How to Effectively Manage Your Remote Development Team

Serendipity. Fortuitous. These are not words that one usually associates with the tech and software business.

It is immersed in the preciseness of Boolean Algebra and the overarching role of “if-then” statements.

Imagine if the pandemic had happened in 2008. Most of us ran a laptop with a single-core Pentium 4 using Prescott architecture. Webcams were a grainy 360p. Gmail was just getting off the ground. Cloud was unknown and Zoom was yet to be conceived. The iPhone was yet to adopt 3G!

The tech industry survived 2020 largely by hiring remote software development teams.

It was so successful that Jack Dorsey of Twitter wanted remote work to be the way forward. Soon this drift was picked up by Facebook, Hitachi, Square, Coinbase, Shopify, Slack, Zillow—the list is endless. Online retailers thrived because of the immense pool of remote WordPress developers.

While there are no apparent downsides, you must understand how to work with remote developers. Read on and discover. 

Essential tips for successfully managing a remote development team

1. Communicate Explicitly 

It is not difficult to manage a remote development team. The sole stumbling block that most managers dread is not being face-to-face with them.

Humans communicate not only verbally, but by using facial and bodily expressions. Over thousands of years, we have learned to not only express agreement and reluctance through our posture, eye contact, and hand movement but learned to read it from others as well.

The change to daily Zoom calls and copious amounts of Slack texting and emails is a paradigm shift.

As a manager, you need to ensure that everyone is always on the same page. Something as simple as being certain that all the messages are being read and not filtered out might take some time.

Your instructions must be clear and unambiguous. There can be no scope for misunderstanding or reinterpretation.

Since what was commonly conveyed by walking down a few feet to a cubicle must now be done from a distance, every member of the remote development team has to be a self-starter who works with strong initiative and ownership.

2. Adopt Suitable Tools

Slack, Trello, Jira, Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams. The choice of online platforms is wide-ranging.

However, all tools are not equally suited for your use and they have lots of pros and cons (not the least being license fee).

Before you settle on any one technology, research adequately. In the last year, a huge number of YouTube videos have popped up, some running into a couple of hours, that take apart each of these systems and highlight what they can or cannot do.

Understand one fact: the sales reps of these platforms can put a spin on its performance that seems to be convincing. But after a month you might end up with a buyer’s regret and undoing all of it and migrating to another software would eat up valuable resources.

Trello does seem to have some advantages when it comes to cost. Its workflow management system using KanBan is nothing short of revolutionary. Slack scores by allowing easy communication. Skype is excellent for group and personal messaging and video chat rolled into one. Zoom appears to be ubiquitous in its acceptance.

Perhaps for optimal results, your workplace would require a mix or hybrid of two of these.

3. Clearly Define Procedure

Remote software development teams are highly process-driven. Of course, all teams, inside or outside the office, are process-driven, but here we are focusing on the process of augmenting productivity, accountability, and teamwork from another continent.

The only way to achieve this is to break down every activity into granular details. Let each team member have an overview of the entire system, as well as a detailed personal glide path.

While working alone, they have to be acutely aware of team members working hundreds of miles away on a different part of the same project.

It’s easy to drift into solipsism—the unconscious inclination to believe that self is the only being. It is an unfortunate side effect of working alone. Group identities tend to fade, and that can mark the beginning of a vicious cycle. Individualism is healthy, but not so much that autonomy destroys coordination.

As a manager, your task is to not only enforce that everyone delivers, but that everyone is aware of what others have delivered.

Remove solitude by interrupting now and then, without any discernible pattern. This would snap the team members back to reality and make them collaborate more with one another. A reputed remote software development company will be able to provide out-of-the-box management solutions to make it smoother for the parent company.

4. Meet in Person

Remote teams are distant but not supposed to be inaccessible. Maybe you have some developers who have shifted to Austin from Seattle. Some have decided to leave California due to high personal income tax. Maybe one or more teams are working for you from Kiev or Hyderabad.

That does not mean you must never meet them in person. Take a trip and touch base with them once in a while. 

Individual meetings can be difficult to coordinate, but meeting at a central location once every few weeks is possible. Think about implementing team-building activities in person for software developers to engage in friendly competition, problem-solve, and have fun.

This would also let you judge the quality of the remote team you have hired. An interview can only do so much. It is what follows when everyone is part of the same team that matters.

Book a meeting room, order lunch, work your way through presentations with team members. Face-to-face meetings also allow a common bond to form and make future interactions easier.

5. Use Time Zones To Your Advantage

Opinions are a little divided when it comes to this. Is it better to have a team split into multiple time zones or drag on efficiency?

To an extent, that would depend on individual enterprises and the projects they handle. Of course, it is difficult for someone in India to be up at 3 AM for an office Zoom call at 6 PM, New York Time.

But if you are skillful and resourceful, you can turn this around and arrange the workflow in such a way that it is uninterrupted. The supervisor has to seamlessly pick up at the end of the day and review work done while he was asleep.

Of course, on any given day someone, from either end, would have to stay behind after normal working hours. The sacrifice can be shared with each set getting an equal chance at work-life balance.

Most managers won’t mind due to the saving in cost, most employees won’t either because they get to skip the commute and work while feeding their iguana.

Win-Win

The verdict is in. The pros outweigh the cons by a large margin. At the end of the day, it is a matter of temperament and adjustment. Everything else falls into place. 

Most manage to make it work with a steep learning curve involved in the first few months. Humans are enormously adaptable and we soon evolve to meet the needs placed on us.

The main point is this is not a fad, not a trend; this is the way moving forward. Remote work is here to stay and the sooner you adopt and adapt, the better for your enterprise in coming years.