problem or question that they might have and receive actual answers in assistance.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is transparency. Every company has dozens of processes that appear during a typical workday. And with remote work, it’s impossible to pop in the room and announce the latest news to everyone at once in a couple of minutes, instead virtual meetings have to be set up, which are typically slotted in half-hour increments. Regardless of whether you use video calls or choose to disseminate information via some kind of blanket emailing technique, you need to put effort into notifications and make sure that everyone is aware of crucial events, decisions, new strategies, team alterations, or budget changes, etc.
Challenge #4: Finding the right people to complement your team
As we mentioned before, a big part of success is a function of the people who make up and work in the remote team. When you are assembling a remote team or seeking a person to fill a certain role, you need a specialist with strong soft skills. Usually, when GBKSOFT is looking for a developer to join our team, we search for a person who is:
- mature, self-organized, and self-sufficient: they would be in charge of their workday and not need anyone to show them exactly what to do step-by-step;
- responsible: despite the general flexibility that is typically granted with remote work, there are still deadlines and other commitments that the person need to follow and meet;
- a team player: remote work throws its set of curveballs to challenge the effectiveness of communication, so they there should be ways to overcome this, find ways to cooperate with colleagues, and contribute to the final result of the project, not only blindly do their part of the work;
- proactive: this person should be ready to take initiative, step up if needed and take care of arising issues or tasks within the scope of their professional responsibilities.
If you are looking for an employee to join your in-house team, conduct a personal interview through a video meeting. Ask them about how they approach different situations, discuss examples from their experience when they proved themselves as proactive and reliable employees.
If you are hiring an outsourcing dedicated team, research them: check their company profiles on Clutch or GoodFirm for reviews, look through their portfolio and website, learn about their processes and workflow — it will help determine if you are compatible.
Challenge #5: Supporting morale
Personal connections are just as important as project-related communication. Yes, ultimately we’re all in it to work and earn a living, but at the end of the day we are all social beings and our lives need balance, and lack of friendly conversations and non-work interactions with colleagues and supervisors may create an unhealthy environment and generate a lot of unwarranted tension.
Always endorse small talk and genuinely care about your team member’s lives. It won’t hurt to briefly catch up, ask them about their hobbies, families, and weekends at the beginning of the meeting, and people will appreciate your attention.
Don’t forget about birthdays, anniversaries, and other significant dates. Celebrate wins and achievements: it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it can be just a simple short and sweet message in your work chat or publication on your corporate Facebook page but such a seemingly small gesture can go a long way in making your employees feel appreciated.
Consider one-on-one meetings as well. Done right, they provide a safe space for each and every employee to communicate honestly with the manager, describe their struggles, ask for necessary resources to work efficiently, whether it’s education opportunities, time off, or mentorship from more experienced colleagues. Your involvement in such a discussion can improve employee satisfaction and keep them loyal to your project or company.
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Most Popular Collaboration Tools for Remote Development Teams
Usually, remote teams resort to different software applications to synchronize, exchange data, and notify about the latest developments that occurred. Basically, in short, you need three types of apps:
- communication tools;
- task managers;
- project wiki.
There are applications that are considered classics in the development community, and that are widely used for different software development projects. Most of them concern the last two types — tasks managers and project wikis.
Three major task managers in the software development industry are Asana, Jira, and Trello. All of them offer a certain amount of flexibility and are good for Agile techniques. Asana and Jira are usually preferred by teams that follow Scrum, and Trello is most suitable for Kanban.
The most popular wiki tool is Confluence from Atlassian’s that also brought Jira into the worklife and everyday toolkit of developers. It allows you to store and structure all necessary info on projects, team roles, processes, credentials, etc. It’s extremely useful when access to the data is available at any moment and doesn’t depend on the activity of other team members, meaning that people can work simultaneously and not have to constantly wait for one another.
You usually need two kinds of communication tools. One is for messaging, and Salesforce’s Slack is the clear leader in this department (although Microsoft is a strong challenger). Developers seem to prefer Slack due to its customizability, a big amount of integration with other services, clarity, and simplicity that stimulate productive work. The second type of these tools are applications for video-chats, and the market has a lot of solutions to offer: Google Meets, Zoom, MS Teams, Skype, etc., so every company can pick the app that is most convenient for them.
At GBKSOFT, our set of software includes Jira, Confluence, Slack for internal communications, and several messengers and video tools for communication with our clients. Usually, our managers resort to the applications that are most convenient for our clients, so we can support the seamless flow of information and keep clients fully informed about the development at all times. We also grant access to Confluence and Slack, if it is required for more efficient and direct collaboration between our developers and clients’ side.
How to Manage Developers Remotely if You Are Not a Tech Person
It is possible to manage software developers without a deep technical background. Yes, you may need some time to adjust, but you may never even attempt to write a single line of code and still be a good manager for a software development team.
So, here are some tips you may find useful:
- take software requirements seriously: it is a standard practice you’ve definitely heard about, but it is also crucial to maintain a necessary level of quality for them, don’t over-scope or vice versa, underappreciate its importance. By the way, if you are struggling with requirements, we can cover you. With our Discovery Stage, we can provide you with the detailed specifications and other required documentation written by experienced specialists;
- create a strategy from the very first day and stick to it: it will help everyone to remember their final goal and not become lost in the routine. However, remember that flexibility is necessary for development to be successful, so don’t stick to a narrow-defined plan that won’t be able to accommodate any sudden issues or challenges;
- focus on quality instead of quantity: it might seem like an easy way, but hiring more developers to increase the efficiency of the team won’t necessarily do the trick. Every specialist will need a decent amount of time for adaptation and onboarding — so the progress may actually slow down. You may use other actions to improve the productivity of the team, for example, assign certain tasks to a certain developer by his or her skills and preferences, or divide big tasks into smaller pieces to be tackled;
- facilitate employees growth: personal development is important for lots of developers, but not only that, but it is also beneficial for the company they work for; you can discover different ideas on how to push your employees’ growth (thanks to e-learning, there are dozens of video courses and platforms). You can also conduct online meetings with experts who will discuss non-tech-related topics, like soft skills, etc. Another great approach is mentorship from seniors, who will share their experience and guide junior developers through real tasks and situations.
It may be challenging to manage remote software development teams, but it’s a very sought-after and in-demand occupation these days. Whether you need to manage your in-house developers or cooperate with an outsourced team, our tips should help you shape and determine your strategies and approaches.
GBKSOFT offers cooperation with our dedicated team that can provide you with a full cycle of development, or updating and upgrading your current software. We have flexible cooperation terms and are ready to adjust to your needs and requirements.
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